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Ruth Page Guatemala Room No. 16 [March 29, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0510
Run Time
0h 19m 28s
Date Produced
March 29 1985
NOTE: This interview was conducted as an informal conversation. Consequently, instead of the usual Q (Interviewer) and A (Interviewee) format, questions and statements are identified by the initials of the participants: R (Ruth Page); J (Jerold Solovy): T (Thea Flaum).
[Interview begins at 00:57.]
T: I have a question which I don't think Ruth can answer because so many aspects of Tom's legal affairs were complicated and Ruth was busy rehearsing and taking her company on tour, doing the operas, etc. At the end, when the King Ranch case was over, there was a second phase of the King Ranch in which Tom was sued again, that required that he couldn't come back to Chicago.
J: That was because Tom -- I told Ruth this several times -- because he was a bad client, and he chose a lawyer who would listen to the way Tom wanted to handle this matter. Now, if Tom weren't stubborn, this little contretemps would never have occurred. And it hurt him, because he was ordered by the courts to turn over his records, and there was nothing in the records which should have precluded him from turning over the records, but because they wanted the records, he did not give them the records. So he was ordered to give the records. He didn't give the records.
     He was then held in contempt of court and, therefore, for a while he lived at the Harvard Club in New York. He would call me from there, from the Holiday Inn in Hammond, Indiana. And finally, when he got sick, he came back to Northwestern Hospital. Everybody at the Continental Bank knew where he was, but they didn't care because this was a ruse they had pursued to hurt Tom's case. So it was just his obstinacy, his stubbornness. And had he had a strong lawyer advising him who would have said, "Hey, Tom, give them the records, quit fooling around and let's get down to the merits . . . ."
T: It was awful. At one point, they had hospital guards outside his door.
J: Oh, yes, but this was, you know, there was a lot of money at stake. And he gave away, in the settlement -- because he was dying -- a lot more money than he should have, if he weren't dying. But mainly he wanted his estate cleaned up for Ruth so she would not have the aggravation. But all that was what I would call "vintage Tom Fisher." He enjoyed the fight.
R: He loved that.
J: It was not the principle as much as the fight. The fight was there so he would go get it. So after Tom died, I'm very friendly with a lawyer who represented Helen Pinnel, who was this woman -- there are all sorts of sordid stories -- the heir of the King Ranch picked up this sort of unattractive woman and she ended up with all his money. But he admitted this was all a strategy to beat Tom into the ground to get a more favorable settlement. So we gave back part of his thirty years of work.
T: A substantial part. I was reading about this. It was a lot.
J: But it didn't bother us, right, Ruth? Our life went on. We had enough to keep us in house and home -- four homes or five homes or whatever we had -- expensive lawyers, dancers, clothes, husbands, jewelry, traveling . . . .
R: I never had any jewelry, now. I never had a piece of jewelry in my life.
J: Not expensive jewelry, but whatever she wears, she wears with a flair. Ruth has a great sense of drama. Now Ruth could have been a fashion model or designer because she puts together all these outfits . . . .
T: Or an actress. She was a really good actress.
R: Well, I didn't know all this!
J: But you know it's true. I mean, to be a ballet star and to be a choreographer, you have to be an actress, and you have to be a scriptwriter and a storyteller. Ruth's all of those things. What else, Ruth?
R: Why, you have to be stupid to want to do all those things! That's all I can say.
J: Or ambitious.
R: No, it's . . . I don't know. I think I'm like Tom in that respect. I'm stubborn. And if I set myself to try to do something, I really want to do it. I really want to do it. And so you have to be very stubborn.
     And I don't think that dancing is a good profession at all. I would never advise anybody to be a dancer or a choreographer. That's even much harder, because it. . . first of all, it's not lucrative, and you're not appreciated, and it's a small career, among a few people like you. Some like you; some don't. I suppose that's true of everything. But if I had my life to live over again, I wouldn't have anything to do with dance.
J: What would you do?
R: I'd be a lawyer.
J: You wouldn't do anything socially redeeming, then, and that wouldn't be good.
R: I don't know what I would do. I'd sit at home and read and have a few friends. I haven't had time for friends or reading. I love to read.
J: But you have a world of friends. I mean, Ruth knows everyone. You're never home. That's the truth. You always say you . . . .
R: I know you haven't any.
J: I don't like people.
R: I know you don't. I love people, and I like my friends, but I'd like to have more time for them.
J: Ruth goes out every night. She likes to go to the movies.
R: André thinks I haven't got any friends at all.
J: Ruth could be a good politician because she's very good in meeting people and putting them at ease.
R: I'd be a lousy politician. I hate politics.
J: Yes, but you do that very well. If you meet somebody at a party, you immediately ask them what they do.
R: Well, I'm just polite. My mother brought me up to be polite.
