For reference and background on Wampas and the full listing of Babies, see my original post in this series.
Year that she was crowned: 1929
Baby who?: Anita Page was born Anita Evelyn Pomares in Flushing, New York on August 4, 1910. Her parents were Marino Leo Pomares, a New York born electrical contractor of Cuban and Venezuelan descent, and Maude Evelyn Mullane, a New Yorker whose roots were a mix of Irish, Scotch, and French. Anita was the only child for 12 years until her brother Marino Jr. was born. Though he also inherited in the looks department, Marino Jr. had no desire to go into films like his sister and had dreams of becoming an engineer like his father or an aviator. He married and had children, but sadly died early in life, at age 36, following an illness.
As a teen, Anita devoured film magazines – her favorite stars were reported as Madge Bellamy, Wallace Reid, William Haines, and Ramon Novarro (the latter two she would eventually star with in films). Determined to become an actress herself, she started looking in 1925, but had a hard time finding work. Most of what she could get was extra work at independent studios or the occasional role in films that weren’t released. In 1928, Anita crossed paths with Harry K. Thaw, already infamous as the millionaire murderer who made major headlines in 1906 when he killed Stanford White, former lover of Thaw’s wife, model Evelyn Nesbit. Thaw had become obsessed with White after finding out that he allegedly raped Nesbit when she was a teen.
Thaw had dreams of starting his own studio and dubbed Anita his protege. Starry eyed and determined Anita (with her mother as chaperone) followed him to Hollywood, perhaps not realizing that to be associated with him meant being possibly being blacklisted. Having no success getting into the film business, he left but Anita stayed and pounded the pavement looking for acting jobs only to be snubbed due to her association with Thaw. However, blonde and blue-eyed Anita was generally acknowledged as an exceptional beauty (“dazzling” and “decorative” were common adjectives to describe her) and in the long run this proved more valuable than a spotless reputation. MGM ignored her association with Thaw and took a chance on the lovely teen, maybe chalking it up to ingenue-like guilelessness, which, along with her beauty, would become something of her stock in trade in the films she made for the studio.
Anita’s family would follow her out to California and they all remained there. Despite Anita’s star status, she and her family appeared fairly grounded. At the height of her career in 1930, she still lived at home with her parents in a fairly middle class house and neighborhood (her neighbors ranged in occupation from domestic servants to presidents of companies, but no one else in the film industry stood out).
Why could she have been picked by Wampas?: After only a few months under contract and a handful of films under her belt, she was given the second lead role in MGM’s hit musical The Broadway Melody. The popularity of the film, which would become 1928/29’s Best Picture Academy Award winner, was predicted to launch rising star Anita Page (as she was now known) to even greater heights. 1929, the same year of The Broadway Melody’s release, Page was named a Wampas Baby Star.
Unlike many who had to start in bit parts and walk ons and work their way up, as soon as MGM put Page under contract, she began starring in films. It’s no wonder that all believed this beauty who star-maker MGM believed in so completely would have a successful future ahead of her.
Life after Babydom: Anita Page was immensely popular with moviegoers and it’s said that only Greta Garbo received more fan mail than she during her heyday at MGM. Even Benito Mussolini named her his favorite actress after seeing her in The Broadway Melody. Unfortunately, she had no singing or dancing ability to set her apart and was considered likable and capable onscreen, but not a great actress. What she did best was look fantastic. The studio, while happy to cast her as supporting scenery, began giving the heavy lifting parts to other actresses. She was still cast in lead and supporting roles, but not quality ones, and began to receive less and less parts. She filled her spare time with the usual publicity stunts for the studio, including being crowned the queen of a national ski tournament and having a white cactus variety of Dahlia named after her. Eventually, she became unhappy with the unbecoming costumes she was assigned and the close-ups she was no longer getting and may have even been relieved when, after only about 3 years at MGM, she was released from her contract. Anita went on a stage tour and did a handful of films independently in 1933 then surprised all by announcing her retirement. She was only 23 years old.
Soon after, Page married her first husband, composer Nacio Herb Brown, who she met 5 years earlier on the set of The Broadway Melody, which she was starring in and he was composing the music for. This marriage was short-lived and annulled after only a year on the grounds that Brown was not officially divorced from his former wife when he and Page eloped to Tijuana.
Following the annulment, she made one more film in 1936 then made good on her intention to retire when she married Lieutenant Herschel Austin House (later promoted to Admiral) of the US Navy in 1937. They had two daughters together and Anita stayed mostly out of the spotlight, aside from a few comebacks between 1961 and 2004 in lesser known horror flicks. Known as “the last star of the silents,” she outlived her contemporaries and passed away in 2008 at the age of 98.
Best known for: Her breakout role alongside Joan Crawford in Our Dancing Daughters and her role in the first film musical and Academy Award winning film, The Broadway Melody.
How accurate was Wampas?: While Wampas and everyone else were initially dazzled by Page, her fame would never maintain the level they predicted. I’m not quite certain why MGM’s opinion of Page went from star build up to supporting player and then to not even important enough to keep on the payroll in the span of 3 years, but for some reason it did. Considering her range and style as an actress, I can’t see her having a career much different than the one she had, even with the studio’s support. Maybe MGM saw this, too. 2/5
Zoe’s take: While Anita Page didn’t wow me in the couple films I’ve seen her in, I do think she tends to pick up more grief than necessary from critics. Though she could never be considered a great actress, I wouldn’t say she’s much worse than some of her contemporaries, especially considering that the majority of her work occurred around the birth of talkies. It would have been interesting to see if she could have or would have adjusted to the new medium with more practice (like many others did) had she stuck around.
Liebman, Roy. The Wampas Baby Stars: a Biographical Dictionary, 1922-1934. McFarland, 2009.