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Ruth Page Guatemala Room No. 14 [March 29, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0512
Run Time
0h 19m 30s
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 02:19.]
J: . . . Ruth likes Harvard Law School men, right?
R: Yes, I do. I like lawyers. They are so intelligent. They're so much more intelligent than any of us. We don't think logically. Dancers have to think, too, you know, but they don't have to think so logically. We have to, with our brains, direct our bodies about what they do. But lawyers can talk on any subject and be logical about it. Don't you think that's true?
J: I think you're very logical. I think you write very well, and I think you think very clearly.
R: You do?
J: Yes. You have to think clearly to think up ballets. You have to put them down. You're very literate. You're a very literate person. Extremely literate. More literate than many of my partners.
T: I'm sure that's true.
R: Who are your partners?
J: Well, they're not all graduates of Harvard Law School. That's part of the problem. Some of them went to Yale.
R: Well, Yale Law School's nothing, is it?
J: Right.
R: I know I like Harvard lawyers, that's true.
T: Tom was kind of emotional, wasn't he?
J: He was, yes and no. I would say Tom had a temper. So in that sense . . . but he was highly intellectual. So I think he was. I didn't see his temper too often. Did you Ruth? Would you say he was a man who got angry?
R: No. He never got mad at me. He was always nice to me.
T: He was an absolute tiger about looking after Ruth's interest.
J: Yes, very. I mean if you look at the New York Library Dance Collection of Ruth's papers, you see these thousands and thousands of letters Tom would write, because if he got on a subject, he would never give up until he achieved satisfaction.
R: That's true. That's very true. He was very tenacious.
J: Extremely tenacious.
T: So are you, Ruth. Don't you think so?
R: I never thought about it. I let everything go by. I never insist on anything.
T: You tried a case against Tom. Is that how you met?
J: He and I were on the other side, and this matter started . . .
R: . . . ten years ago . . .
J: . . . more than that, Ruth -- March, 1956. I had been a lawyer 8 months, and it went on until the time of Tom's death in 1969. It still wasn't over. It was a lady who sold her expectancy . . . .
T: Right. This was the King heir?
J: No. This wasn't the King Ranch. This was a woman . . . .
R: Who was it?
J: Mary Isabelle Llwellyn.
R: Never heard of her.
J: And she sold her expectancy to all those money lenders on the East Coast who then subdivided this expectancy into little further interests, so that when her father died, that's when the will kicked in, she would receive her money. Then the bank, which is now the Continental Bank, sued to construe the will and to see if these assignments were valid. So there were about 100 parties, and Tom represented many of these money lenders who had bought the expectancy, and this case went on forever. It was very hard fought. And so people would settle along the line. His clients settled the last. So, we always had acrimony. And Ruth will tell you Tom could talk on the telephone forever. He'd call you, and he would start vituperating. Well, you could put the phone down and write several briefs and do other things, because he would talk for several hours.
R: I know somebody else like that.
J: And he didn't mind that he was being interrupted because he liked to talk. So if he called you, this was a long session. You may as well do something else because you couldn't interrupt him, nor could you terminate the conversation. Is that right Ruth?
R: I guess so. I don't know.
J: So, that's how I met Tom. Even though we were on the other side, I very much admired him as a lawyer and as a person, because I saw him both in court and out of court. He was very ego-involved. Because it was a young woman lawyer -- I remember one motion she argued against him. She said, "Now Mr. Fisher said in this brief as follows, and by that he meant. . . ." And Tom was very irritated by that, and he said, "Don't tell me what I meant." He said. "I know what I meant. So you can't tell me what I meant." So he was very tenacious. In court, he wrote very good briefs. And out of court, what would please Ruth is that he would not talk about the law, he would talk about buying chateaus and traveling in France and history and all manner of interesting things. So I enjoyed him very much as a person.
R: He adored you. He was a great admirer of yours.
J: Even though we were enemies, legal enemies. That's how I met Mr. Fisher.
T: He picked you.
J: He picked me. He called me. He was at the hospital, and he called me and he said, "I want you to come to the hospital because I want you to represent a rich widow." And of course, he always liked the sense of drama, and he didn't tell me who that person was to be. So I talked to my partners, and they were a little skeptical. And I said, "Well, I don't know why I shouldn't go, because I've always liked Tom, so I'm going to go." And I came to the hospital, and Ruth was there. And he said, "I want you to meet my wife, Ruth Page, and she is your client. I'm going to die in a matter of months, and I want you to take care of her and I want you to take care of my affairs. And that's how Ruth and I first met, and we've been together ever since. That's 16 years. Isn't that right, Ruth?
