Silent Star, Anita Page dies, aged 98
mchawk | September 7, 2008 at 05:51 amby
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New York born, she started her film career in her teens with a small role in the film A Kiss for Cinderella. In the 1930's, she became a contract-player at MGM, where they moulded her into one of their greatest stars of the silent screen, playing opposite such legends as Douglas Firbanks Jr. and Lon Chaney. Her breakout role was in Our Dancing Daughters - the movie that also made a star of Joan Crawford.
With the advent of the "talkies" many of the starts of silent film fell by the wayside - not Page, who starred in MGM's first "All Talking, All Dancing, All Singing" Musical, The Broadway Melody - the backstage story of two sisters who fall in love with the same man. The movie broke all previous box-office records and made history when it became the first "talkie" to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
At the height of Page's popularity, only Greta Garbo got more fan-mail, although Garbo never got fan-mail from Benito Mussolini!
She recalls finding the first letter from Mussolini in mid-1929. "I was so excited. I was so thrilled, to open this beautiful adoring letter," she said. A second followed, which was opened by her secretary. Recognising the handwriting, Anita opened a third.
When the studio learnt that piles of letters were arriving from Mussolini simply addressed to "Film star Anita Page, MGM Hollywood", they started to get nervous. Studio head Louis B Mayer thought it would be a mistake to leak even a hint of information about Mussolini's love letters. Frightened of a scandal, Mayer ordered Page not to respond. Even sending him a signed portrait was strictly forbidden.
Then another letter arrived at MGM from Mussolini thanking Anita for a signed print of her by the celebrity photographer George Hurrell. As she often did, Anita's mother had forged Page's signature. The star and her mother were called into Mayer's office where he [...] questioned them about the thankyou note. [Her mother] said that a fan is a fan and her daughter never said no to a request, especially from such a prominent foreigner.
After Anita left MGM in 1932 [she thought] that Mussolini had given up on her too, but later she discovered over a four-year period that her mother had sent Mussolini a further 20 autographed pictures that she had signed. A mailroom employee at MGM told her that he sent her more than 100 letters.
"I never met Mussolini," she says, "though I sure would have liked to. Honey I'm not saying that I'd have married him." She says he asked her twice. "My father never liked the whole business. When my brother said he was frightened in case Mussolini came over and kidnapped me, father reassured us that Mussolini wouldn't get as far as Beverly Hills before being noticed."
She is survived by her daugher, Linda Sterne.
"She was the best mother I could have," Sterne said. "She was wonderful."