Anne Baxter Dies at 62 --50 Years of It as Star in Films, Stage and TV
Anne Baxter, a naturally glamorous actress whose career spanned nearly 50 years and included her chilling performance as the conniving Eve Harrington in “All About Eve,” died Thursday morning in New York City.
She was 62 and had been hospitalized since Dec. 4 when she collapsed with a cerebral hemorrhage while walking on Madison Avenue. She was taken to the intensive care unit of Lenox Hill Hospital where she died without regaining consciousness, her attorney, Henry A. Perles, said.
The Oscar-winning Miss Baxter was a child star at the age of 13, a vivacious, respected performer by the time she played Eve in 1950 and, in her final years, a popular star of television’s “Hotel” series.
She was born May 7, 1923, in Michigan City, Ind., the daughter of Stuart Baxter, a liquor company executive, and Catherine Wright Baxter, the daughter of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The family moved soon after to the suburbs of New York City and Frank Lloyd Wright’s granddaughter happened to see Helen Hayes in a Broadway play.
Broadway Debut at 13
That, Miss Baxter said years later, was more than enough inspiration for a girl of 10, and she set her heart on becoming an actress. With the full emotional and financial support of her parents and famous grandfather, Miss Baxter studied for several years with Maria Ouspenskaya and made her Broadway debut in 1936 in the mystery “Seen but Not Heard.”
A Variety reviewer called her a “cute kidlet,” but the 13-year-old saw herself in a more serious light.
“There is no stopping ambition,” she told an interviewer at the time. “I always like to dramatize things in my life. Acting is not merely fun, it’s an earnest career.”
After two more Broadway roles and some summer stock, Miss Baxter went off to Hollywood with a seven-year 20th Century Fox contract.
Studio chief David O. Selznick had Alfred Hitchcock test her for the title role in “Rebecca,” but that part--and immediate stardom--went to Joan Fontaine.
Instead, Miss Baxter appeared in minor roles in “Twenty Mule Team,” a 1940 film starring Wallace Beery, “Charley’s Aunt” (1941), and in a slightly bigger part in “Swamp Water” (1941). In 1942, Orson Welles cast her as Lucy Morgan in his “Magnificent Ambersons.”
During World War II, Miss Baxter seemed to specialize in portraying wholesome, girl-next-door types in such patriotic films as “Crash Dive” and “The Sullivans.”
After the war, she began to play more mature women with wider ranges of emotion, notably as Sophie MacDonald in W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge” (1946). Critics were impressed, Hollywood even more so. She won the best supporting actress Oscar for that portrayal of an American dipsomaniac in Paris.
The films that followed at 20th Century Fox were unremarkable until, in 1950, she was cast with Bette Davis, Gary Merrill, George Sanders, Marilyn Monroe and Hugh Marlowe in “All About Eve.” Miss Baxter’s cool, calculating, ruthless ingenue Eve was, all agreed, a gem. She probably would have won another Oscar for best supporting actress, but the studio--at Miss Baxter’s urging--nominated her, along with Davis, who played Margo Channing in the film, for best actress.
As a result, the two canceled each other out, and Judy Holliday won the top award for her performance in “Born Yesterday.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times on the set of “Hotel” a few months ago, Miss Baxter explained why she was so insistent on the top category:
“My career had gone on since the age of 13 . . . and I felt that I had worked long enough to have earned leading-actress status. . . . I should have been practical the way the studio was practical. They knew what my billing was. . . .”
After “Eve,” Miss Baxter struck out on her own, leaving the studio to free-lance in film, TV and plays.
She toured for several months in 1953 in the role that was originally Judith Anderson’s in “John Brown’s Body” with Tyrone Power and Raymond Massey. She returned to Broadway after an absence of nearly two decades in Carson McCullers’ “The Square Root of Wonderful” in 1957.
That play folded after 45 performances and it wasn’t until 1971 that she appeared in a genuine Broadway hit, the musical “Applause,” adapted from, aptly enough, “All About Eve.”
