Oscar Actors: Baxter, Warner–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

December 24, 2020
Warner Baxter Career Summary:

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Nationality: U.S. (Columbus, Ohio)

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Training: extra in 1914 in a stock company at 25

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Frequent Collaborator: Myrna Loy (4 films)

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Marriage: 2 wives; second wife actress Winifred Bryson

Politics: Republican

Death: 68

Warner Leroy Baxter (March 29, 1889–May 7, 1951) was an American film actor from the 1910s to the 1940s.

Baxter became known for his role as the Cisco Kid in the 1928 film In Old Arizona, for which he won the Best Actor Oscar at the 2nd Academy Awards.

He frequently played womanizing, charismatic Latin bandit types in Westerns, and played the Cisco Kid or a similar character throughout the 1930s, but had a range of other roles throughout his career.

Silent Films

Baxter began his movie career in silent films with his most notable roles being in The Great Gatsby (1926) and The Awful Truth (1925). Baxter’s most notable talkies are In Old Arizona (1929), 42nd Street (1932), Slave Ship (1937) with Wallace Beery, Kidnapped (1938) with Freddie Bartholomew, and the 1931 ensemble short film, The Stolen Jools. In the 1940s, he was well known for his recurring role as Dr. Robert Ordway in the Crime Doctor series of 10 films.

For his contributions to the motion-picture industry, Baxter has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Baxter was born on March 29, 1889. in Columbus, Franklin Co., Ohio, to Edwin F. Baxter, born October 1, 1867, Marysville, Union Co., Ohio and Jennie (Jane) B. Barrett, born December 30, 1869, Columbus, Franklin Co., Ohio. Jennie Barrett was the daughter of Leroy Barrett and Hattie Snider.

Baxter’s parents were married May 10, 1888, Columbus, Franklin Co., Ohio. Edwin Baxter owned a cigar stand in Columbus, Ohio. Edwin F. Baxter, son of William E. Baxter and Mary C. Miller Baxter, died on September 16, 1889 at Columbus, Franklin Co., Ohio.

Baxter was not quite 5 months old when his father died. Baxter’s mother survived him by ten years. Jane/Jennie Barrett Baxter died on March 29, 1962 at her home in Beverly Hills, California.

Baxter and his mother went to live with her brother in Columbus. They later moved to New York City, where he became active in dramatics, both participating in school productions and attending plays.

In 1898, the two moved to San Francisco, where he graduated from Polytechnic High School. When the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck, Baxter and his mother lived in Golden Gate Park for eight days and then went to live with friends in Alameda for three months.

In 1908, they returned to Columbus. 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.

Baxter began his film career as an extra in 1914 in a stock company. He had his first starring role in Sheltered Daughters (1921), and starred in 48 features during the 1920s.

His most notable silent roles were in The Great Gatsby (1926), Aloma of the South Seas (1926) as an island love interest opposite dancer Gilda Gray, and alcoholic doctor in West of Zanzibar (1928) with Lon Chaney.

David Shipman wrote in 1970, ” ‘He is the beau ideal, a Valentino without a horse and the costume of a sheik. He is the fellow the girls meet around the corner, that is, if the fellow were Warner Baxter. He is the chap the lonely woman on the prairie sees when she looks at the men’s ready-to-wear pages in the latest mail order catalogue’; this appraisal by Jim Tully appeared in Picturegoer in 1936. Baxter was certainly the inspiration for artwork in mail-order catalogues and adverts for pipes, the prototype for men modelling cardigans or pullovers or tweeds. During the early Sound period he was one of Hollywood’s leading actors. There was no éclat with him no scandals, no Hollywood careering. Women liked him because he was mature and reliable. He was a good work-horse of an actor, often at the mercy of his material. When it was good, he gave positive, likeable performances. It was a long career but he is hardly remembered today.”

Baxter’s most notable starring role was as the The Cisco Kid in In Old Arizona (1929), the first all-talking Western, for which he won the Best Actor Oscar.

He also starred in 42nd Street (1933), Grand Canary (1934), Broadway Bill (1934), and Kidnapped (1938).

By 1936, Baxter was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, but by 1943, he had slipped to B movie roles, and he starred in a series of Crime Doctor films for Columbia Pictures. Baxter had roles in more than 100 films between 1914 and 1950. In 1936, Baxter had what Leonard Maltin considered his finest job of acting in John Ford’s “The Prisoner of Shark Island.”

