Friday, November 25, 2011

façade: Janis Paige

Cocktails and flirting - Paige uses both on Bob Hope in Jack Arnold's "Bachelor in Paradise" (1961)
In terms the the Hollywood-&-Vine axis, the irrepressible Janis Paige was a B star and a co-star. Yeah, maybe on paper. But in reality, on the big screen, whatever film she was in, she commanded as only a Star can.

Her filmography is varied and lengthy but in her most entertaining performances, Paige played randy women of a certain age with va-va-voom in her eyes and a chilled Martini in hand - her hair seeming red even when it was blonde: Charles Walters' "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1960) and Jack Arnold's "Bachelor in Paradise" (1961). For me, she's always been a hands-down pleasure to watch and I get an added kick from Paige being a fellow Virgo. We share the same birthday!

For all intents and purposes, she had what I call the Kay Thompson role in Rouben Mamoulian's film of Cole Porter's "Silk Stockings" (1975). Surely you remember her one big scene, belting out and dancing with antic glee with Fred Astaire in the "Stereophonic Sound" number (choreographed by Hermès Pan, with an assisst from Eugene Loring). She was no substitute here. In "Silk Stockings," Paige pretty much out-Thompsons Thompson.

Her lead film roles usually cast Paige opposite Jack Carson or Dennis Morgan, again in B movies. True stardom came on stage in 1954 when she appeared as Babe Williams, the in-your-face head of a labor union's grivance committee in the Rose-Adler musical, "The Pajama Game," playing opposite John Raitt. When Warner Bros. bought the film rights for the show, Jack Warner was intent on casting the entire Broadway cast to reprise their roles, except for a major name in one of the two leads.

It was a crap shoot - literally - if either Paige or Raitt would be in the film. Frank Sinatra was approached for the Raitt role - he would have played opposite Paige - but he declined. Enter Doris Day, who accepted the female lead and played opposite Raitt in the 1957 film.

Oddly enough, Paige had starred with Day in the latter's first film, Michael Curtiz' 1948 "Romance on the High Seas," and went on to appear with her in the aforementioned "Please Don't Eat the Daisies," in which they played rivals.

In 1963, Paige got another lead role in a big Broadway musical - Meredith Willson's "Here's Love," based on "Miracle on 34th Street," in which Paige played the part originated by Maureen O'Hara. But on screen during these years, the '60s, the actress rarely got to stray from her fun-gal roles - until Hall Bartlett did give her the opportunity to do a variation on this archetype in his 1963 psychodrama, "The Caretakers," in which Paige played an aging prostitute undergoing a serious meltdown.

Bartlett showcased Paige and the critics, who rather casually dismissed the film, singled her out. Like Janis, it remains a guilty pleasure.



Harold said...

Janis Paige is one of the unsung gems of movies from the late 1940s to the mid-60s. She made a lot of movies and should have become a bigger star. Thanks for the kind words about her.

Arthur S. said...

Janis Paige is classical hollywood iconography. Her whole look in the '60s was made for CinemaScope, Technicolor and, yes, stereophonic sound. She didn't just wear costume designs. She was a costume design.

Sarah said...

Surpassingly elegant and a hell of a lot of fun - that's how I'd describe Miss Paige.

frank boyer said...

I've not seen much of Janis Paige, but I love her in the Raoul Walsh Western CHEYENNE, opposite Dennis Morgan, Jane Wyman and Arthur Kennedy. Good movie, pops up on TCM occasionally.

wwolfe said...

"She didn't just wear costume designs. She was a costume design." That's a great description. She makes me think of a word that's rarely used these days: pneumatic. Except she had lots of talent, unlike the many starlets that word was once used to describe.

jbryant said...

I second frank boyer's enthusiasm for Janis Paige's performance in CHEYENNE, and the film itself. I haven't seen her in much else, but she's quite fun and charming (and beautiful) in that one.