dontate now

Join Email List

Facebook  Become a Fan on Facebook
twitter  Follow Us on Twitter

329 West 18th Street Suite #610
Chicago, Illinois 60616
(312) 243-1808

Search Collections

Ruth Page Front Room No. 09 [March 27, 1985]

Bookmark and Share
Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0564
Run Time
0h 18m 30s
Date Produced
March 27 1985
Q: You have been reciting poetry since you were a child. Right?
A: Yes.
Q: Tell us about breakfast.
A: Oh, yes. Because my father didn't like useless conversation at breakfast. He said, "If you haven't got anything to say, well, don't talk." Or he'd say, "I'd love it if you'd come down all of you children" -- the three of us -- "and recite me a poem every morning." So that's what we finally did. That was our conversation at breakfast.
     "Oh, Captain, my Captain." Yes, that was my favorite one. "Oh, Captain, my Captain, our fearful trip is done, Our ship has weathered every wrack, the prize we sought is won." That's one of my favorites. But we liked all kinds of poems. My father liked poetry, so we had to please him.
Q: And he was a great friend of James Whitcomb Riley.
A: Yes. He lived in Indianapolis. I remember him quite well. He lived on Lockerbee Street, which they never paved, because that's the way it was when he was there. I remember James Whitcomb Riley. My father started a hospital, a children's hospital in his name. And I went all over the state with my father asking for money for the children's hospital. I remember so well. He'd always say, "If you give me money for a children's hospital, then you won't have to spend money on old people. They'll be properly taken care of when they're young." He got the hospital all right. I think it was the first first-class [children's] hospital in the country.
Q: Now, though you come from a family of doctors -- your father was a doctor, your brother is a famous doctor -- your own feelings about doctors or the help that a doctor can give you . . . . You once wrote something about, "If you're sick, work on your mind. Doctors can't do really much to help you."
A: Well, my brother said that. My brother said, a doctor can't help a person who has heart trouble. The patient has to know what to do for himself. That was my brother who said that. Not me. So I just took it from my brother. So far I've never had any heart problems -- I'm knocking on wood like mad. I don't know. I don't go to doctors because they really can't help you. I'm not a Christian Scientist at all, but the doctors of today don't take any interest. Don't you think that's true?
Q: Yes, I do.
A: I've been to a few doctors here. I can't sleep at night, and I've been to doctors to see what they can give me to help me to sleep, and they always say, "Well, we can't help you. Something's wrong with you if you can't sleep." Well, I know that's true, but they can't tell you what to do. So what's the use of going to them? It's expensive and a waste of time.
Q: You've always had trouble sleeping.
A: Yes. My brother is the same. He doesn't sleep either. And last night I couldn't sleep all night. It's just awful.
Q: Do you still get up in the middle of the night and take hot baths?
A: Yes. And I get up and read. I come out in the kitchen and read because the light's so nice and bright there. I like bright light so I go out in the kitchen and sit and read.
Q: And you have music playing.
A: Yes. I do that. I have one of those things right by my bed and that helps; helps me to have something to do at night.
Q: You don't watch television?
A: Yes, but in the middle of the night there isn't anything interesting that I've found. I watched it last night -- Anna Karenina. Sometimes there are interesting things. And sometimes I sit up and watch Johnny Carson and all those people. They're kind of interesting, mildly interesting, I think.
Q: How do the guests on those shows compare? You've known a great many interesting people in your life . . . . How do the guests on those shows compare to the people that you've known?
A: They seem awfully interesting people to me. They aren't the kind of people that I would especially like, because mostly they're not artists or dancers. I don't ever remember his having a dancer on his show, Johnny Carson. But I think he's very witty, I think. Don't you? He's always got an answer and he's always amusing. I find him amusing.
Q: Going back to doctors for a moment. In 1982 [sic], Ruth, you had an accident -- well, you were mugged, twice, and the doctors told you that you would never walk again.