Baxter began to have career and personal troubles. The studio system and being a top leading man with Fox made him wealthy, but it also let him in for some personal problems. Baxter said he was envious of his friend, Ronald Colman. “Look at that guy. He only makes one or two pictures a year. I’ve got to work practically every day in the year.”

He couldn’t seem to pry himself away from his salary as a contract star. Some of his best roles in this period were on loan out from his home studio, Fox Picture Corporation. His MGM loan out for “Robin Hood of El Dorado.”

Baxter according to William Wellman was aging, and troubled by that, he developed a major drinking problem. Baxter told Wellman he was fine during the day but as evening approached he was “gone.”

Adding to his own insecurities as a leading man, his home studio did not have strong story department. They relied on the formula of having their major stars repeat the same type of stories and characters. Even for Will Rogers, it often would decrease the value of the actor’s contract.

By 1939 he was publicly complaining about being teamed up with new bright and very young actresses as he was advancing in years. He said working with Loretta Young was fine as she had been around since the silent days and fans didn’t view her as a youngster, but Lynn Bari and Arleen Whelan made him feel uncomfortable. As his Fox contact was nearing completion he was talking of retiring.

Some time between “Adam Had Four Sons” and “Lady in the Dark” he suffered a mental breakdown. He said “It’s like chasing a rainbow. You never see the end of it. Each part you get has to be better than the last one and before you know it you’ve got a nervous breakdown.”

Between 1935 and 1941, Internal Revenue Service published annually the individuals with the highest incomes. Baxter was under contract for a full years service to 20th Century Fox. Normally top talent contracts ran for seven years and allowed for six weeks off per year. The IRS stated in 1935, Baxter made $203,000 ($3,837,319 in 2019), 1936 reported $284,000 ($5,315,313.12 in 2019), and for 1937, $225,961 ($4,082,105.70 in 2019). He was the highest paid contract actor in 1936.

Baxter signed a contract with Columbia Picture Corporation on July 1, 1947 for two pictures per year for the next two years effective December 8, 1947.

The terms were that he be paid initially in increments of $12,000 a week the sum of $30,000 ($348,337 in 2019) for each picture. He paid 1.5% of his compensation to the Motion Picture Relief Fund. Each picture was to be filmed in 3 1/2 weeks. Principal filming if beyond the 3 1/2 weeks was to be compensated additionally at a rate of $6,000 per week. The US minimum wage in 1947 was $0.40 per hour. The films described were a “Crime Doctor” story based on the radio program of the same name or another so-called “crime” film. He was to be given script approval and star billing above the title. His day was limited to nine hours within a 24 hour period with principal filming to begin at 10 AM to include one hour for meals during his workday. The morals clause and a section of negative provisions were lined out. He was also obligated to participate in still photography, advertising and publicity to be in “good taste” and was not to travel by air during principal photography without written permission from the studio. Travel and lodging in excess of 25 miles from the studio would be at studio expense.

As was common, he was to supply his own modern wardrobe, wearing apparel and shoes if called for by the story. Damage to his own personal wardrobe would be paid for by the studio. Character costumes and shoes would be supplied if necessary by the studio.

Baxter was candid in interviews giving credit for his long and financially rewarding career to his wife. “I never take a roll until we both talk it over. I have a high opinion of her judgment”. He said he no longer cared about high budget films or being a star. “I don’t need the money, and I work just to keep interested. I had a good part in a big picture about six years ago. There was tension in making it and I felt myself getting nervous again. I was glad when it was over.” Describing his earlier breakdown ten years ago he said he worried and stewed and fussed. “I’d start to walk one way and discover that I was going in the opposite direction. When I thought I was carrying on a conversation, all I was doing was mumbling. I thought I was going crazy.”

He said all he did for six months was sit and stare into space. They moved to their beach house in Malibu, soaking up the sun and gradually getting better. Baxter felt that the best role in motion pictures was being a leading man in a series. He’d reached that conclusion during the production years of the various Crime Doctor films. “It’s wonderful. I make two of them 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”.

Between 1930 and 1936, Myrna Loy costarred with Baxter four times: Renegades, Penthouse, Broadway Bill, and To Mary-With Love.

She wrote in her 1987 autobiography, “I have fond memories of Warner, a good actor and a charming man, because we did several pictures together. Renegades was a happy film because of them (Baxter and director Victor Fleming). Of Renegades, Baxter said it was so hot “they had to keep the cameras packed in ice-bags like a fever patient so the celluloid wouldn’t catch fire.” Loy liked and respected Baxter, a high-salaried (because he’d won an Oscar in 1928 for his work in Old Arizona), competent, and darkly handsome but rather stiff and bland Ohio native with whom she’d appear again.

