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Phyllis Thaxter

Updated on June 2, 2016
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I'm a fan of classic TV shows and films. My articles focus on the character actors and actress who usually played supporting roles.

Bio Stats

Born: 20 November 1919 (Portland, Maine, USA)

Died: 14 August 2012 (Orlando, Florida, USA)

Cause of Death: Alzheimer's Disease

Film and TV Appearances: 68+

Years Active: 1944 - 1992

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)

as Ellen Lawson
as Ellen Lawson

Early Life

Phyllis Schuyler Thaxter was born on 20 November 1999 in Portland, Maine, USA. The daughter of US Supreme Court Justice Sidney Thaxter and his wife Phyllis Schuyler (who was a Shakespearean actress and journalist), she attended St. Genevieve School in Montreal, Canada and Deering High School in Portland. In the mid to late 1930s, she studied acting at the Montreal Repertory Theater and made her Broadway stage debut at 17 in the play "What a Life!". This lead to a role in another play "There Shall Be No Night" in 1940 which starred Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

It was during her time in New York that she met actor Montgomery Clift. The two had a very close relationship and many expected that they would marry. The relationship lasted for two years and in 1944, Thaxter married her first husband, James Aubrey and had eventually had two children (their daughter, Schyler Susan Aubrey later became an actress - Skye Aubrey).

"The Lunts were wonderful to us and I felt they hoped we would marry and become an acting team similar to theirs." (about her relationship with Montgomery Clift)

— Phyllis Thaxter

Film

After taking over the lead role in the stage play "Claudia" (she had previously understudy Dorothy McGuire - the original lead) and receiving rave reviews, Thaxter went to Hollywood and made her screen debut in the film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) as Van Johnson's wife. Other films she appeared in included Week-end at the Waldorf (1945), The Sea of Grass (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), No Man of Her Own (1950), Man of Bronze (1951), Operation Secret (1952), Women's Prison (1955), Man Afraid (1957), The World of Henry Orient (1964) and Superman (1978).

Her last movie role was in the film Superman (1978). The executive producer Ilya Salkind was at that time married to her daughter and cast her in the role of played Martha (Ma) Kent one of Superman's adoptive earth parents.

"I worked harder on that film than anything I’d done — I couldn’t be bad," (about her role in Superman)

— Phyllis Thaxter

Television

In 1952 she was hospitalised for several weeks with a form of polio (infantile paralysis). Even though she was pregnant with her second child she spent this time in an iron lung. After recovering, she gave birth to a healthy son - James. She was initially contracted to MGM (to the late 1940s) and then to Warner Brothers, but her contract was terminated soon after her bout with polio.

From 1953, Thaxter mainly played roles in TV movies and series. Some of the TV shows she appeared on were The Loretta Young Show; Lux Video Theatre; Schiltz Playhouse; Climax!; Wagon Train; Alfred Hitchcock Presents; The Twilight Zone; The Fugitive, Bonanza, The F.B.I., Marcus Welby M.D.; Barnaby Jones; American Playhouse; and Murder, She Wrote.

On 8 February 1960 she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (which can be found on the north side of the 6500 block of Hollywood Boulevard).

The World of Henry Orient (1964)

"One thing about unwanted children – they soon learn how to take care of themselves." - Phyllis Thaxter

After divorcing her first husband in 1962, Thaxter married Gilbert Lea, a publisher - they remained married until his death in 2008. In the 1980s she appeared in regional theatre plays such as "The Little Foxes" (with Anne Baxter) and "The Gin Game" (with Larry Gates). Retiring from acting in the early 1990s she devoted her to community activities and hospital volunteer work.

For the last nine years of her life, Thaxter battled Alzheimer's Disease. She died on 14 August 2012 in Orlando, Florida. Her (cremated) ashes were scattered at sea.

Superman (1978)

as Martha Kent
as Martha Kent

Bewitched (1945)

Superman - The Movie (1978)

Superman - The Movie
Superman - The Movie

Phyllis Thaxter appears as Martha Kent in this film.

 

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