The Enigma of Paul Page

I’ve had some pretty good luck throwing out unsolved mysteries here — sometimes relatives of the subject at hand, or others who are in the know, get in touch and clear things up for us. So here’s a guy we came across who interested us. There’s this pre-code star named Paul Page (1903-1974), who pretty much popped up out of nowhere and began a film career in 1929, then ended it five years later, promptly returning to nowhere.

I would imagine his two best known films today are Palmy Days (1931) with Eddie Cantor, and Kentucky Kernels (1934) with Wheeler and Woolsey. He’s paired with Lola Lane in Speakeasy (now lost) and The Girl from Havana (both 1929). Most of the time, he wasn’t the star of his films but somewhere around fifth in the billing. But he did play the lead in a handful of the 20 pictures he made. The least he could do is not vanish off the face of the earth!

Here’s what we know. His real named was Campbell U. Hicks, and he was born in Birmingham Alabama (though both his parents were from Kentucky and died there). He got a degree in engineering from St. Johns College in Annapolis, Maryland, having previously studied at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. Immediately after graduating, he plunged into show business, performing in night clubs and purportedly appearing in the Music Box Revue as well as the Ritz Revue, although IBDB doesn’t show his name in the credits for the Broadway editions of either of those shows. Director Benjamin Stoloff was said to have seen him onstage and on that basis cast him immediately as the lead in his first film Speakeasy (1929). Page’s first several films were with Stoloff, although he worked with other top directors such as John Ford, Fred Newmeyer and others as well.

Also in 1929, Page married Ethel Allis, who’d been a chorus girl in the Ziegfeld Follies and had a role in the 1926 musical Honeymoon Lane.

In 1931 he played the eligible young attorney Alice White sets her cap for in The Naughty Flirt. Page was the male lead in The Moth (1934) opposite Sally O’Neil, one of his bigger roles. Another interesting artifact was the exploitation film The Road to Ruin (1934), directed by Dorothy Davenport a.k.a. Mrs. Wallace Reid, the daughter of Harry Davenport and Alice Davenport. Kentucky Kernels was Page’s last film, and an appropriate one, given his roots.

Page died in Hermosa Beach, CA 40 years after retiring from the movie business. What happened to him in between? I note that his father died in 1935. Did he have to return to Kentucky to deal with family business? Was Page gay? The only reason I speculate is that we wrote about David Manners the other day. Like Manners, he married at the same time he became a movie star (a common cover for gay actors) and left the movies at around the time the code went into strict enforcement. Just a guess. Or maybe he just didn’t pan out. His film career was less than meteoric and, after all, he did have an engineering degree to fall back on. Did he simply part ways with show biz and move on to something else? It’s not one of the burning questions of our time; on the other hand, not knowing is always better than knowing…unless of course you are Oedipus.

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