“How’d you get to be so cute”: Remembering Phyllis Thaxter

The heavens gained several stars this year as classic film stars passed away in 2012.

Since Comet Over Hollywood did not give several of them the full attention they deserved, the first few days of 2013 will be dedicated to some of the notable celebrities who left us.

Eyes twinkling and bright smile.

The first time I was introduced to MGM actress Phyllis Thaxter was as she played Van Johnson’s wife in the World War II film “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” (1944).

“How did you get to be so cute?” Van Johnson asked in the film.

“I had to be if I was going to get such a good-looking fella,” she said.

Spencer Tracy, Phyllis Thaxter and Van Johnson in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo."

Spencer Tracy, Phyllis Thaxter and Van Johnson in “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”

“Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” the story of Doolittle’s raid on Japan, was Thaxter’s first and probably best role.

Thaxter’s acting career started on Broadway, and she was signed to MGM in 1944. The actress was the daughter of a Shakespearean actress and Supreme Court justice, according to a Hollywood Reporter article.

Many of the sweet and petite actress’s roles were as wives and mothers, such as Ronald Reagan wife in “She’s Working Her Way Through College,” Margaret O’Brien’s pregnant mother in “Tenth Avenue Angel” and a single mother who becomes Gene Kelly’s love interest in “Living in a Big Way.”

In the early 1950s, Thaxter left MGM and signed with Warner Brothers, but her contract was terminated in 1952.

The stumble in her career wasn’t her choice.

Thaxter in 1945

Thaxter in 1945

In 1952, Thaxter was swimming in Portland, Maine while visiting family. She found she lost strength in her legs, and her brother rescued her. Thaxter had polio, according to a New York Times article.

She was put in an iron lung while pregnant, because the lung needed for breathing was weakened, according to the article.

But Thaxter overcame the disease, only suffering from pain in her feet due to nerve problems that her daughter said she never complained about.

Thaxter’s career continued with television work until 1978, when she played the role of Ma Kent in “Superman,” the role most remember her for today.

“I worked harder on that film than anything I’d done; I couldn’t be bad,” Thaxter said.

Though she wasn’t a glamour girl, Thaxter’s daughter Skye, said her mother discussed some of her romances with leading men, saying she had a “hell of a good time.”

“ Mother and Montgomery Clift were very much in love,” Skye Aubrey said in a New York Times article. “They talked about getting married. They were planning on it. Then he found out he was gay.”

Phyllis Thaxter passed away on Aug. 14, 2012, at the age of 92.

Though she isn’t as well known today, she has always left an inexplicable impression on me, and I will go out of my way to see her films.

Maybe it’s because she was “so cute.”

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3 thoughts on ““How’d you get to be so cute”: Remembering Phyllis Thaxter

  1. I always liked Phyllis. thank you for lovely tribute. She is in two of my favorite films, BLODD ON THE MOON, in which she is led astray by Robert Preston, and NO MAN MAN OF HER OWN, in which she is the new bride of Richard Denning – unfortunately her role in this film is small. She’s also in the western FORT WORTH with Randolph Scott.


    • I’m not sure if I knew who she was when I first saw “The World of Henry Orient” so I will have to watch. I haven’t seen Breaking Point either.
      She is really good in The Sign of the Ram


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