Hollywood history records a lot of ways women have dealt with possessing world-class looks. There are those who find it a cross from the beginning, test people constantly to make sure it isn't affecting every interaction, and wilt when they find it usually is. Others profess great disregard for their beauty but use the hell out of it all the same. Then there are the women who never bother to conceal how much they love being stunning, and flaunt it like a gambler's winnings. So firmly did the ravishing Anita Page belong to that last group that even after time had done its damage, she scarcely seemed to notice, retaining the ways and prerogatives of a beauty even as she approached the century mark.
She would receive guests and tell them about, for example, Mussolini's attempted wooing with an air that suggested her heyday was last week, not more than 70 years ago. And why not? All stars are accompanied by their celluloid ghosts. As a reporter sat with latter-day Anita he sat also with her companion, the face on film that led Clark Gable to say that when he met Grace Kelly in the 1950s, he immediately thought of Anita Page. She died Saturday in her sleep, age 98, and like Amy-Jeanne the Siren feels cheated, having always assumed the unsinkable Anita would make 100 with time to spare.
Her career began with bit roles in silents and lasted until 1936. After that came marriages, a role in 1963 and a handful of horror roles in the last decade. The Siren has seen only two movies that starred Anita, The Broadway Melody and Our Dancing Daughters. In neither did she leave an impression of shimmering talent. But like Ava Gardner, another woman who savored her beauty to the dregs, just to look at Anita gives so much pleasure you feel churlish mentioning something like technique. Which is not to say Anita was bad; she wasn't. But the contrast provided by Joan Crawford, her ambition burning through every frame of Our Dancing Daughters, gives a more plausible explanation of Page's relatively short time at the peak than any stories about Irving Thalberg as an unlikely Casting Couch Creep.
In later years Anita was known for surrounding herself with adoring gay men, which in the Siren's eyes just shows fundamental common sense. As life winds down, who among us wouldn't be content with friendship, laughter and daily affirmations of fabulousness? Aside from food, shelter and family, there isn't much else the Siren sees herself wanting if she makes it past 90.
Mr. C likes to tell people about an interview he saw with France's oldest living woman, then well north of 100. She had buried something like four of her doctors and at least one man who had foolishly taken a type of viatical settlement on her when she was a spring chicken of 80. Asked about the downside to such advanced age, the Frenchwoman said wistfully that it got a bit lonely, outliving everyone. As we lose the last threads that connect us to the old days of greatness, the Siren feels more and more lonely herself.
The Siren was delighted and honored to be included in a critical symposium for Cineaste magazine, "Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet." The whole megillah is now online, so do take a look. There's quite a range of opinions expressed.
Also, David Cairns is giving away DVD copies of a film by Julien Duvivier, La Fin du Jour. The Siren shares his high regard for Duvivier and hopes many people take him up on this generous offer, designed to spread the word about the work of this great French director.