J: But you're very good at it, because you make them believe they're the most important person in the world and you're really interested in what they are doing. Now, maybe you do that to the next person. But I think you are interested in people.
R: I am. I like people. André doesn't. I don't think he does.
J: No, he doesn't like people.
R: I like people. He says I surround myself with all the wrong people.
J: Well, I think you do. I think Ruth is very trusting, really, considering her breadth of travel, too trusting. Ruth doesn't have enough skepticism about her fellow persons.
T: Tom used to say that about her.
R: How do you know that?
T: I read it. Tom said that you're too trusting. Do you believe you're too trusting?
R: Yes, I do. I always believe what people say. If somebody tells me something, I believe them, because I say the truth, what I think, and I think everybody else does, too. But it's not true, I know that.
T: Do you think you're too forgiving?
R: Yes.
J: Oh, she's very forgiving. She's Jesus Christ herself.
R: I forget . . . .
J: I don't understand that in Ruth, because somebody can do the most awful things to her and Ruth will just shrug her shoulders. So, I say that's a terrific security system that allows you to do that. Because Ruth is forgiving. I mean, I could do the worst thing to Ruth imaginable, and the next day she would forget about it, and she would forgive, and she would even remonstrate . . . .
T: Tom, of course, never forgot.
J: Oh, no!
R: He never forgot.
T: Do you think that's a failing in you, Ruth?
R: Yes.
J: That's why maybe Tom was smart when he picked me as a lawyer, because I'm identical. If Thea insulted me today, I would remember that thirty years from now.
R: You would?
J: I would say to her, Thea, on March 29th at 3 o'clock, you insulted me. I would remember that.
R: Lawyers always remember.
T: That's true. He is like that. People have done things. I mean Carol Fox -- there were so many problems with the Lyric Opera Ballet, there were so many problems -- and she just made it awful. She would refuse to pay the dancers and finally you said, "I'm not going to do this anymore." And so the first year that the opera ballet had different dancers, guess who was rehearsing the dancers they brought in from Pittsburgh?
R: Who?
T: You were. You helped Carol Fox even after all she had done to you.
R: What were they doing here from Pittsburgh?
T: They just brought in some dancers to do a little bit of dancing in the opera.
R: Oh. Well, Carol Fox. I understood her perfectly, because she hated dancing. She had absolutely no interest in it, and I can understand that. She didn't want to run a ballet company; she wanted to run an opera company. And that's perfectly understandable. Very few opera people like ballet and vice versa. Most ballet dancers have no use for the opera whatsoever. I love the opera. I adore opera, so I understood Carol very well. And Ardis Krainik is a marvelous person. She's always been a great friend of mine. I love Ardis.
J: Remember Ruth, after Tom died, you had dinner at your apartment. Carol Fox said, "You go to Europe, get me the dancers, put it all together, and then come back and we'll have a ballet company at the opera." You went off to Europe, you set it all up, and she came back and she said, "Oh, no. I'm not going to do that."
R: I didn't remember that.
J: Well, I do, like yesterday.
R: Isn't that funny? I don't remember that at all.
J: After you went through a lot of expense.
T: Right after that, she went in and helped rehearse the few dancers they brought in for whatever the operas were . . .
R: That's all the opera needs.
T: . . . and Ruth went right in and rehearsed them.
J: Of course, I don't consider that a failing. I think that's a great strength, to be so forgiving. The fact that this doesn't matter . . . .
R: Well, you see, actually I was never permitted by Chicago to do anything in Chicago except The Nutcracker. And The Nutcracker is so marvelous, it will go on forever. I'll be remembered by The Nutcracker. If I say so myself, it's a perfect Nutcracker. And it's so good that that's enough. I've done my share for Chicago, I think. So, to hell with Chicago!
J: Yes, but you don't think that? You don't believe that. And you don't even practice that, because you live here and you like it here.
R: Well, I live here because I love this apartment. I love you and I like a few other people. I like Larry Long. And I like my school. I have a marvelous school. I love my dancers over there, and I love all my kids in the school. There are a lot of things I like about Chicago. If I didn't have this pretty apartment, I probably would leave. I don't know. I always wanted to live in New York, but I finally gave up that idea when I found out Tom wasn't ever going to move there. I always wanted to live there in New York. I think it's a marvelous city. I like Paris, too. But I'm getting used to Chicago now. I like it well enough here.
J: See, her lawyers have always prevented her from fleeing, because after Tom died, she and Delfau found this perfect place outside of Monte Carlo that they wanted to buy. A beautiful house. And she called me and I said, "No," because then I would lose Ruth.
R: We should have bought it, you know.
J: But then I would never see you.
R: That's true. I would have been a European.
T: Why did you say "No"?
