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Reading Between the Lines


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Talented scene-stealer Janis Paige started out playing film ingenues in the 1940s but never seemed to be comfortable in those roles. She had too much snap, crackle and pop to be confined in such a formulaic way. But she enjoyed a long and successful career as both an actress and songstress. Born Donna Mae Tjaden in 1922 in Tacoma, Washington, Paige was singing in public from the age of 5 in local amateur shows. She moved to Los Angeles after graduating from high school and earned a job as a singer at the Hollywood Canteen during the War years. The Canteen, which was a studio-sponsored gathering spot for servicemen, is where she was spotted by a Warner Brothers talent scout, who saw potential in her and signed her up. Paige began co-starring in the 1940s in musicals that often paired her with either Dennis Morgan or Jack Carson. Following her role in Two Gals and a Guy (1951), she left the Hollywood scene. She took to the Broadway stage and scored a major hit with the 1951 comedy-mystery play Remains to Be Seen, co-starring Jackie Cooper. She also toured successfully as a cabaret singer, performing everywhere from New York to Miami to Las Vegas to Los Angeles and every place in-between. Definitive stardom came in 1954 with the feisty role of Babe in the Broadway musical classic The Pajama Game opposite John Raitt. After a six-year hiatus, Janis returned to films, all but stealing Silk Stockings (1957) from co-stars Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. She then grabbed more than her share of laughs in the comedy Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960) opposite Doris Day. She also carried on in summer stock, playing such indomitable roles as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun, Margo Channing in Applause, Mama Rose in Gypsy and Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. From the mid-'50s on, Janis also tapped into television with her own sitcom It's Always Jan (1955-56) and in the '70s with a memorable three-episode guest arc on All in the Family as well as appearances on shows including Columbo (1972), The Love Boat (1978) and The Rockford Files (1978). In the mid-'80s, Paige also had a recurring role on the drama series Trapper John, M.D. And in the 1990s, among other TV appearances, she had recurring roles on the daytime soaps General Hospital and Santa Barbara. Paige is the widow of famed lyricist Ray Gilbert (1912-1976), who wrote the classic Oscar-winning tune Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah among many others.

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