R: That's right.
T: Did he really tell Ruth that she was supposed to do everything you told her?
J: Yes. He really said that.
R: He said that to me, too. He said, "Now, you do everything Jerry Solovy tells you to do. Whatever it is, you do it." So I said all right.
J: And I'd like to think he picked a good protector and a good champion of Miss Page, because I do, I think, look after her interests and champion her cause.
T: Just as he did. He was a terrific champion for her cause.
J: Yes, well. But I couldn't do what he did, because he was much better, he had more time than I, so he could really go after the details of the ballet, if there were music rights to be obtained. They don't make people with energy like his. He had this fantastic energy level. Very intense person. So, if he wanted something done, he would stay on that forever. He wouldn't give up. They don't make people like that.
T: Did you know Tom's father?
J: No. He was an interesting . . . .
R: He was a marvelous man. We lived with his father the first few years we were married. We lived in his house and everything, and I thought he was the most extraordinary man I had ever met. So, Tom comes from a family, they're all interesting people, I think. I adore Tom's family. I still see them all around.
T: His sister Margaret . . .
J: Her father-in-law was Secretary of the Interior under Wilson [sic: Taft]. The law firm which is now Bell, Boyd, Marshall, Lloyd . . .
R: It used to be Fisher, Bell, Boyd & Lloyd.
J: . . . that was Toms' father. That was the prominent law firm in Chicago. Now, Tom didn't stay with that firm.
T: He was with them only for a very few years.
R: Well, he didn't stay with that firm because he wanted to take what cases he wanted to take, and when you're in a big firm, you specialize in something. He had [Paul] Cravath in New York, who always wanted him to come to New York, everybody wanted him, but he wanted to practice alone so that he could do what he wanted. Nobody would have let him take that King Ranch case; that was impossible to win. So that's why he left, and I think he was right. That is why he stayed in Chicago, because he couldn't do what he wanted in New York. In New York, he'd have had to go into a big firm. But here he could practice all by himself. Not many lawyers do that, do they?
J: No. Very seldom.
     That was an intelligent family. His brother [Walter], stayed at Bell, Boyd. Now his son, Ruth's nephew, is Roger Fisher, who's a very famous professor at Harvard Law School and his big area is law dispute negotiations. He's got this book, Getting to Yes. He's a very persuasive man. As a matter of fact, he settled the case in which I was involved. It could not be settled and Roger settled it. I thought it would never be settled. He's in many ways like Tom, never stopped talking. You could say, "Roger, forget about it. I'm not doing this," and he would never stop. Isn't that right [Ruth]?
R: I guess so.
J: Ruth had him for dinner here one night. A very intelligent man. He served with, I think it was Gen. Marshall in the Second World War. He went over with the Marshall Plan. So the Fisher family is a very intelligent family. But I think Ruth's family is equally interesting. I bet she didn't tell you, we bought a special cemetery plot in Indianapolis. I thought that she should, upon her death, return to her forebears, because she's a very famous daughter . . . .
R: I want them to scatter my ashes.
J: She would like to do that, but she's a very famous daughter of Indianapolis. So, we have her a nice little hill. It's near a famous grave.
R: Benjamin Harrison, is it?
J: No. It isn't Benjamin Harrison. I know Ruth would like to have her ashes scattered but . . . . For example, did you tell Thea about the party you had when Tom died? Because this is interesting.
T: I was going to ask about that.
R: Oh, yes. I thought he'd like that better than just everyone sitting around being sad. I'm sure he would have preferred that, that party like that. I think that was a good idea, don't you?
T: It was Carol Fox who called and said, "You have to do something."
R: Yes, I think it was Carol.
T: And you said, "All right, I'll give a party."
J: And a lot of people came, and it was not sad. It was festive.
R: We talked about Tom and everything.
T: You wrote that it helped you feel better.
R: Yes.
J: I thought it was an interesting approach -- [to] death -- as against the Jewish religion, you're required to be morose, morose for seven days, and then for eleven months.
R: I didn't know that.
T: An Orthodox Jew, it's eleven months. It's a long time. And then there's a seven-day official period of mourning.
R: How boring.
T: There's a thirty-day period when you're not supposed to do anything that's remotely enjoyable.
