Never a top leading lady, but a damn good actress. (There she is above with Randolph Scott.)
Thaxter, who died (three months shy of her 91st birthday) in the summer of 2012, had long been out of the public eye and all but-forgotten by many, but make no mistake, she appeared in and sparked some interesting movies.
As you can see from the photo immediately above, Thaxter possessed a kind of earnest wholesomeness that destined her to play supportive wives, faithful sweethearts, and stable, level-headed young women who didn’t upset the apple cart.
And, as Mae West so famously said, “Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere.”
She hailed from Maine, the daughter of a state Supreme Court justice, and made her Broadway stage debut in 1939 in a piece of Clifford Goldsmith family fluff that introduced one “Henry Aldrich,” a character later spun off into a sitcom on radio, TV and in comic books. Thaxter made her movie debut as Van Johnson’s supportive mate in 1944’s Thirty Second Over Tokyo from MGM.
It became a familiar role for her. In director Fred Zinneman’s excellent 1948’s, Act of Violence, Thaxter was cast as the faithful spouse of one of the nastiest characters ever to emerge from film noir, a psychotic, vengeful veteran superbly played by Robert Ryan.
Thaxter also provides wifely support to Gary Cooper in the 1952 Warner Bros. western, Springfield Rifle. She was the good-girl love interest of Burt Lancaster in 1951’s Jim Thorpe–All American. She was the sensible one in the 1945 madcap musical comedy Weekend at the Waldorf while Lana Turner and Ginger Rogers had all the fun. And to a shady John Garfield in 1950’s The Breaking Point, a big-screen adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel To Have and Have Not, Thaxter was the soul of unequestioning support.
Toward the end of her movie career in the Fifties, she managed to land in some minor but nontheless interesting projects. One was in Columbia’s 1955 potboiler Women’s Prison in which Thaxter was undone by such veteran sexpots as Ida Lupino and Cleo Moore. She wound up as the wife of George Nader, no less, in Universal’s 1957 thriller Man Afraid.
The good news is that from the Fifties until the end of her career, Thaxter was in big demand in televison. Of her 67 titles as an actress, the vast majority were tube roles. In 1964, she surfaced in the Peter Sellers comedy, The World of Henry Orient. Fourteen years later she appeared in 1978’s Superman, best remembered as a breakthrough role for the late actor Christopher Reeve.
Typically, Phyllis was cast as the superhero’s mother.