Janis Paige is one of the last surviving stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age. But as she revealed later on in life, the era wasn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Behind the dazzle of the stage lights, Paige suffered numerous hardships. From troublesome co-star rivalries and on-set injuries, this legendary actress’ journey to the grand old age of 100 has been anything but smooth.
Donna Mae Tjaden
Janis Paige was actually born Donna Mae Tjaden in the Washington city of Tacoma in 1922. Her earliest performances were with the Tacoma Opera Company; after finishing high school she bagged a job at the Hollywood Canteen, impressing servicemen with her dulcet tones. It was here that Paige was spotted by a Warner Bros scout, who subsequently offered her a contract worth $150 every week.
Art imitating life
In a case of art imitating life the circumstances in which Paige was discovered were reflected in one of her first movie roles. Yes, in 1944 the star appeared in Hollywood Canteen. Instead of playing a performer, though, Paige was cast as a messenger girl for Warner Bros. She actually adopted her more familiar moniker after making her first screen appearance opposite the likes of Esther Williams and Red Skelton in Bathing Beauty.
The MGM experience
Not that Paige’s new name was particularly high up the credits. In fact, she only had two lines in the entire movie. In 2016 the actress told The Miami Herald newspaper, “I had so little experience at MGM. I can only tell you that each studio in those days seemed to have a certain pattern as to the kind of movies they made.”
Warner Bros. move
Luckily, after moving to Warner Bros. Paige was able to showcase more of her talents. She explained, “They were far more diverse with me. I went from Hollywood Canteen into Of Human Bondage, for God’s sake. A more dramatic part you couldn’t have... They seemed to like me and I could sing, I could dance, but I could also act pretty well. Not great, but I did okay.”