Hollywood, Broadway star Janis Paige dies at 101

Paige, who danced with Fred Astaire and toured with Bob Hope, performed into her 90s

Bob Hope and Janis Paige hug during the annual Christmas show in Saigon, Vietnam on Dec. 25, 1964. (AP Photo)

NEW YORK — Janis Paige, a famous actor in Hollywood and Broadway musicals and comedies who danced with Fred Astaire, toured with Bob Hope and continued performing into her 90s, has died. She was 101. Paige starred on Broadway with Jackie Cooper in the mystery-comedy “Remains to be Seen” and appeared with John Raitt in the smash hit musical “The Pajama Game.” Her other films include the Bob Hope comedy “Bachelor in Paradise,” the Doris Day comedy “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” and “Follow the Boys.”

Her big break came in wartime when she sang an operatic aria for service members at the Hollywood Canteen. A day later, MGM hired her for a brief role in “Bathing Beauty” — she spoke two lines in the film, which starred Esther Williams and Red Skelton — and then dropped her.

The same day, Warner Bros. signed her and cast her in a dramatic segment of the all-star movie “Hollywood Canteen.” Her contract started at $150 a week. “I earned more per week than my mother had made in a month during the Great Depression,” she recalled in The Hollywood Reporter in 2018.

Her salary rose to $1,000 weekly as the studio kept her busy in lightweight films such as “Two Guys from Milwaukee,” “The Time, the Place and the Girl,” “Love and Learn,” “Always Together,” “Wallflower” and “Romance on the High Seas,” which marked Doris Day’s film debut.

Meanwhile, she changed her name from Donna May Tjaden and adopted Paige, her grandfather’s name.

The budding performer took her talents to Broadway, where she starred in “Remains to Be Seen” and starred as Babe opposite Raitt as Sid in the original production of “The Pajama Game.”

MGM producer Arthur Freed caught her nightclub act at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles and offered her a part opposite Astaire in “Silk Stockings,” also co-starring Cyd Charisse. The film is famous for her and Astaire spoofing the newfangled movie gimmicks in the Cole Porter number “Stereophonic Sound,” including swinging from a chandelier.

“I was one mass of bruises. I didn’t know how to fall. I didn’t know how to get down on a table — I didn’t know how to save myself because I was never a classic dancer,” she told the Miami Herald in 2016.

In May 2003, Paige resumed entertaining after a long absence. She opened a show called “The Third Act” at San Francisco’s Plush Room. She told stories about Astaire, Frank Sinatra and others, and sang tunes from her films and stage musicals.

Chad Jones, reviewer for the Alameda Times-Star, commented that at 80, “the charming Paige shows a vitality, verve and spirit that performers half her age would envy.”

After leaving Warner Bros., she turned to TV, starring in a 1955-1956 TV series, “It’s Always Jan,” and playing recurring roles in “Flamingo Road,” “Santa Barbara,” “Eight Is Enough,” “Capitol,” “Fantasy Island” and “Trapper John, M.D.” In “All in the Family,” she played a diner waitress who became involved with Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker.

The beloved star went on to replace Angela Lansbury in the New York production of “Mame” in 1968 on Broadway and toured with the show in 1969. She also toured in “Gypsy,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Born Yesterday” and “The Desk Set.” Her last time on Broadway was in 1984’s “Alone Together.”