Wednesday, June 19, 2013


You know, Robert Paige was underrated. No. You don't know. Which proves he was. Doesn't it?

A pleasant and versatile actor, Paige was often the mild romantic lead in 30's and 40's movies, often in parts so inconsequential that the leading lady did most of the work. Ellen Drew had to take over "Women Without Names" to solve the crime that sent him to jail. He was barely a threat to whatever villain was helping to push the plot along (including Lon Chaney Jr. in "Son of Dracula"). Probably because his singing voice was nice, but no competition to distract from his more famous co-star, he was the only man who actually was allowed to duet with Deanna Durbin in a movie.

Some of you wouldn't be able to distinguish him from Patric Knowles, Arthur Franz or even Dick Foran among the thankless leading men who bore the plot and tolerated the wisecracks in Abbott & Costello movies and/or Olsen and Johnson comedies. Romantic comedy teams were popular in the 40's and Paige was paired with Jane Frazee and Louise Allbritton among others. Probably his best role was in "Her Primitive Man," a very un-PC comedy with Louise as a tough whistleblower who, for a change, ultimately brings out the comic aggression in our laidback hero Bob. He spends quite a lot of time in bronze South American headhunter make-up, and even plucks a few laughs away from veteran hams Edward Everett Horton and Robert Benchley.

In looking for any long-lost gems among the Paiges, one will find a surprising number of B-movie musicals. There was never a shortage of crooners, or singers tossed into movies to try and gain sales for 78's…so why Paige was so often used is a bit of a puzzle. In his early career, he was billed as "David Carlyle," and it was under that name, in the light b-movie filler "Meet the Boy Friend," that I first heard him sing. I thought maybe he had been dubbed, but no…that was him. The song he had to sing was never issued on a 78 rpm single.

When I found him singing in various other movies…I assumed that some of this stuff was made available on record, and not just sheet music. No. The only studio recordings on Paige are on the soundtrack to the movie he made with (the recently deceased, April 30th) Deanna Durbin. That's pretty odd, isn't it? Back in the day, 78 rpm singles were being grinded out on big labels and indies. Most any personality who could sing recorded something. 78's were hugely popular because at night there were only three major appliances that could supply entertainment…the radio, the record player, and the fridge.

The 78 rpm 3-disc Decca set of the "Can't Help Singing" soundtrack (re-issued on LP via "Ace of Hearts") did have "Elbow Room" the only solo Robert Paige recorded:

The multi-talented and versatile Mr. Paige left the fluffy world of amiable character parts in the early 60's, following a bit part in the James Mason-Susan Hayward comedy "Marriage-Go-Round" and became a television newsman. Which is news to who probably never heard of him before this. Nice guys sometimes finish...on the illfolks blog.

In keeping with the header about the singer who never issued his own solo single, here are two duets:

ROBERT PAIGE and JANE FRAZEE stop Olsen and Johnson's comedy to sing HEAVEN FOR TWO in "Hellzapoppion."

ROBERT PAIGE and DEANNA DURBIN some might object but they…CAN'T HELP SINGING


Anonymous said...

I think this post may underrate the already underrated Paige even more. Just caught Who Killed Gail Preston on MEtv and if that's Paige's voice in "12 o-clock and All's Not Well," he was a damn fine singer. I'd say he was allowed to sing with Durbin because he was one of few actors who could hold his own reasonably well.

Colleen Paige said...

Thank you for your post about my Dad. While I do agree with the other post here, I thank you for featuring him and especially posting the songs, which I did not have until now. That was truly a gift to me today, as Father's Day holds much sadness that my best friend is not here with anymore. My father was the nicest and funniest person you could ever hope to meet. He lives on in my son, who is nearly his clone and just as amazing.

Ill Folks said...

Great to hear from you, Colleen. I became a fan of your father when I saw "Her Primitive Man." I loved that film so much I even recorded the audio on reel-to-reel (those pre VHS days). Yes, I know the "Father's Day" feeling too. Nice to know your son is "nearly his clone," and that he was, as I would've expected, such a nice, funny guy.