Anita Page’s career lasted only nine years but just because it was short does not mean her career was not stellar. Page was the second most popular star of the 1920s. Page even received letters of adoration from Benito Mussolini himself. So why did Anita Page, at the very young age of only twenty-three, leave Hollywood?
Throughout her career, Anita Page co-starred with the best actors, even before they became famous or iconic. She co-starred in three popular films with actress Joan Crawford — “Our Dancing Daughters” (1928), “Our Modern Maidens” (1929) and “Our Blushing Brides” (1930). But as with many of Crawford’s co-stars, Page recalled it was difficult to work with Joan, even in the earlier years of Crawford’s career. Page was also featured alongside two silent film legends ---- Lon Chaney in “While The City Sleeps” (1928) and Buster Keaton in two films, “Free and Easy” (1930) and “Sidewalks of New York” (1931). Page also played Clark Gable’s young wife, “Peg Murdock Feliki,” in “The Easiest Way” (1931). Later in his career, Gable made a remarkable comparison, “Grace Kelly reminds me of my first leading lady, Anita Page.”
With a starring role as “Queenie Mahoney” in “The Broadway Melody” (1929) , the first “talking” film for MGM Studios, Anita Page was heading for stardom. The film received three Academy Award nominations, and it was the first sound film to win the Academy Award for “Best Picture of the Year.” With the film’s success, Page seemed destined to take her rightful place as a top Hollywood star. Several unfortunate events would alter that destiny. In a meeting with Louis B. Mayer, he promised to make Page an even bigger star than Greta Garbo, a notion that was very appealing to Page, particularly since Page seemed to always “come in second” to Ms. Garbo – second to Ms. Garbo in popularity, second to Ms. Garbo in fan mail. But the promise did not come without condition. Anita was horrified by the proposition that Mayer insisted she would have to sleep with him. Moreover, Anita’s agent would make getting good work difficult. As quoted by Ms. Page in “Classic Images” Magazine in 1993, “I was getting so much publicity, my agent did a very dreadful thing: he said, ‘you’ve got to demand more money.’ He didn’t ask for better parts, darn it!. . .We won our point, they paid the money but we didn’t get that would get starring roles, and that was the most important thing. . .The whole thing was my agent, who wanted the extra money. If only he’d left me alone. That’s what happened to me.”
Anita Page’s last role for MGM was as “Jean St. Clair” in the film “I Have Lived” (1931). Page made the decision to leave Hollywood for good. Her loyal fans followed her into reclusion. One famous fan continued to send letters just as he had done when she working at MGM Studios – the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Several of his letters contained marriage proposals. Page was flattered but never responded to his letters.
When in her 90's, Anita returned to appear in a few B-films. “Frankenstein Rising” (2008) would be her final film where she played “Elizabeth Frankenstein” with former child star Margaret O’Brien in the role as her daughter. On September 6, 2008, Anita Page passed away at the age of 98. She was the last living attendee of the first Academy Awards ceremony.
It is unfortunate that only a handful of her films are available to own on either VHS or DVD. A few clips can be viewed on youtube.com making for a fond remembrance by older fans of her work and a wondrous discovery for new fans. It will be interesting if Hollywood remembers Anita Page in the memoriam sequence of the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony.