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Anne Baxter Dies at 62 --50 Years of It as Star in Films, Stage and TV

December 13, 1985|MICHAEL SEILER | Times Staff Writer

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."

Her Explanation

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).

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