R: Well, I was a widow for 14 years, wasn't I? So I know what it is to be a widow all right. Not a very merry one, either.
J: No, but you kept yourself busy. I think that's Ruth's secret to youth . . . is the fact that she's never unoccupied. You're always doing something.
R: Well, I always have to have some sort of project up my sleeve, yes. I always like to be busy, and I like to have projects, and I like to be interested in things. I do like to sit at home and read once in a while, but I don't get much chance to do that. I love to do that. I like to have things going. I love my school. I'm very interested in that. And I'm interested in all the scholarships we give over there, all the children that go there. I find that sort of fascinating.
T: You've got about five projects going right now, if you count all the ballets. There's The Merry Widow that's happening, and the Alice film, and the school, and what you were talking about reviving the other day.
R: Fledermaus. We're going to do that. We're reviving that for Tulsa, and maybe, I hope, we could do that on television.
J: I was going to ask you about that. Lynne was asking me about that.
R: Well, it's going on in the fall in Tulsa.
J: Where can we televise it, and can we televise it there?
R: I wish we could. I think it's a very good idea. It's a ballet, sort of like The Merry Widow. I think it's just as good, only it isn't as famous as The Merry Widow. But the music is lovely, and Delfau's costumes are marvelous. That's the first ballet we did together.
J: Thea, do they have a television station in Tulsa?
T: Sure they do. A public television station?
J: Yes.
R: Maybe they'd be interested in doing it.
J: I think why it's important for Ruth to have a strong husband or lawyer is because she's a very self-effacing person. Ruth is not good at pushing herself.
R: Neither is Delfau, my husband. He's impossible. He's worse than I am.
J: Ruth is very self-effacing and long-suffering. So, she needs a protector. Now, I don't approve of that. I don't approve of somebody who needs a protector.
R: Why?
J: Well, because . . . .
R: You should stand up for yourself?
J: No.
R: Well, I'll try and reform. I'm going to stand up for myself about that picture. If you don't do something about that, I'm going to get another lawyer.
J: Ruth is a very modest person.
T: Yes, that's true. You are.
R: I never thought about it.
J: Well, we went through this whole thing with the Chicago Ballet.
T: Could we talk about that? I thought that was one of the things we should talk about. You must have been involved.
J: I was very involved in that. And I thought Ruth was long-suffering and very patient. Stanley Freehling came to us, and he really promoted this idea of a Chicago Ballet, and Stanley is a very philanthropic person. But what was surprising to me was the social part of Chicago in putting together a charity . . . that although they were very social, they really weren't very sincere about doing anything or raising money.
T: So Ruth took the leadership role and really challenged the City.
J: Yes, but what happened was that we put up all the money and nobody else ever did. And then Geraldine [Freund] came along, and she was very insistent about having the limelight and pushing Ruth to the back.
R: We really gave it up because we wanted to get rid of Geraldine.
T: It was all Ruth's idea, Ruth's money and Ruth's school and Ruth's building, and what she was trying to do was . . . .
R: Take over the whole thing. Fortunately, I didn't let her take any part of the school. She had nothing to do with the school. I just said, "No." But everybody said about Geraldine, "If you let her do it all by herself, she'd be marvelous." But it's not true. I like Geraldine. She's got a lot of good qualities, but she wasn't good for me at all.
T: What would have been the purpose of letting her take over and do it, Ruth? It was your school, it was your . . . .
R: My school was entirely separate from the [Chicago] Ballet. And she had strange ideas about what ballets you should do. For instance, she didn't even want me to do The Merry Widow, which is my most popular ballet. Well, that's a funny idea.
J: She didn't want us to film Frankie and Johnny with Channel 11, that Mr. [Richard] Carter did. She didn't let us use the fact that this was the Chicago Ballet company, because she thought it was a risqué ballet and . . .
R: She thought it was naughty.
J: . . . therefore would be bad for the company. It was an eye-opening event to me, (A) as to how really difficult it was to run a public charity, and (B) how much Ruth was going to sacrifice of herself to do something good for the city.
T: Yes. I was reading last night, as a matter of fact, about a party that Stanley Freehling gave when you founded the thing, and somebody called on you, and you stood on a chair and made a speech at a party that was put together for fund-raising -- that Stanley Freehling gave to bring together all the people -- and you said, "I want to bring good ballet to Chicago and as a challenge, I am willing to give $250,000 a year for three years to get this started. Come on Chicago -- you can do it!"
J: Match it? They didn't even come close! They didn't even try.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)