Hollywood And Broadway Star Dies At 101

Janis Paige, a celebrated Hollywood and Broadway actress renowned for her vivacious performances and timeless elegance, has passed away at the age of 101. Paige, who danced with the legendary Fred Astaire, toured with Bob Hope, and continued to perform well into her 90s, died of natural causes on Sunday at her Los Angeles home, as confirmed by her longtime friend, Stuart Lampert.

Born Donna May Tjaden, Paige’s career in entertainment spanned more than seven decades, leaving an indelible mark on both stage and screen. Her remarkable journey began during World War II when she captivated servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen with an operatic aria. This performance caught the attention of MGM, leading to her brief role in “Bathing Beauty.” Although MGM initially dropped her, Warner Bros. quickly signed her, offering her a contract that started at $150 a week—a substantial sum during the Great Depression.

Paige’s talent and charisma quickly propelled her to stardom. Her salary at Warner Bros. rose to $1,000 a week as she starred in a series of films, including “Two Guys from Milwaukee,” “The Time, the Place and the Girl,” and “Romance on the High Seas,” which featured Doris Day’s film debut. Despite her success, Paige faced the harsh realities of Hollywood’s changing landscape when her contract expired in 1949, coinciding with the rise of television.

Unfazed, Paige transitioned to Broadway, where she starred in the mystery-comedy “Remains to be Seen” with Jackie Cooper and delivered a memorable performance as Babe in “The Pajama Game” alongside John Raitt. Her talent was undeniable, even if her roles were sometimes taken by others in film adaptations, such as Doris Day in “The Pajama Game.”

Paige’s versatility as an entertainer was evident in her ability to shine in various genres and mediums. MGM producer Arthur Freed recognized her nightclub act and cast her opposite Fred Astaire in “Silk Stockings,” where she famously performed the Cole Porter number “Stereophonic Sound.” Despite her lack of classical dance training, Paige’s dedication and resilience were evident as she endured bruises and injuries to deliver a captivating performance.

In addition to her film and stage work, Paige found success on television, starring in the 1955-1956 series “It’s Always Jan” and appearing in numerous popular shows, including “All in the Family,” “Fantasy Island,” and “Trapper John, M.D.” Her role as a diner waitress involved with Archie Bunker on “All in the Family” remains one of her most memorable TV appearances.

Paige’s life was marked by both personal and professional resilience. She grew up in Tacoma, Washington, where her mother worked tirelessly to support the family after her father deserted them. Paige’s desire to succeed and provide for her mother fueled her drive to excel in the entertainment industry.

Her personal life saw two brief marriages before she married songwriter Ray Gilbert in 1962. Gilbert, who won an Oscar for “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” passed away in 1976, leaving Paige to manage his music company.

In 2018, Paige added her voice to the #MeToo movement, sharing a harrowing account of an assault by department-store heir Alfred Bloomingdale when she was 22. Her courage in speaking out at the age of 95 highlighted her enduring strength and commitment to justice.

Throughout her career, Paige remained a beloved figure in the entertainment industry. She continued to perform into her 90s, captivating audiences with her show “The Third Act” in San Francisco, where she shared stories and songs from her illustrious career. Critics praised her vitality and spirit, noting that even at 80, Paige possessed a charm and energy that performers half her age would envy.

Paige’s contributions to the arts were recognized not only through her performances but also through her autobiography, “Reading Between the Lines: A Memoir,” published in 2020. The book offers a glimpse into her relationships with Hollywood icons such as Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis, and Lucille Ball, cementing her legacy as a star who navigated the complexities of show business with grace and tenacity.

Janis Paige leaves behind a legacy of talent, resilience, and enduring charm. Her life story serves as an inspiration to generations of performers and a testament to the timeless allure of Hollywood’s golden age. As we bid farewell to this remarkable woman, we celebrate her contributions to the world of entertainment and remember her as a true icon of stage and screen.

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