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Dr. Irvine Page No. 04 [February 1, 1987]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0574
Run Time
0h 19m 7s
Date Produced
February 1 1987
[A:]     We came to Hyannisport because some neighbors of ours named the Millikens lived again in this Indianapolis environment, and they started coming here because of Tom Taggart, who was then a well-known famous politician, who owned French Lick which produced Pluto water. He had built a house here. They had built a house here and said to my family, "Why don't you build a house here?" So we built a house here in 1901. I was here in that house and inherited the house and tore it down, rebuilt this house, and then when I had a stroke, this was ready for us. That's why we're here. Long before the Kennedys ever heard of it. Otis Skinner came up; he took a cottage one summer, and the Taggarts were here -- Tom Taggart and the Sinclairs, people like that. You know, they were all people locally from Indianapolis.
Q: Ruth loves the sea, and apparently you do, too.
A: Yes. She's been up here. She comes up usually every summer. She likes it here. Unfortunately, her husband doesn't care much for it -- Delfau. He's not sea-bound.
Q: Definitely not. Ruth talks about how when you were children growing up, your father didn't like idle chit-chat, and she used to memorize poems and recite them at breakfast. Can you tell us about that?
A: Unfortunately, I can. He didn't like small talk. There was no question about that.
Q: Could you start with, "My father didn't like small talk."
A: My father didn't like small talk. If you wanted to talk about something that he thought important, he was delighted to do it. In order to get through breakfast -- which we all had to attend and which began at 7:30 promptly and you had to be there no matter whether you wanted to or not -- we had to learn poetry in order to avoid small talk. I never had an absolute understanding of poetry, and eighty-six years later I still haven't any. It's amazing that Ruth and my father loved it.
     We learned all kinds of things, none of which I have the slightest recollection of. I don't even remember the names. I just remember something about daffodils standing on tiptoe. That's the total contribution I have learned about poetry. I have a wife who is very much interested, who's an author and very much interested in poetry. I can't for the life of me understand it at all. I look at things. I'd say, "Well, if you want to say it, why don't you just say it simply?" This is the way you say it in science. You don't say it all jazzed up with various forms; you simply say it as simply as possible. In science you were never even allowed to use the term "very." If it's there, it's there. It isn't "very" that; it's just not there. Yet we had to learn this.
     Again, I have no auditory memory, so I never could have been an actor. I never could have been anything that dealt with listening, because there's a hole right straight through my head -- goes in one ear and comes out the other. I can't remember anything. I used to have to put on medical shows, you know, and if they would tell me that I had to learn lines exactly, that's the way the show goes on television, I'd say that I couldn't learn them. "Just tell me what you want me to say and I'll say it." I can think about it and say the thing in the way I think I want to say it, but that's no good.
Q: So, you're not a performer?
A: Absolutely not. I don't seem to be able to memorize anything, and yet, I've given thousands of speeches. I like to talk to an audience. I like the feel of when I'm talking to a big audience, I'm talking to people personally. But I don't have any format to it. It just comes. I look at somebody and tell them that this is the way I see it or something . . . whatever. I don't know. I enjoyed it, too.
Q: Would you say that you have a performer's flair, like Ruth?
A: Well, I don't know Ruth's. I would suppose that ballet's a very demanding type of thing. Well, mine's not. I wander out on stage, and the only thing I do right is that I have a sense of timing. When the clock starts to get about two minutes before the hour, somebody says in there, "Hey, [speed] up. You've got to get out of this thing quickly." I think of something to say and get out. I time it without ever looking at my watch.
Q: Dr. Page, I think there are very few people who would not suggest that giving a medical speech was complicated and difficult to give.
A: Well, it's different.
Q: Of course, it's different.
A: If you tell me that I have to do this, I guess I get panicky. My mind closes, and I don't remember things. People say, "Well, all you've got to do is say this." I say, "No, let me say it in my way and I can do it, but I can't do it in your way." So, I would drive a scriptwriter absolutely nuts, I'm sure of that.
     When I see the exactitude that they demand of the modem ballet dancer -- oh, gee -- it gives me the creeps. But they're marvelous.
Q: It strikes me, yet, that you, in reading about you, like your sister, are a very disciplined person, self-disciplined. Would you say that's accurate?
A: Yes, I think that's true, but the term discipline always frightens me a little bit. I don't think of myself as a disciplined person. I think of myself as a very orderly person. In other words, I am the kind of person, and I think Ruth is, too, that if I say that I am going to meet you at 3:03, I'm going to meet you at 3:03, not 3:02, or 3:04, and this drives most people crazy. It drives me crazy, too, when people say that I will call you back, and I say, "Don't call me back at noon because I'll be asleep." They say, "What?" And I say, "Yes, I'll be asleep. I take naps at noon." So they call me at 12:05 and I don't answer the phone. Then they say, "Well, I couldn't get to you." I say, "Yes, I know you couldn't. I heard the phone ring, but don't try it again." Well, that's the kind of discipline I think that we both do . . . is that it unfortunately makes us, I guess, a little critical of people.
Q: Ruth is never openly critical and . . . confrontational?
A: I am learning to be less critical as I get older, because I think it's because sometimes I say that I really don't care that much any longer. I mean, I am preparing for the end, as it were. I think that as you go through life, you go through these changes in mood which determine finally what you do. It's not the principles; it's the fact that your mood is changing as you go through life. I think that nature prepares you for each one of these mood changes. What I did thirty years ago has no relationship to what I do now.
Q: Do you think that's true of your sister as well?