A: Yes, they did. But I fooled them. I have an artificial hip. They put it in, and I had to stay in bed about a week, and then I got up and started to walk, and I walked fine. I can't dance any more, but I suppose at my age I couldn't dance now anyway. But I probably could have, though, because I was very sturdy -- if I hadn't had those two muggings. That was so unnecessary, you know.
Q: To say the least. You wrote at the time or slightly afterward, after the doctors had told you that you wouldn't walk, that in order to cure yourself, you worked on your brain and your soul. You did a lot of thinking, and that's how you made yourself better.
A: Oh, well, that's interesting. I'm glad to know that!
Q: And you said that you had a philosophy that it's important to keep pushing your body.
A: Oh, yes. I think you have to. The body falls apart very fast if you don't work on it. I mean, I know so many older people who can't do anything. That's because they don't try. They don't keep doing it. My brother, now, he plays tennis every day. He keeps his body going. Some people do, but most people, I think, don't.
Q: You also wrote about the importance to force your brain all the time.
A: Yes. You don't want to let your brains fall asleep. It's very easy to do. Just don't think.
Q: What do you do to keep your brain active?
A: Nothing. I don't think it works very well, either. [Laughs]
Q: Come on, Ruth, you read all the time.
A: Oh, I read. Yes, I read all the time. I love to read. And I read everything.
Q: And you write.
A: Well, you say I do, but I can't remember, though I've written a lot, but I don't know why. I think I'm compulsive. I forget it as soon as I write it, anyhow.
Q: When you look at the original manuscripts of the things that you've written, the stationery is from hotels all over the world.
A: Yes. Yes, I don't carry a proper tablet with me to write on. I just write on hotel stationery or whatever happens to be around. How did you know that?
Q: I saw the originals.
A: Oh, I see.
Q: And you write in pencil.
A: I love to write in pencil.
Q: And when do you write, Ruth? I mean, is it in the afternoons or the mornings or . . . .
A: I would like to write in the morning. That's the best time to do everything. I always go to class, so I can't write in the morning. So I do it whenever I can.
Q: And what causes you to sit down and write? Is there an idea?
A: I don't know. I have no idea.
Q: You seem to write fairly frequently.
A: I love to write. I adore it. But I don't know why.
Q: And you write fairly carefully constructed essays.
A: Thank you. I didn't know that. I really didn't. I just write whatever comes into my head. I never went to school really, so I never learned to write or learned mathematics or learned anything. I went on the stage when I was very young and never had any schooling. I graduated from high school, and that was all. Then I went to New York schools that were useless.
Q: Finishing schools.
A: Finishing schools.
Q: You used to write letters to your mother very frequently.
A: They're also very interesting. I read a lot of them the other day and they're terribly interesting, because I told her everything; everything I was doing, everybody I saw -- just told her everything. I think she must have loved getting those letters.
Q: Did she write to you?
A: Yes.
Q: What kind of letters did she write to you?
A: Well, giving me advice; telling me what to do. She wrote me a lot.
Q: Did you listen?
A: Yes, sure.
Q: She once said to you, "Men are all different, but husbands are all alike."
A: Maybe she did, but I don't remember that.
Q: Do you think that's true?
A: Well. I've only had two husbands, and they're so different, one from the other, that I'm not a good person to say that. They're very, very different. So I don't know whether husbands are all alike.
Q: What do you think your mother meant?
A: Maybe she meant that once you married somebody, you were tied down. I don't know. I was never tied down by either of my husbands, so I don't know. But maybe that's what she meant. I guess in her day, if you got married, you were tied down. She had to come back from Germany where she was studying music and live in Indianapolis, which she didn't want to do at all. Maybe that's what she meant, I don't know.
Q: She once, you have written, played an important role in your life at a particularly critical time regarding a man. You were in love with Isamu Noguchi.
A: Yes.
Q: And do you remember what your mother did?
