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Dr. Irvine Page No. 02 [February 1, 1987]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0572
Run Time
0h 18m 56s
Date Produced
February 1 1987
Q: Dr. Page, tell us the story of how you met Mrs. Page.
A: You want to start that way? Well, I guess that's one of the most important parts of my life, but I'd have to tell you first that you're talking to a very, very old physician. Now, if it
interests you how I got married in 1930, I'll tell you. It began by the fact that I was working in Munich, Germany, at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute -- I can tell you about that later -- but I got a letter from Ruth, my sister, saying that they were going to have an international ballet congress. Well, since I was an all-time congress-goer, being in the medical profession, I said, "Well, that would be interesting." I thought that at least if I didn't know much about the characters, I could look at the figures.
     So, I went. And believe it or not, at this ballet down at the Opera House in Munich, the thing went for a whole week. One day I was sitting in there, and I saw a very good-looking girl sitting near me. And being young and interested, I looked at her and thought that I would just follow her out and see what the proposition is. She thought that I was a German and ran out. I knew she was an American, but I wasn't sure. And she finally came to Ted Shawn, who I had known somewhat, and Ted introduced me to her. She was naturally a bit frustrated and so was I. So, she ran off with a bunch of girls, apparently to see some other show, and I thought, well, that's a love labor lost, and I would never see her again, but glad I did see her.
     Well, believe it or not, the next night at the opera she was sitting about three seats away from me. So, this time I thought I would be a little more aggressive about it, and I introduced myself. And from then on we decided that love did have an object in life, and so we've been married since 1930. And I think she's exactly the right choice. So, I thank the ballet and the International Ballet Congress for it.
Q: And your sister Ruth?
A: And my sister Ruth. Exactly. So, by many ways, she's impinged on my life, although I don't think she really thought that she was going to get me married as a result of going to a congress.
Q: What's the first memory you have of your sister Ruth?
A: Well, we lived at 1705 N. Meriden Street in Indianapolis, which is a very middle-class, nice place to live, and that was 1901 when I was born. I don't remember her for the first year or two, but then I became aware that I had a sister and a brother, but it didn't mean anything to me. I think the first time I realized that she was a girl was when I was a child [and] they sent me to kindergarten at a girls' school called Tudor Hall. Then I realized that I was a male, not a female, which struck me as a little surprising.
     So, I went to kindergarten there, and they took me out of that place and sent me to a public school. Then I was aware that Ruth Page wore a Peter Thompson. Do you remember Peter Thompson dresses? Well, I had to wear one as a kid, and I had long bangs and thought it was GOD-AWFUL. But that's what we all wore because that was the school uniform. That was at Tudor Hall. Then I went to public school, and I thought it was great to wear a pair of pants.
     Well, the interesting thing to me about that time in my perception of Ruth was that she was a nice sort of person to have around, but nothing one way of the other, particularly. As I look back on the environment in which we lived, in many ways it was rather unusual, but I guess not so. It was made up of people, many of whom became quite famous. Like, for instance, [our] opposite neighbor was Janet Flanner, who subsequently went to the New Yorker and was in Paris. Farther down the line was Judge Elliott, who became the president of a big life insurance company, John Hancock. Around the corner was Meredith Nicholson, who was a well-known author, Booth Tarkington, and James Whitcomb Riley, who lived on Larkabee Street. Well, then the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra -- believe it or not, I remember the name of the conductor, Herr Schaeffer. Why I should remember that and I can't even remember my own middle name now, I don't know.
     The whole tenor of life in a middle western town and, I guess more so in the East, was of a sort of peaceful existence where nobody really worried about teaching you anything. You just taught yourself. I became aware that I was interested in science, and I was interested in medicine. And my father used to give me the tonsils that he took out. I would examine them and cut them into sections and look at them under a microscope, which I thought was a very interesting thing.
Q: How old were you then?
A: I was about twelve. When I was nine, he gave me a microscope and told me that if I learned how to use it, I could have it -- and I still have it some seventy years later. Well, to get back to Ruth. I think I became aware of the fact that she was getting interested in dancing because my mother was showing great interest. And my mother was a pianist and an artist in her own right, and she got Ruth . . . . I think she took Ruth rather seriously as a dancer, and which, of course, I couldn't imagine anybody taking anybody seriously as a career dancer. And I was really only aware of it when the Anna Pavlova Company came to Indianapolis. And in those days, they came and stayed a week or ten days. You know there were a bunch of good-
looking, I thought, ballet girls at that time. I even remember the name of one of them, Hilda Butsova. I don't know whatever became of her. I hardly knew her. I just looked at her and that wasn't a bad idea.
     We got to know Pavlova, Cecchetti, the ballet master, and other people like that. So I began to realize that it was a serious business. But I had nothing to do with it at all and never have. I have always been peripheral, even though my wife [Beatrice Allen] was a well-known dancer, also, with Ted Shawn. So I have looked at the dance world with curiosity and sympathy and interest ever since then, but never having any real understanding of what I was looking at. The closest I ever came to it was when I was in medicine with the Cleveland Clinic, when one of the dancers [George Skibine] popped his Achilles' tendon, and I took care of him. So, you see, my relationship was very tenuous with the dance world, even though I have been interested and exposed to it a great deal.
Q: What was your father's reaction to Ruth's desire to dance?