She replaced Lauren Bacall in the role of the established star Margo Channing.
“I turned this down twice,” she told an interviewer at the time. “I’m not a dancer. I’m a non-dancer. I’m not an athlete.”
Perhaps, but Miss Baxter met with almost as much success in the role as Bacall.
Always in Demand
Movie work had always been plentiful for Miss Baxter--she appeared in more than 20 films in the 1950s and ‘60s. Among them were Hitchcock’s “I Confess” (1953); “The Blue Gardenia” (1953); “Carnival Story” (1954); “The Ten Commandments” (1956); “Cimarron” (1960) and “The Busy Body” (1967).
She also was in demand for television roles--everything from the prestigious “Playhouse 90" to the lowly “The Name of the Game.” She portrayed Robert Young’s love interest in “Marcus Welby M.D.” in the 1969-70 season of the highly successful TV series, and for a time played an evil magician in “Batman.”
Her most recent recurring TV part was in “Hotel.” She replaced Bette Davis in the role after illness temporarily forced Davis off the show. She portrayed Victoria Cabot, a wealthy widow who owned the hotel.
She delighted at this middle-aged phase of her career:
“In a peculiar way, I have become like some other (older) ladies a symbol of a new belle epoque . One is not finished at 60. . . .
“It isn’t a question of all the comebacks,” Baxter said. “I prefer to say it is literally shifting gears. And what is wonderful today is that the audience is shifting gears right along with you. There is an enormous percentage in this country that is growing old gracefully.”
Her first marriage, in 1946 to actor John Hodiak, ended in divorce seven years later. They had one daughter, Katrina, born in 1951. She married Australian ranch owner Randolph Gault in 1960 and gave up her career for a time to live in the Australian outback.
By 1970 she was again divorced--after the birth of two more daughters, Melissa and Maginel--and Miss Baxter returned to acting in 1971. (All three daughters were with her when she died.)
The Australian experience was not a pleasant one for a woman used to the bright lights of Hollywood and Broadway. “Randy was out on the range all day and I was alone in the house,” she said later. “I saw a country through a dirty window unless I washed it myself.”
She wrote a book about the experience of living on the isolated 37,000-acre ranch, coping with rats, snakes and loneliness. The book, titled “Intermission,” met with general favor from the critics when it was published in 1976.
She married again in 1977 to banker David Klee, who died later the same year. She said later that the twin jobs of motherhood and acting, especially the latter, kept her going through her grief.
“Acting is not what I do. It’s what I am,” Miss Baxter said in a 1971 interview. “It’s my permanent, built-in cathedral.”
At her death, Miss Baxter was deep into her second book, whose central figure is her maternal grandfather, Frank Lloyd Wright.
In a recent interview she said she “revered” the legendary architect, although he had abandoned his family when the children were all quite young.
“Mother always said he was a lousy father. And she said it just that way . . . that he may be a great architect . . . but he is a lousy father.”
Miss Baxter lived mostly in Easton, Conn., where she also had an office above a florist’s shop where she wrote in longhand on yellow legal pads. But for a time she also had a home in Brentwood. She was active in community efforts there in the mid-1970s--particularly one to keep San Vicente Boulevard’s median strip green. She was also a founding member of one of the Otis Art Institute’s support organizations, known as The Group.
Miss Baxter said recently that she always thought of herself as something of a risk-taker--going to Australia for love, doing the musical “Applause,” even though she had never sung or danced on stage, and writing a book even though she had never written professionally before.
In 1982, she even attempted Shakespeare, playing Gertrude to Christopher Walken’s “Hamlet” at Stratford, Conn.
“I guess I do take chances,” she said in a 1983 interview with The Times. “But then, I have a large appetite for life. I want to experience everything.”
There will be no funeral services, but memorials will be held here and in New York on a date to be announced later, Perles said Thursday.
He said the family has requested that donations, in lieu of flowers, be made to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Foundation, Oak Park, Ill. 60302.
Times staff writer Judith Michaelson contributed to this story.