Only two other actors did she costar with more often, Clark Gable and William Powell.”

In Old Arizona

Toward the end of Baxter’s career and life he wrote a guest column published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1948, entitled “The Roll I Liked Best.” “I must admit that I rate the Kid’s (Cisco Kid) first film, In Old Arizona, as my top favorite.” He went on to write how as an early “talkie” and the first outdoor talking feature picture made they had to hide microphones in trees and behind rocks at that time. “In Old Arizona started as a two-reeler and we built it up to an eight-reeler. I thoroughly enjoyed the building-up part. It made me feel that I had helped create a new Cisco Kid for the pictures. Then, too, the fact that I got an Oscar for the job caused me no pain.” He said this film allowed him to ultimately play the roll of Cisco five times. Arizona Kid in 1930 was the second of five. He liked the warmth and color of the character while modifying O. Henry’s story with comedy and drama.[33] In keeping his Oscar in proper perspective, around 1945, Life Magazine photographed him with the trophy but never published it. The photo shows Baxter in a club chair in his Beverly Hills home looking fondly at his dog, an American Cocker Spaniel on the floor. The dog’s leash is anchored to his gold Oscar and sitting on the floor with the dog.

Stunt man and western actor Frank McGrath known best for his roll portraying Charlie Wooster on the TV series Wagon Train was a stand-in and stunt double for Baxter. He so resembled Baxter that they could have passed for brothers according to Los Angeles Times reporter John Scott’s 1935 article. The two men formed a friendship outside of the studios and McGrath worked in several capacities for him away from filming. Studio still photos exist today from 20th Century Fox film “Slave Ship” (1937) showing identically dressed Baxter and McGrath looking like brothers. In late 1938, McGrath gave an extensive interview carried by the Associated Press. He said they had met in 1928. Baxter was taken by their resemblance to each other and had him used as a stand-in. If closer in age they could have passed for twin brothers.

In 1935, that professional relationship was written into Baxter’s contracts. By 1938, McGrath was being paid $150 per week ($2,762.32 in 2019) part by Baxter and part by his studio to be a stand-in, stunt double, personal trainer, and occasional body guard. In that era stand-ins usually were paid $35 per week. They did much together to maintain Baxter’s fitness, swimming, tennis, and boxing. Baxter also was a bicycle enthusiast. A personal friendship grew from that. They hunted several times a year in addition to fishing trips. It was on a hunting trip to a remote part of Colorado in 1934 when McGrath saved Baxter’s life. Baxter had broken his leg and McGrath carried him for four days on his back out of the wilderness and to a hospital. It was that event that cemented the personal friendship. When asked what they would talk about, McGrath said anything but pictures.

Baxter married Viola Caldwell in 1911, but they separated and then divorced in 1913. He married actress Winifred Bryson in 1918, remaining married until his death in 1951.

Married Viola Pauline Calwell, born September 2, 1888, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, in 1914 at Philadelphia, Philadelphia Co., Pennsylvania.

Married Winifred M. Bryson on January 29, 1918, Bronx, New York City, New York.

Registered Republican 1924 though 1950.

Baxter suffered from arthritis for several years, and in 1951, he underwent a lobotomy as a last resort to ease the chronic pain.

On May 7, 1951, he died of pneumonia at age 62.

In 1960, Baxter posthumously received a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6284 Hollywood Boulevard.