A: Well, my father was an old-time specialist/practitioner, and you probably wouldn't remember the type. He was very dignified, and you never would think of saying no to him. He used to come home and point out all the things that should be done by my mother and by the servants, but he never would do anything himself because that was not what he did. He operated and took care of people, and you never sassed him back. You never said, "No, I don't agree with you." You just agreed with him and did what he wanted. Curiously enough, I didn't know it at the time, but he took Ruth's career quite seriously. In a way, he was like Tom Fisher, Ruth's first husband. He kind of liked the glamour that was associated with the ballet and paid more attention to it than I did. So, I think that he and mother both provided a very strong crutch for Ruth's endeavors at the time which -- in a community like Indianapolis -- could not be considered very sympathetically.
     People said, "You mean to say that your sister is a dancer? What do you mean by a 'dancer'? What does she do, the Fox Trot, or what?" That was at a time when Irene Castle and people like that were big shots. But ballet hadn't really arrived until Pavlova and Diaghilev, people like that, came along, and the big shows started and the Metropolitan and things. Then it went to a thing, but at the beginning, it was at a very low ebb. I am sure of that. So, in a way, Ruth was a pioneer in the whole business, I would have said, but I'm no authority on that.
Q: She certainly was a pioneer, I have often wondered if your mother, who obviously was interested in music and art herself, was a force in shaping what Ruth did?
A: Yes, I think she was . . . in that, you know, in those days a young girl couldn't go around alone. She always had to have a chaperon and all that sort of thing, and Mother did go. For instance, when my father and brother both went to the war in France -- my father was a doctor and my older brother was an artillery officer -- Ruth and Mother went to South America and just left me alone. So I was alone during the war. I think this was the sort of thing that Mother did and made it possible . . . for I don't think anybody in those days would have sent a girl of Ruth's age off with a ballet company to South America and heaven knows where they were . . . they were all over during the war. That was the kind of moral support I think that Mother gave and made it socially acceptable.
Q: Would you say your mother was a kind of unconventional person, Dr. Page?
A: She was unconventional only later in life. During her active life, she did all the conventional things and supported artistic endeavors in Indianapolis and was quite a force. You know, in those days, people like that, even though they were not professionals, they gave matinee musicales and things like that, and everybody was supposed to be putting in their two cents worth.
     My father belonged to the Indianapolis Literary Club, and he was periodically giving papers on Shelley and Keats and heaven knows what -- all of which has died out. That is, the personal affairs of people have been replaced by "celebrities," and the world has changed very seriously because the average person -- who could contribute a lot of their own talents -- doesn't do it anymore, because there is always some celebrity around. I'd just point out to you, for instance, in the last scandal the number of experts that have appeared. Heaven only knows why anybody said he was an expert on terrorism. We never heard of terrorism. So they became an expert overnight. We've got more dietary experts probably than we have diets. So the world has really changed tremendously.
Q: If you would talk a little more and sort of draw a picture, in perhaps slightly more detail, of what it was like to grow up in those days in a house where people really provided their own entertainment, their own artistic sort of thing?
A: Of course, I am awfully biased on this sort of thing, because I am still very old-fashioned about what I think people . . . how they thrive and how they develop. In looking back on it, I would say that we had about as ideal an environment in which to grow up and exhibit our own talents as I can imagine. We were "taught" nothing. In other words, we went to school and did our homework -- nobody helped us on our homework -- we didn't have tutors; we didn't have anything. When your time was free, there was no television; there was nothing, no videotapes and not even a phonograph. You simply did what you wanted to do during that time; and Ruth would dance, and it didn't bother me. I didn't care whether she did or didn't.
     I was interested in nature and science, and so I spent most of my time looking at the scum from the pond, and using a microscope, and looking at other sorts of things. Naturally, I got interested in microscopy, and from that I began to get interested in medicine. I remember an episode about Otis Skinner, the famous actor. It was the first time I had ever seen an operation. I was just a kid. My father said, "Wouldn't you like to come down and see me do a mastoidectomy of Otis Skinner?" I said, "Yeah!" My most vivid recollection of that was the minute I saw the knife go into the tissue and the blood start spurting. I conked out completely, fainted dead away, never saw the operation. So I don't think that was a very good entry into medicine, but it all disappeared, and I found that I was not unique. The uniqueness was that Otis Skinner spent nine months living at our house after the operation. He subsequently had a house here in Hyannisport, and Cornelia Skinner and I grew up together. Well, that is how these interactions happened. You didn't have to be introduced to people; you just found you were living next to one of them or something like that.
     That's the reason I liked it. For instance, Booth Tarkington was a neighbor of ours, and of course, I was much younger than he. But years and years later a very odd thing happened. When I was working at the City Hospital, I got a box of dry leaves from Kenneth Roberts -- you know the famous author -- and he said, "I understand you worked on high blood pressure and I think these dried leaves will cure high blood pressure." I thought, who in the dickens is this guy? So I fed it to some of my dogs, and three of them died promptly. I then wrote back and said, "I think you've got something wrong here." I then got a letter from Booth Tarkington, which is an absolute classic, telling me that Kenneth Roberts had gotten mixed up and sent me white hellebore, which is a very poisonous plant, and that he had tried it on his wife and they ate it. This was the kind of thing that you get when you live . . . . Now, today, I probably never would have known Booth Tarkington, but he knew this and followed me over a period of years. I read the Penrod stories, and Otis Skinner read them aloud to us; when he read them to us, it was in the manuscript. You remember Penrod?
Related Place
Hyannis Port (production location of)