Geraldine Page left an indelible imprint as an actress and as a woman whose attitude ensured that she enjoyed her entire journey through life. With her award wins, she broke barriers for stage actors and women. For 1952’s off-Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke, Page became the first star to win a Drama Desk Award for a non-Broadway production. She reprised the role for the movie, earning her second of eight Oscar nominations. Year-after-year, Page kept losing her Oscar competitions, despite stellar work in films such as Sweet Bird of Youth, Woody Allen’s Bergman-esque Interiors, and a brief but staggering performance as an embittered, grieving mother in The Pope of Greenwich Village.
In 1985 Page starred in a small-budget, non-commercial adaptation of Horton Foote’s play The Trip to Bountiful, the kind of production the Academy usually overlooks. Her performance as Carrie Watts, a woman determined to visit her hometown one last time before she dies, enthralled audiences and earned critical raves. On the heels of losing the Oscar for The Pope of Greenwich Village, she was nominated again, for Best Actress, for Bountiful. Her competition was tight. Meryl Streep entranced as a landowner reflecting on the life lessons she got Out of Africa. Whoopi Goldberg gained international acclaim as Celie in The Color Purple. Vying for their second Oscars were Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams and Anne Bancroft playing a sharp-tongued Mother Superior unimpressed by Agnes of God.
Before that year’s Oscar ceremony, an interviewer noted Page’s record-setting history of losing and told Page that, if she lost again, she would be the most nominated actor, male or female, never to win. In response, Page beamed, “I’d love to be champion!” That positive attitude saw Page through personal and professional struggles, and kept her an actor who always worked, and was always revered for what she could bring to a role.
Announcing the Best Actress Academy Award of 1985, F. Murray Abraham opened the envelope and gasped, “Uh, I consider this woman the greatest actress in the English language . . . Geraldine Page.” Unassuming Page took a second to rise—she had to find and slip back into her shoes before heading to the stage to accept her Oscar.
If she won the Academy Award that year, Page planned to enjoy the prize and peer approval most coveted in the industry. If she didn’t, she would bask in her record-setting triumph as champion of the non-winning nominees. What a great example Page set for seeing every result as a victory.