A: No, I don't. I am amazed at the vitality that she still has, which I don't have even though I am two years younger. I think that I have a much better memory, but, on the other hand, that's been my life . . . all of the time . . . is that I have to have a very disciplined memory because that's my business. Ruth still has the vitality to travel and to be interested in going to see things. I wouldn't give you five cents, you know, if the Metropolitan [Opera] came to Hyannisport. I wouldn't even go, if I could avoid it. That's the one very fundamental difference, but I think Ruth has been used to this travel and it's a part of her life, and I haven't.
Q: Do you think that mentally, when you talked about a change in mood in various stages of your life, I assume that you are talking about a sort of temperament, growth, and self-growth, that sort of thing. Does it seem to you that Ruth has . . . how do you think that she has changed and grown over the years?
A: I think that she's changed and grown. Well, put it this way -- I think that she was perhaps more mature than I was, in the sense that she was facing a particular world that didn't change too much. Whereas I was facing a world that was changing constantly. She really didn't have to re-adjust as much as I did. I went. . . you see, I sort of oscillated between being a scientist and a physician, which is a very unhappy state, usually, because a lot of people think that you aren't either. Whereas Ruth had a thing that she went right along systematically, and I think she has changed probably less than I have. I think that was because the ballet world slowly changes, but she was able to keep up with it. She can still put on Fledermaus and things like that. I wouldn't go near an operating room at the present time, because I don't know enough. That's the difference.
Q: As children -- you and she -- what kind of a little girl was she? I don't imagine she was seen and not heard?
A: She was what?
Q: I don't imagine she was one of those quiet children who was seen and not heard.
A: Oh, no, I should say. She was not particularly quiet; not anything particularly unusual about her. She was a nice girl, had a lot of friends, and nobody thought she was odd. I didn't think she was odd either and didn't pay much attention to her. She had her own friends. You see, she was two years older than I was, and I was the baby in the family, as it were. You know where the babies are? They're just a nuisance. She had a lot of friends and was a very friendly person. She always has been. They've always entertained a lot; they like big affairs and all of that, which I don't.
     I would say that you wouldn't have particularly noticed Ruth. She knew what she was after and went after it. But she was very quiet about it. When she came back from two years with Pavlova, she hardly mentioned it. It's funny. Today, you usually go over and rehash the things -- how you liked the Colon Opera House and all that stuff? She doesn't do that. She
says, "Yes, I liked it." And that's the end of the conversation.
Q: She seems to be the kind of person who focuses only ahead on the next thing.
A: Exactly. She is. She doesn't worry about the critics. She doesn't worry much about anything. She's not a person given to recreating the old days. At least, I think I've talked more about them with you than I have with her all of our lives. She doesn't come back and say, "Oh, look, I did this great thing," in whatever she was at. I remember very well the difference, because when I was working in Germany she came and visited me in Germany. We had an absolute circus because she would do everything that I wanted to do, going skiing and going to the beer houses and all that stuff, even though I was busy during the day because I was in the hospital, but we had a great time together. It wasn't because we were brother and sister. It was because she was a nice person, I liked her and we had a good time together, that was all. Yet we never talked about it subsequently. She doesn't have a reminiscent mind in that sense. I honestly really don't know if Ruth ever looked back and thought, "Good heavens, what have I been doing all of these years? What's happened to the Metropolitan, the Adolph Bolm Ballet, that Ruth Page Ballet, and this and that and the other . . . ." I don't know if she does or not. If she does, she never talks to me about it.
Q: I don't think she does and [I] think that there's a certain amount of strength in that.
A: Oh, I think there is. I think she shuts out an awful lot of things that distract people today. As I say, I do feel that an awful lot of people are so distracted today that they feel overwhelmed when they hear all this stuff about celebrities and this person and that person -- most of them total nonentities. You take the Larry King Show . . . these people they bring on there. I think, why in the world is a person like that taking up my time? But that's what's expected.
Q: You know what Andy Warhol says, "We're all going to be famous for fifteen minutes at some time in our lives."
A: That's about right. Fifteen minutes is a little long, but that's about right.
Q: For some people, way too long. If you had to think of your strongest memory of Ruth -- the one that is something that sort of encapsulates -- what is the first thing that you think of when you think about your sister?
A: Well, I think really, I suppose, of her equanimity, her peace of mind, that she sails through all these strange activities with a peace of mind that seems to be unflappable. I never worry about Ruth. I never worry is she under too much pressure, because if you do, she would look at you and say, "What's wrong? Well, there's nothing wrong. It'll get all settled, so don't worry about it."
     So I don't worry about it and think that's the main characteristic of her; that she doesn't say, "Look, I'm worried about this ballet or that ballet or the competition from Nureyev or Baryshnikov, or whatever. I think she's just got her eye fixed on what she wants to do and goes ahead and does it. The trouble with that, of course, is that an awful lot of people want to be famous while they're alive. Some of us realize that our fame may be . . . may be after we're all dead. After they have about a fifty-year period of forgetfulness. Then the name comes back. By that time, you don't care. I think that's Ruth's attitude. She never worries about whether she's famous or not. An awful lot of people have been told that they're not anything if they're not famous or not a celebrity.
     There was nothing in our background . . . you know, Booth Tarkington, Kenneth Roberts, and people like that, they didn't think they were famous. Their fame didn't make any difference to them, and they were famous in those days. But, it made no difference to them, and they created the atmosphere of peace and quiet and harmony. There was never any rowing going on among the married people. Divorces were very rare, and people did what they wanted to do and if they thought it was right. I think Ruth has done the same thing.
     Tom, fortunately, was the kind of person who loved that sort of life and sort of went along with it. I never heard Tom say, "I don't like your sister because she is doing this or going away all the time." But Tom often went with her.
Q: Did you like Tom?
A: Yes, I liked him. He was very contentious; he loved to confront you, but I knew his tricks. He was always saying something to twit you. He had a sharp mind and . . . .
Q: Like what? What would you say?
Related Place
Hyannis Port (production location of)