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Thaxter, Phyllis Biography




biography of Thaxter, Phyllis

Phyllis Schuyler Thaxter
20 November 1919, Portland, Maine, USA
14 August 2012, Orlando, Florida, USA (Alzheimer's disease)
This warm and winning, very non-theatrical brunette was born Phyllis St. Felix Thaxter in Portland, Maine, on November 20, 1921. The daughter of Maine Supreme Court Justice Sidney Thaxter, her acting talent came from her mother's side, who was a one-time Shakespearean actress. Phyllis was educated for a time at St. Genevieve School in Montreal and back at Portland's Deering High School. She apprenticed in summer stock and had joined the Montreal Reperatory Theatre company by the time she made her Broadway debut at age 17 in "What a Life!" in 1939, the "Henry Aldrich" play. She went on to play a maid and to understudy the leading ingénue in "There Shall Be No Night" (1940), which starred America's premiere theatrical couple, 'Alfred Lunt' (qv) and 'Lynn Fontanne' (qv), then understudied 'Dorothy McGuire (I)' (qv) in the hit dramatic play, "Claudia", later that year. She eventually played the title role both on Broadway and on the road, but lost out on the film role to McGuire. Hollywood films reached her sights a few years later with the MGM war film, _Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)_ (qv), proving quite convincing as 'Van Johnson (I)' (qv)'s noble wife. Similar to 'Margaret Sullavan' (qv), 'June Allyson' (qv), 'Dorothy McGuire (I)' (qv) and 'Teresa Wright (I)' (qv), Phyllis was depended on as a stabilizing factor in melodramas and war pictures, often the dewy-eyed, altruistic wife, girlfriend or daughter waiting on the home-front. Other important films included the girl with a split personality in _Bewitched (1945)_ (qv), and as a angst-ridden, teary-eyed bride-to-be in _Week-End at the Waldorf (1945)_ (qv). She was dutifully wholesome as the daughter who reunites 'Spencer Tracy (I)' (qv) and 'Katharine Hepburn' (qv) in the movie _The Sea of Grass (1947)_ (qv) and evoked tears, yet again, as little 'Margaret O'Brien (I)' (qv)'s mother in _Tenth Avenue Angel (1948)_ (qv). So natural and unglamorous was she that she tended to blend into the woodwork while the flashier actresses often stole the thunder and the notices. Audiences did not always fully appreciate Phyllis's understated work. She finished out her MGM contract with _Act of Violence (1948)_ (qv), ever-faithful to even the bad guy, this time psychotic gangster 'Robert Ryan (I)' (qv). Phyllis moved to Warner Brothers in the 1950s and played more of the same. The ever-patient wife to a slew of top actors including shady boat skipper 'John Garfield (I)' (qv) in _The Breaking Point (1950)_ (qv), an alcoholic 'Gig Young' (qv) in _Come Fill the Cup (1951)_ (qv) and law-abiding 'Gary Cooper (I)' (qv) in _Springfield Rifle (1952)_ (qv), her nascent career at Warners was suddenly curtailed by illness. While visiting her family in Portland, she contracted a form of infantile paralysis. Fortunately, she recovered quickly but the ailment triggered the termination of her contract. Film roles were few and far between after this. Still displaying her built-in compassion and concern, her best-known part came with the touching but relatively minor role of farm wife "Martha Kent" in the highly popular _Superman (1978)_ (qv) film series with the late 'Christopher Reeve' (qv) as her adopted superhero son and 'Glenn Ford (I)' (qv) as her husband. She was also a steady guest star on TV with numerous dramatic appearances including _"The Twilight Zone" (1959)_ (qv), _"The F.B.I." (1965)_ (qv), _"Cannon" (1971)_ (qv), _"Medical Center" (1969)_ (qv), _"Barnaby Jones" (1973)_ (qv) and several TV movies. Married for nearly two decades to 'James T. Aubrey' (qv) (1918-1994), who became president of CBS-TV before taking over MGM, they had three children--including Schuyler, who would become the actress 'Skye Aubrey' (qv). Following the couple's divorce in 1962, Phyllis married Gilbert Lea, who owned Tower Publishing Company in Portland. They eventually retired to Cumberland, Maine, where she involved herself in civic/community activities and dedicated herself to hospital volunteer work.
Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net



-   'James T. Aubrey' (qv) (30 December 1944 - April 1962) (divorced); 2 children

-   'Gilbert Lea' (29 December 1962 - May 2008) (his death)


-   Mother of actress 'Skye Aubrey' (qv)

-   In Italy, she was almost exclusively dubbed by 'Renata Marini' (qv), except in _Week-End at the Waldorf (1945)_ (qv) (Grand hotel Astoria) and _Blood on the Moon (1948)_ (qv) (Sangue sulla luna / Vento di terre selvagge) were she was dubbed by 'Rina Morelli' (qv). The talented 'Rosetta Calavetta' (qv) lent her voice to her only once, in _No Man of Her Own (1950)_ (qv) (Non voglio perderti).

-   Ex-mother-in-law of 'Ilya Salkind' (qv).

-   Her hospital birth record indicates she was named "Phyllis Schuyler Thaxter" but by the 1920 census, her name was listed as Phyllis St. Felix Thaxter. Schuyler was her mother's maiden name and St. Felix was her father's middle name. Unknown if the name was ever legally changed but likely since her father was a renowned lawyer.

