Best known for her role as the spunky Catherine “Babe” Williams in the 1954 Tony-winning musical “The Pajama Game,” which ran for more than 1,000 shows, Janis Paige had a successful career as an actress and singer during the golden age of Hollywood, often playing a buxom ingenue in films and musicals.
Born in 1922, Paige started singing at amateur shows in her hometown at 5 years old. After high school, she moved to Los Angeles and got a job that changed her life: as a singer at the Hollywood Canteen, a studio-sponsored hangout for World War II servicemen. She was discovered by a Warner Bros. talent scout at the Canteen and quickly signed a contract with the studio.
During her years at Warner Bros., Paige played a slew of roles, including a saloon singer in the 1947 western “Cheyenne” and a studio guide in the Oscar-nominated “Hollywood Canteen” (1944), among others.
“Working at the studios was something very special,” Paige said in an interview in the 2003 book “Movies Were Always Magical,” by Leo Verswijver. “No matter what sound stage I worked on back then, no matter what movie I was in, everybody who made that movie was part of this one big family. They treated me like one of their kids.”
She then made a swift move from Hollywood to Broadway at a time when musicals were booming, performing in hit musicals and plays including the wildly successful comedy-mystery “Remains to be Seen” (1951), in addition to “The Pajama Game.”
After performing as a cabaret singer in Las Vegas, New York and Los Angeles, Paige went back to making films with two screen-stealing roles in “Silk Stockings” (1957) opposite Fred Astaire and the comedy “Please Don't Eat the Daisies” (1960) opposite Doris Day.
Throughout her career, Paige had guest spots in a variety of television shows, including “It’s Always Jan” (1955), in which she played a nightclub entertainer and aspiring actress, “Columbo” (1972), “All in the Family” (1976) and “Trapper John, M.D.” (1985).
In the '80s and '90s she continued her career with roles in soap operas, including “Santa Barbara,” “General Hospital” and “Capitol.”
As an arts philanthropist, Paige founded the Sunset Plaza Civic Assn. After the death of her third husband, Ray Gilbert (a composer who wrote the lyrics for “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”), she was put in charge of his music company, Ipanema Music.