21 April 2024

Warner Baxter

Warner Baxter (1889-1951) was an American film actor from the 1910s to the 1940s. Baxter is known for his role as the Cisco Kid in the film In Old Arizona (1928), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor at the 2nd Academy Awards. He played the Cisco Kid or a similar character throughout the 1930s. Baxter frequently played womanising, charismatic Latin bandit types in Westerns, but had many other roles throughout his career.

Warner Baxter
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 165.

Warner Baxter
British postcard in the Picturgoer Series, London, no. 165a.

Warner Baxter
British Valentine's postcard, no. 5904 G. Photo: Fox Films. Caption: Warner Baxter - A Fox Film Star, he received his education in Ohio State University. he made his debut as a screen actor with the Paramount Company in 1921. Talkies gave him the opportunity and he achieved fame with the Fox Films, starring in Daddy Long Legs, and other famous plays. He is 42 years of age and was born at Columbus, Ohio. Married Winifred Bryson.

Warner Baxter
British postcard in the Famous Film Stars series by Valentine's, no. 7123 M. Caption: Warner Baxter - This popular film star began life as a salesman before he found his life-work on the stage and on the films. He has starred in several popular pictures such as 42nd Street and Paddy the Next Best Thing. He was born in Columbus, Ohio on 20th March 1892, and is 5 feet, 11 inches in height.

Warner Baxter and Janet Gaynor
British postcard in the Film Partners Series, London, no. PC3. Photo: Fox. Warner Baxter and Janet Gaynor in One More Spring (Henry King, 1935).

A matinee idol

Warner Leroy Baxter was born in 1889, in Columbus, Ohio. Edwin F. Baxter, a cigar stand operator, and Jennie (Jane) B. Barrett were his parents. His father died before Warner was five, and he and his mother went to live with her brother. Baxter claimed to have an early pre-disposition toward show business: "I discovered a boy a block away who would eat worms and swallow flies for a penny. For one-third of the profits, I exhibited him in a tent."

Mother and son later moved to New York City, where he became active in dramatics, participating in school productions and attending plays. In 1898, the two moved to San Francisco, where he graduated from Polytechnic High School. Both survived the severe earthquake of 1906 but lost all their belongings. They lived in a tent for two weeks "in mortal terror of the fire" and returned to Columbus in 1908.

After selling farm implements for a living, Baxter worked for four months as the partner of Dorothy Shoemaker in an act on the Keith Vaudeville Circuit. In 1910, he joined a theatre group and played vaudeville. This led him to New York City, where he enjoyed his first successes on Broadway. Baxter became a member of The Lambs, a professional theatrical club in NYC, in 1918.

Baxter began his film career as an extra in 1914. His first starring role was in the silent drama Sheltered Daughters (Edward Dillon, 1921) opposite Justine Johnston. In the same year, he acted in First Love (Maurice Campbell, 1921), The Love Charm (Thomas N. Heffron, 1921) with Wanda Hawley, and Cheated Hearts (Hobart Henley, 1921) opposite Herbert Rawlinson.

He soon became a matinee idol. Baxter starred in 48 features during the 1920s. His most notable silent film roles were in the comedy The Awful Truth (Paul Powell, 1925) with Agnes Ayres, and The Great Gatsby (Herbert Brenon, 1926), the first film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary classic. He played the title role of Jay Gatsby opposite Lois Wilson as Daisy. Baxter played an island love interest opposite dancer Gilda Gray in Aloma of the South Seas (Maurice Tourneur, 1926) and an alcoholic doctor in West of Zanzibar (Tod Browning, 1928) with Lon Chaney.

Warner Baxter
Spanish collectors card by La Novela Femenina Cinematogràfica, no. 120.

Warner Baxter
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 575. Photo: Fanamet Film.

Viola Dana and Warner Baxter
Italian postcard by B & G., B, no. 150. Photo: Metro Pictures. Caption: Linguacciuta!... (Big-mouth/ Sharp tongue). Viola Dana and Warner Baxter in the comedy In Search of a Thrill (Oscar Apfel, 1923). With thanks to Steve Massa for the identification.

Warner Baxter
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, no. 1058. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Warner Baxter
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5758. Photo: Fox-Film.

Warner Baxter,
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6138/1, 1931. Photo: Fox. On the back: Dutch-written title: Zijn mooiste weerwraak (His best revenge). It refers to Such men are dangerous (Kenneth Hawks, 1930).

The Cisco Kid

Warner Baxter's most notable starring role was as The Cisco Kid in In Old Arizona (Irving Cummings, 1929), the first all-talking Western. For his role, he won the second Academy Award for Best Actor. He played the Cisco Kid again in the ensemble short film The Stolen Jools (William C. McGann, 1931). Baxter also starred in 42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon, 1933), Grand Canary (Irving Cummings, 1934) and Broadway Bill (Frank Capra, 1934).

Many consider his best role, that of the doctor who treated Abraham Lincoln's assassin, in John Ford's The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936). Other notable sound films were Slave Ship (Tay Garnett, 1937) with Wallace Beery and Kidnapped (Otto Preminger, 1938) with Freddie Bartholomew.

When not acting, Baxter was an inventor who co-created a searchlight for revolvers in 1935. This allowed a shooter to more clearly see a target at night. He also developed a radio device that allowed emergency crews to change traffic signals from two blocks away, providing them a safe passage through intersections.

By 1936, Baxter was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, but by 1943, he had slipped to B movie roles. He was then known as Dr. Robert Ordway in the Crime Doctor series of 10 films which began with Crime Doctor (Michael Gordon, 1943). However, Baxter was now more comfortable, with his career and life with his wife, actress Winifred Bryson: "It's wonderful. I make two of them (the Crime Doctor films) a year. Columbia has juggled it so I can make two in a row. That takes about eight weeks of my time. The rest of the year I relax. I travel. I enjoy life."

Warner Baxter suffered from arthritis for several years. In 1951, he underwent a lobotomy as a last resort to ease the chronic pain and later that year, he died of pneumonia at age 62. He was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. Baxter has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the motion-picture industry.

42nd Street (1933)
British postcard by Film Weekly. Photo: Warner Bros. Bebe Daniels and Warren Baxter in the musical 42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon, 1933).

Warner Baxter in Penthouse (1933)
British postcard by Film Weekly. Photo: MGM. Warner Baxter in Penthouse/Crooks in Clover (W.S. Van Dyke, 1933).

Fredric March, June Lang, Warner Baxter, Lionel Barrymore, and Gregory Ratoff in The Road to Glory (1936)
Dutch postcard for Metropole Palace, Den Haag (The Hague). Photos: 20th Century Fox. Fredric March, June Lang, Warner Baxter, Lionel Barrymore, and Gregory Ratoff in The Road to Glory (Howard Hawks, 1936). Caption: We, 5 stars, are represented in the overwhelming Fox 20th Century millions-film work The Way to Glory. European premiere in the new glorious Metropole Palace, Laan van Meerdervoort, telephone 39.22.44.

Warner Baxter
British Art Photo postcard, no. 6.

Warner Baxter
Dutch postcard by JosPe, Arnhem, no. 436. Photo: Fox Film.

Warner Baxter
French postcard, no. 729.

Warner Baxter
Czechoslovakian postcard by Josef Doležal, Červený Kostelec. Photo: 20th Century Fox. Caption: Warner Baxter, famous character actor.

Sources: Ed Stephan (IMDb), Wikipedia (Dutch, German and English) and IMDb.

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