-   Has Poliomyelitis.

-   Phyllis worked on Broadway in the 1930s. In 1944, she signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

-   When she died she was cremated and her ashes scattered at sea.

-   She is survived by her daughter, Skye Aubrey and son, James W. Aubrey; two stepchildren, Ann Fries and Thomas Lea; five grandchildren; one great-grandchild; and several step grandchildren.


-   Active on Broadway in the following productions:

-   Take Her, She's Mine (1961). Comedy.

-   Sundown Beach (1948). Written by 'Bessie Breuer' (qv). Directed by 'Elia Kazan' (qv). Belasco Theatre: 7 Sep 1948- 11 Sep 1948 (7 performances). Cast: Tom Avera, 'Martin Balsam' (qv) (as "Merle"), 'Edward Binns' (qv) (as "George Washburn"), Ira Cirker, 'Joan Copeland (I)' (qv) (as "Nadine") [Broadway debut], Ralph Cullinan, Joseph Fallon, Vivian Firko, Treva Frazee, Lou Gilbert, Don Hanmer, 'Julie Harris (I)' (qv) (as "Ida Mae"), Anne Hegira, Steven Hill, Jennifer Howard, George E. Joseph, 'Cloris Leachman' (qv) (as "Muriel") [Broadway debut], Michael Lewin, Kathleen Maguire, Ellen Mahar, 'Alex Nicol (I)' (qv) (as "1st Airforce Pilot"), 'Nehemiah Persoff' (qv) (as "Cecil"), Lenka Peterson, Robert Simon, 'Warren Stevens' (qv) (as "Arthur Bond"), Joe Sullivan, John Sylvester, 'Phyllis Thaxter' (qv) (as "Nancy"). Produced by Louis J. Singer and The Actors Studio.

-   There Shall Be No Night (1940). Drama. Written by 'Robert E. Sherwood (I)' (qv). Scenic Design by 'Richard Whorf' (qv). Costume Design by Valentina Directed by 'Alfred Lunt' (qv). Alvin Theatre: 29 Apr 1940- 9 Aug 1940 (115 performances). Cast: Charles Ansley (as "Joe Burnett"), Charva Chester (as "Ilma"), 'Montgomery Clift' (qv) (as "Erik Valkonen"), Maurice Colbourne (as "Dr. Ziemssen"), Robert Downing (as "Photographer"), 'Lynn Fontanne' (qv) (as "Miranda Valkonen"), Elisabeth Fraser (as "Kaatri Alquist"), 'Thomas Gomez (I)' (qv) (as "Ben Gichner"), 'Sydney Greenstreet' (qv) (as "Uncle Waldemar"), Claude Horton (as "Sergeant Gosden"), 'William LeMassena' (qv) (as "Frank Olmstead"), Alfred Lunt (as "Dr. Kaarlo Valkonen"), 'Ralph Nelson (I)' (qv) (as "Photographer"), Edward Raquello (as "Major Rutkowski"), 'Phyllis Thaxter' (qv) (as "Lempi"), 'Brooks West' (qv) (as "Gus Shuman"), Richard Whorf (as "Dave Corween"). Produced by The Playwrights' Company ('Maxwell Anderson (I)' (qv), 'S.N. Behrman' (qv), Elmer Rice, 'Robert E. Sherwood (I)' (qv), 'Sidney Howard (I)' (qv)). Note: It is the only one of Sherwood's well-known plays that was never filmed.

-   There Shall Be No Night (1940). Drama (return engagement). Written by 'Robert E. Sherwood (I)' (qv). Scenic Design by 'Richard Whorf' (qv). Costume Design by Valentina. Directed by 'Alfred Lunt' (qv). Alvin Theatre: 9 Sep 1940- 2 Nov 1940 (66 performances). Cast: 'Lynn Fontanne' (qv) (as "Miranda Valkonen"), Alfred Lunt (as "Dr. Kaarlo Valkonen"), Charles Ansley (as "Joe Burnett"), Charva Chester (as "Ilma"), 'Montgomery Clift' (qv) (as "Erik Valkonen"), Maurice Colbourne (as "Dr. Ziemssen"), Donald Fox (as "Photographer"), Elisabeth Fraser (as "Kaatri Alquist"), 'Thomas Gomez (I)' (qv) (as "Ben Gichner"), 'Sydney Greenstreet' (qv) (as "Uncle Waldemar"), Claude Horton (as "Sergeant Gosden"), 'William LeMassena' (qv) (as "Frank Olmstead"), 'Ralph Nelson (I)' (qv) (as "Photographer"), Edward Raquello (as "Major Rutkowski"), 'Phyllis Thaxter' (qv) (as "Lempi"), 'Brooks West' (qv) (as "Gus Shuman"), Richard Whorf (as "Dave Corween"). Produced by The Playwrights' Company ('Maxwell Anderson (I)' (qv), 'S.N. Behrman' (qv), Elmer Rice, 'Robert E. Sherwood (I)' (qv), 'Sidney Howard (I)' (qv)).


-   (February 2005) She has been semi-retired for many years, spending her summers in Vero Beach, Florida.

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