A: Yes. Instead of saying, "Oh, well, you must never see him . . . ." It was all very clandestine. My husband knew all about it, but it was awful. And so my mother had Isamu and me come down to Hyannisport and stay a week. She said, "If you'd stay here a week with me, I bet it will be over," and it was. That finished it off completely. She was right, you see.
Q: A wise woman. I started to ask you before about the poetry to which you danced in Words and Music. Edna St. Vincent Millay. What did you dance of hers?
A: Why don't you remind me? Oh -- "I burn my candle at both ends. It will not last the night. But, ah, my friends, and oh, my foes, it gives such a lovely light!" That was one of them. I don't remember what other ones of hers I did. She was a very popular poet at that time. She sort of died out, I think. They were sort of light and easy.
Q: And Li Po. That's a poet I don't know.
A: You don't know Li Po? Well, of course they're translations from the Chinese. So what the original Chinese is, I don't know. But I loved his poems. "A pot of wine among the flowers, I alone drinking without a companion, I lift my cup . . . ." And so forth and so on. I don't remember much more.
Q: And Carl Sandburg. You did a number of his.
A: Yes. I did a lot of his "Songs." The Carl Sandburg songs. It was called Carl Sandburg's Song Bag. He was from Chicago, I believe. And they were charming, absolutely charming little poems.
Q: Ogden Nash.
A: Yes, he was amusing. I don't remember. Do you know what ones I did? I don't remember what ones of his I did, but I did some of his because I did very serious ones and then I did little short ones to sort of liven the program up because it got too serious.
Q: And you did Dorothy Parker.
A: Yes. She was amusing, too. What did I do of hers?
Q: Did you do, "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses"?
A: What is that from?
Q: That's Dorothy Parker.
A: Great poem.
Q: Garcia Lorca?
A: Yes. "Five in the Afternoon." "It was exactly five in the afternoon . . . " I put it into Carmen. I think, if I'm not mistaken. I did four different versions of Carmen, but I think I used Garcia Lorca's poem somehow in one of the Carmen's.
Q: And then Amy Lowell. You did some of her poetry, too.
A: Amy Lowell. I don't remember. Oh, I did so many.
Q: Archibald Macliesh.
A: Yes. He was an interesting poet. Sort of an intellectual poet. I don't remember. I'm surprised I did all these, because I don't remember them. If I started thinking about it, maybe I could remember. It's been such a long time.
Q: Oh, indeed. A very long time. Baudelaire.
A: What did I do of Baudelaire? I don't remember.
Q: Eugene Field.
A: Yes. He was a light . . . .
Q: Children's poet.
A: Yes.
Q: And H. Belloc.
A: Hilaire Belloc. Yes, I remember the name, but what poems of his I don't. I'd forgotten I'd done so many.
Q: Those must have been difficult programs to do, Ruth. How long did you perform when you did the Words and Music?
A: Oh, a solo program takes about two hours. The first part is an hour, and then you have an intermission and another hour. I did solo programs a lot because I didn't have anybody to dance with. And they were fun to do. I liked them. You weren't dependent on anybody except yourself.
Q: Very different from choreographing a ballet, where you're dependent on everybody. Okay. Going back now to Billy Sunday and the episodes, the four sermons, that you decided to choose: David and Bathsheba, Joseph and Mrs. Potiphar, The Wise and Foolish Virgins, and Samson and Delilah. How did you pick those?
A: Oh, how do I know? I have no idea. They were subjects that everybody knew about. Everybody knows those four stories very well, and it's better to take something that the audience knows about, and then it's easier to do the ballet.
Q: And then, eventually, at the end, the way the ballet ends, is with Billy Sunday swinging the bat . . .
A: . . . "of righteousness . . . "
Q: . . . and knocking the devil . . .
A: . . . "out of the box." Yes that's the one that started out with "Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole . . . ." Yes, that's the one. And ended with the same idea.
Q: What are the words to that? "Temptation is . . . "
A: . . . "looking through the keyhole, and yielding is opening the door and letting him in." Now, beyond that, I don't remember. I just remember that. It starts out, "Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole, yielding is opening the door and letting him in . . . . " After that I don't remember. I could have looked these things all up for you if I had known you were going to ask me these things. I've got the music around here someplace.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)