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Oscar Profile #100: Geraldine Page

Born November 22, 1924 in Kirksville, MO to an osteopathic physician and a homemaker, Geraldine Page initially intended to become a concert pianist but when her family couldn’t afford the cost of her training she turned to acting. On stage from the age of 17, she did not make a real impression until her role in the 1952 off-Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke, a flop in its initial Broadway run four years earlier. That role, at the age of 28, led to a film offer to appear opposite John Wayne in 1953’s Hondo for which the actress received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but no additional film offers.

Much on TV and stage in the 1950s, she made her biggest impression as Lizzie in the 1954 Broadway production of The Rainmaker, a role which would earn Katharine Hepburn an Oscar nomination when it was filmed two years later.

In 1959 she starred opposite Paul Newman in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth for which she received the first of her four Tony Award nominations. The play also provided an introduction to Rip Torn, who she later married and with whom she would have three children.

After an eight year lull, Hollywood came calling again with offers to recreate her two famous Tennessee Williams characters in the film versions of Summer and Smoke and Sweet Bird of Youth, both of which brought her Golden Globe awards as well as Oscar nominations for Best Actress. Her next two films, 1963’s Toys in the Attic and 1964’s Dear Heart brought her additional Golden Globe nods, but no Oscar recognition. The 1966 comedy, You’re a Big Boy, Now brought her a fifth Golden Globe nomination and a fourth Oscar nod, her second for Best Supporting Actress.

Her late 1960s films included Walt Disney’s last personally supervised film, The Happiest Millionaire; What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? and TV’s A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Visitor.

Mostly in supporting roles in the early 1970s, she provided memorable performances in The Beguiled; J.W. Coop and Pete ‘n’ Tillie, receiving her sixth Golden Globe nomination and fifth Oscar nomination for the latter. Unforgettable on screen in a cameo in 1975’s The Day of the Locust, she received a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress for her performance in the same year’s Absurd Person Singular.

Numerous awards came her way for Woody Allen’s 1958 film, Interiors including her seventh Golden Globe nomination and her sixth Oscar nod, her first in the lead category in sixteen years.

Page received her third Tony Award nomination as the world-wise mother superior in 1982’s Agnes of God, a role which would garner Anne Bancroft a Best Actress Oscar nomination four years later.

A cameo in 1984’s The Pope of Greenwich Village earned Page her seventh Oscar nomination, her fourth in support. With this nomination she became the most nominated actress never to win an Oscar. She would finally win one on her eighth nomination for 1986’s The Trip to Bountiful, for which she also received an eighth Golden Globe nomination. Several months later she would receive her fourth Tony nomination for the revival of Blithe Spirit. Within days she was dead of a heart attack on June 1, 1987 at the age of 62.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

SUMMER AND SMOKE (1961), directed by Peter Glenville

Tennessee Williams’ play had not been a success when it first appeared on Broadway in 1948, one year after his masterwork, A Streetcar Named Desire, with Margaret Phillips as the repressed spinster. Four years later, its off-Broadway revival with Page directed by Jose Quintero was not only a success, it made off-Broadway respectable. Nine years later, Page is a bit long in the tooth for the role but she still plays it beautifully. Her Alma is clearly a sister under the skin of Blanche du Bois.

SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH (1962), directed by Richard Brooks

Page’s Alexandra Del Lago was the complete opposite of Alma Winemiller, a spoiled actress, a vain, desperate diva who picks up hustler Paul Newman and accompanies him to his former hometown, the town he was run out of when he got the town boss’ daughter pregnant. Page, Ed Begley as “Boss” Finley and Shirley Knight as his daughter Heavenly were all nominated for Oscars, with Begley pulling off a surprise win. The ending is toned down from the play which Page and Newman starred with Sidney Blackmer as Finley and Diana Hyland as Heavenly, but is still quite shocking and unforgettable.

DEAR HEART (1989), directed by Delbert Mann

Page proved she can do romantic comedy opposite Glenn Ford in this tale of a small town postmistress who comes to the Big Apple for a convention and finds the love of her life in playboy Ford. Angelina Lansbury in one of her last “other woman” roles before becoming a major Broadway star in Mame, provides strong support as does Michael Anderson, Jr. as her son.

INTERIORS (1978), directed by Woody Allen

Woody Allen’s first dramatic film received generally mixed reviews but no one faulted the performances of Geraldine Page as the cold, aloof Bergmanesque wife and mother who doesn’t see her husband’s divorce coming. Both Page and Maureen Stapleton as the warmhearted double divorcee who replaces her in husband E.G. Marshall’s affections are both extraordinary. The same can’t be said for most of the rest of the cast including a strident Diane Keaton as one of Page’s three daughters, but it’s not the mess most critics would have had you believe at the time..

THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL (1986), directed by Peter Masterson

Horton Foote’s acclaimed play first appeared a live TV production in 1953 with the legendary Lillian Gish as the unwanted old lady who runs away from daughter-in-law’s apartment to revisit the home in which she raised her weak son. Eva Marie Saint also won acclaim as the young war bride Gish befriends on the bus. Page’s luminous performance in the long delayed film version finally earned her the Oscar that eluded her through seven previous nominations.

GERALDINE PAGE AND OSCAR

  • Hondo (1953) – nominated Best Supporting Actress
  • Summer and Smoke (1961) – nominated Best Actress
  • Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) – nominated Best Actress
  • You’re a Big Boy Now (1966) – nominated Best Supporting Actress
  • Pete ‘n’ Tillie (1972) – nominated Best Supporting Actress
  • Interiors (1978) – nominated Best Actress
  • The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984) – nominated Best Supporting Actress
  • The Trip to Bountiful (1986) – Oscar - Best Actress
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