J: Well, because Ruth would live in Monte Carlo. What good would that do me in Chicago? We'd lose Ruth.
T: She already had a house in St. Tropez.
J: Oh, but she only went there for a month. I don't mind Ruth leaving if she comes back. But if she went to Monte Carlo, she'd stay there forever.
R: Darling, I'd always come back.
J: That's what they all say.
R: I'm very faithful. True to you, darling, in my fashion.
J: That's right. So that was good. So that's how Ruth got trapped in Chicago. We let her go to New York and to Europe, just so long as she returns.
T: Does he really run your life, or do you just let him think so?
R: Oh, he does. I wouldn't do anything without asking Jerry. I really wouldn't.
J: That's true. She doesn't know what money she has. She doesn't know what she can
spend. She just calls and says, "May I do this? May I do that? Can I afford this? Can I do
this? Can I do that? Should I do this? Should I do that?" She's a perfect client.
R: How about that!
T: Can she buy a new Betamax, if she wants to?
J: Yes, she can do that.
R: Can I do what?
T: You were talking about getting a new videocassette machine, but then you said, "Oh, but they're so terribly expensive."
J: Yes, but I think that's symptomatic of any of we older people. We don't like spending money frivolously. Younger people can do that sort of thing, but we older people can't. We remember hard times, right Ruth?
T: I think Ruth has always known how to spend money frivolously.
R: No! I tell you if you read my early letters, it's fantastic how much I talk about money and how little I had. I know in Indianapolis -- we lived sort of outside Indianapolis -- and if you took an inter-urban to go there, it cost a quarter. And if you took a streetcar and walked half the way, it cost ten cents. I used to save that fifteen cents. I'd walk all that way to save that fifteen cents. I never had money at all. People make me so mad when they say, "Oh, I know . . . ." Margaret Craske said to me the other day, "Well, of course, you Americans. You've always had so much money." I said, "Listen, I never had any money 'til Tom made some money later. I made good money myself, but nothing, not real money . . . ."
T: It's true. For most of your marriage you made more money than Tom.
R: Yes, I did. I don't know this thing about money. I've always been very careful with money.
J: And she still is.
R: Am I?
J: Yes. By and large she is good with money. On the other hand, if she sees a dress, she'll buy it.
T: She only buys from one place, though.
R: I don't spend much money on clothes. Your wife buys pretty clothes. She always has such pretty clothes.
J: All over. She's an "Equal Opportunity Shopper."
R: She has marvelous clothes, I think.
J: One time they showed up with the same coat. That was hilarious.
R: I remember that! Yes, that was funny.
J: A black cloak. They have a good deal of ambiance.
T: The first time I looked at this [photo], I thought it looked like Dolores. Ruth doesn't really look like Dolores . . .
J: No, no.
R: I don't look anything like Dolores! Dolores is much prettier than I am.
T: Oh, Ruth.
R: Oh, she is. Don't you think so?
J: I'm not going to answer that question, either!
R: I'm crazy about Dolores. I think Dolores is a marvelous person.
T: Ruth, really, you are, always have been a great and exciting beauty.
R: Beauty?
J: Oh, I think so. I think particularly those pictures in that book. When you're on the boat coming back. I like those pictures. I like the story that they conjure up in my mind, everybody in evening dress eating on the boat.
R: Oh, people used to dress when we went to Europe on boats. They dressed every night. It was awfully nice. Now you get there so fast, you don't have time to eat and put on your leotards!
J: But that must have been a very fashionable existence, Ruth.
R: It was, yes. I was with Kreutzberg and Wilckens . . . .
J: And it looked romantic, too. But these dancers, were they all homosexuals? Did any of the dancers ever express any interest in you or the opposite gender?
R: I don't think so. They're mostly homosexuals, I guess. I never went into their sex lives very much. I guess they were.
J: Why is it necessary that all ballet persons, women, be flat-chested?
R: [Looking down] Flat-chested? I'm not!
J: I know. But I don't mean you.
R: Well, it's easier to dance if you haven't got a big bosom flopping around . . . . Well, you have to be thin to be a dancer. It's much easier to dance if you're thin.
T: He's right, though. They are all flat-chested.
J: Because other than Ruth, up close, they're really unattractive women. I think they're very unattractive.
R: You do?
J: Yes. Other than Ruth, I would never fall in love with a ballerina. Never.
T: Margot Fonteyn is pretty.
R: Oh, Margot Fonteyn is gorgeous.
J: Not compared to you.
R: Oh, she's beautiful. I had a letter from her yesterday. She wants me to come down to Panama to visit her. Should I go?
J: Panama is every interesting. Dolores and I were there a year and a half ago. It's a very nice place. You ought to go.
R: I've been there, of course.
J: I like it. I think it's nice.
R: She's living down there now.
J: Okay. Are we done now, Thea?
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