Filmography

1914 Her Own Money Lew Alden uncredited
1918 All Woman uncredited
1919 Lombardi, Ltd. uncredited
1921 First Love Donald Halliday Incomplete; Museum of Modern Art (New York)
Cheated Hearts Tom Gordon
The Love Charm Thomas Morgan
Sheltered Daughters Pep Mullins
1922 If I Were Queen Vladimir
A Girl’s Desire Jones/Lord Dysart
The Ninety and Nine Tom Silverton/Phil Bradbury
The Girl in His Room Kirk Waring
Her Own Money Lew Alden
1923 St. Elmo Murray Hammond Lost
Blow Your Own Horn Jack Dunbar
In Search of a Thrill Adrian Torrens
Those Who Dance Bob Kane Extant; Library of Congress (per Tave/IMDb review)
1924 Christine of the Hungry Heart Stuart Knight Extant; Library of Congress (per Tave/IMDb review)
The Female Col. Valentia
His Forgotten Wife Donald Allen/John Rolfe Extant; Library of Congress
Alimony Jimmy Mason
The Garden of Weeds Douglas Crawford
1925 The Best People Henry Morgan Lost
A Son of His Father Big Boy Morgan
Rugged Water Calvin Horner Lost
Welcome Home Fred Prouty Extant
The Awful Truth Norman Satterlee print preserved at UCLA Film and TV (per IMDb)
The Air Mail Russ Kane Incomplete
The Golden Bed Bunny O’Neill Extant
Mismates Ted Carroll Lost
1926 Aloma of the South Seas Nuitane Lost
The Runaway Wade Murrell Lost
Mannequin John Herrick Extant
The Great Gatsby Jay Gatsby Lost
Miss Brewster’s Millions Thomas B. Hancock Jr Lost
1927 The Coward Clinton Philbrook
Singed Royce Wingate
Drums of the Desert John Curry Lost
The Telephone Girl Matthew Standish
Craig’s Wife Walter Craig Lost
1928 Danger Street Rolly Sigsby
Ramona Alessandro Extant
Three Sinners James Harris Lost
The Tragedy of Youth Frank Gordon Lost
West of Zanzibar Doc directed by Tod Browning; Extant
A Woman’s Way Tony Lost
In Old Arizona The Cisco Kid Academy Award for Best Actor – Extant
1929 Romance of the Rio Grande Pablo Wharton Cameron
Behind That Curtain Col. John Beetham Extant
The Far Call ? Lost
Thru Different Eyes Jack Winfield Extant (special silent version only, incomplete)
Linda Dr. Paul Randall Extant
1930 Renegades Deucalion Extant
Such Men Are Dangerous Ludwig Kranz Extant; Library of Congress
The Arizona Kid The Cisco Kid Extant; Library of Congress
The Squaw Man James ‘Jim’ Wingate, aka Jim Carston Extant
1931 Their Mad Moment Esteban Cristera
Doctors’ Wives Dr. Judson Penning
The Stolen Jools The Cisco Kid
Daddy Long Legs Jervis Pendleton
The Cisco Kid The Cisco Kid
Surrender Sgt. Dumaine
1932 Six Hours to Live Capt. Paul Onslow
Man About Town Stephen Morrow
Amateur Daddy Jim Gladden
1933 Dangerously Yours Andrew Burke
42nd Street Julian Marsh
I Loved You Wednesday Philip Fletcher
Paddy the Next Best Thing Lawrence Blake
Penthouse Jackson ‘Jack’ Durant
1934 Hell in the Heavens Lt. Steve Warner
As Husbands Go Charles Lingard
Grand Canary Dr. Harvey Leith
Stand Up and Cheer! Lawrence Cromwell
Such Women Are Dangerous Michael Shawn
Broadway Bill Dan Brooks
1935 Under the Pampas Moon Cesar Campo
One More Spring Jaret Otkar
La Fiesta de Santa Barbara Himself Short film
1936 White Hunter Capt. Clark Rutledge
To Mary – with Love Jack Wallace
The Road to Glory Captain Paul La Roche
The Prisoner of Shark Island Dr. Samuel Mudd
King of Burlesque Kerry Bolton
The Robin Hood of El Dorado Joaquin Murrieta
1937 Wife, Doctor and Nurse Dr. Judd Lewis
Vogues of 1938 George Curson
Slave Ship Jim Lovett
1938 I’ll Give a Million Tony Newlander
Kidnapped Alan Breck
1939 Barricade Hank Topping
Wife, Husband and Friend Leonard Borland aka Logan Bennett
The Return of the Cisco Kid The Cisco Kid
1940 Earthbound Nick Desborough
1941 Adam Had Four Sons Adam Stoddard
1943 Crime Doctor Dr. Robert Ordway/Phil Morgan first of 10 films in the Crime Doctor B-film series
Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case Dr. Robert Ordway
1944 Shadows in the Night Dr. Robert Ordway
Lady in the Dark Kendall Nesbitt
1945 Crime Doctor’s Warning Dr. Robert Ordway
The Crime Doctor’s Courage Dr. Robert Ordway
1946 Crime Doctor’s Man Hunt Dr. Robert Ordway
Just Before Dawn Dr. Robert Ordway
1947 Crime Doctor’s Gamble Dr. Robert Ordway
The Millerson Case Dr. Robert Ordway
1948 The Gentleman from Nowhere Earl Donovan/Robert Ashton
1949 The Crime Doctor’s Diary Dr. Robert Ordway last of the Crime Doctor series
The Devil’s Henchman Jess Arno
Prison Warden Warden Victor Burnell
1950 State Penitentiary Roger Manners
1952 O. Henry’s Full House clip of Baxter from The Cisco Kid