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"In the Spotlight"

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In the Spotlight: PHYLLIS THAXTER

 

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The lovely brunette was born Phyllis St. Felix Thaxter in Portland, Maine, on November 20, 1921.

The daughter of a Maine Supreme Court Justice, her acting talent came from her mother's side who was a one-time Shakespearean actress. Phyllis was educated for a time at St. Genevieve School in Montreal and back at Portland's Deering High School.

She apprenticed in summer stock and had joined the Montreal Reperatory Theatre company by the time she made her Broadway debut at age 17 in "What a Life!" in 1939, the Henry Aldrich play.

 

She eventually signed an MGM contract in 1944. Her movie debut was opposite Van Johnson in the war-time film "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo".

Similar to Margaret Sullavan, June Allyson, Dorothy McGuire and Teresa Wright, Phyllis was depended on as a stabilizing factor in melodramas, often as the dewy-eyed, altruistic wife, girlfriend or daughter.

 

Other important films included a good dramatic role as the girl with a split personality in "Bewitched" (1945), and as a angst-ridden, teary-eyed bride-to-be in "Week-End at the Waldorf" (1945). She was dutifully wholesome as the daughter who reunites Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in the movie "The Sea of Grass" (1947) and evoked tears yet again as little Margaret O'Brien's sickly mother in "Tenth Avenue Angel" (1948).

 

she usually played the ever-patient wife to a number of leading men,including Robert Ryan in "Act of Violence" (1948). One of her more memorable roles was also in 1948, playing a cattle owner's daughter alongside Barbara Bel Geddes in "Blood on the Moon". She was the key character Patrice Harkness in the noir-melodrama "No Man of Her Own" with Barbara Stanwyck.

 

Thaxter changed studios in the 1950s, moving to Warner Brothers, but usually played the same type of roles, which included "The Breaking Point" with John Garfield, "Jim Thorpe--All American" with Burt Lancaster, "Come Fill the Cup" with Cagney.

She also appeared in "Women's Prison" with Ida Lupino and "Man Afraid" with George Nader.

 

Thaxter's career stalled after an attack of infantile paralysis, while visiting her family in Portland, in 1952. She, however, made a slow comeback in character parts in television, movies and the stage.

In 1978, Thaxter was cast along with Glenn Ford as Ma and Pa Kent in the spectacular "Superman" movie with Christopher Reeve.

 

While at MGM, Phyllis married James T. Aubrey, Jr., who later became president of CBS-TV and MGM. The couple had 3 children.

Following their divorce in 1962, Phyllis married Gilbert Lea, who owned Tower Publishing Company in Portland. They eventually retired to Cumberland, Maine, where she involved herself in civic/community activities and dedicated herself to hospital volunteer work.

 

At age 86 she has been semi-retired for many years, spending her summers in Vero Beach, Florida.

 

Miss Thaxter has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

 

Message was edited by: mongo

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Thanks Mongo for featuring Phyllis Thaxter. She was an underrated actress who also played Gary Cooper`s wife in "Springfield Rifle". Phyllis stayed with Burt Lancaster thru the highs and lows in "Jim Thorpe All American" a favorite film of mine. Phyllis`s daughter is the actress Skye Aubrey who at one time was married to William Shatner.

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Cashette, thanks for the additional info regarding Thaxter's daughter Skye Aubrey, however, it doesn't look like she was ever married to William Shatner.

Pictures of the two films you mentioned will be featured in the profile eventually.

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Sorry Mongo, I had my facts mixed up. William Shatner`s second wife was Marcy Lafferty. I think that her father was a TV executive also.

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In the Spotlight: JOHNNY ECK

 

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The Wonder Boy was born John Eckhardt, Jr. on August 27, 1911, in Baltimore, Maryland to working class parents, Amelia Dippel and John Eckhardt, Sr., who lived in a rowhouse in Baltimore.

Eck had an older sister named Carolyn and a twin named Robert, neither of whom was born with Eck's congenital birth defects: Eck was born with no lower half. His body stopped just below the ribs. virtually nothing beneath his rib cage, and with his tongue permanently embedded in his cheek. At birth, Eck weighed two pounds and was less than eight inches in length.

 

Eck was educated at home by his older sister, and had learned to read and write by 4 years of age. His mother intended that he would go into the ministry, and the young Eck was often called upon to perform impromptu sermons for guests. "I would climb atop of a small box and preach against drinking beer and damning sin and the devil," Eck recalled in an autobiographical fragment. These sermons quickly came to an end when Eck began passing around a saucer for donations.

 

Eck and his brother enrolled in public school at age 7. He recalled that larger students would "fight each other for the 'honor' or 'privilege' of lifting me up the stone steps" to school, and that school windows were blacked out to discourage throngs of curious onlookers from peering in at Eck during his studies.

 

At an early age, Eck developed an interest in painting and woodworking, and would spend hours with his brother carving and painting elaborate, fully articulated circuses. He was also a prolific screen painter.

 

In December of 1923 Eck and his brother attended a performance of stage magic at his local church. Eck clambered onto the stage at one point to accept a gift from the magician, John McAsian, who was flabbergasted at the sight of the boy. McAslan offered Eck a contract with a local carnival, and his parents signed a one-year contract, which Eck claims the magician later changed to a 10-year contract by adding a zero.

 

Eck (his name was shortened by his first manager) was billed as a single-o (solo sideshow act), though he traveled with Robert and used Robert's normalcy to emphasize his own abnormal physique. His performance included sleight-of-hand and acrobatic feats including his famous one-armed handstand.

He never let his lack of legs prevent him from attempting anything he dreamed up. Someone once asked him if he wished he had legs? "Why would I want those? Then I'd have pants to press." was his reply.

 

Eck and Robert were recruited by illusionist/hypnotist Raja for his "Miracles of 1937" show. Robert would be "recruited" from the audience for a hypnosis stunt, then kept on-stage for a sawing-in-half illusion. During the illusion, Robert would be switched with Eck and a dwarf wearing trousers that covered his whole body, disguising him as the subject's pelvis and legs. Raja would saw between Eck and the dwarf. Eck would then chase his "legs" across the stage. Stage hands would pluck Eck up, set him atop the dwarf, and twirl them off-stage, replacing them with Robert, who would then threaten to sue Raboid and storm out of the theater.

Though the act met with applause and laughter, Eck would later tell stories of audience members fainting, screaming, or fleeing the theater in terror.

 

In his beat remembered film role Eck is featured as the "Half-Boy" in Tod Browning's 1932 film "Freaks". He also was a bird creature or 'Gooney Bird' in three Tarzan movies: "Tarzan the Ape Man" (1932), "Tarzan Escapes" (1936) and "Tarzan's Secret Treasure" (1941). All four films have been featured on TCM.

 

He was a voracious letter writer and always kept a diary his entire life. Some oh his letters are as mundane as what the weather was like or who stopped by to see them and how their dogs are feeling. And other, more personal letters, which discuss their hard times getting work, ongoing fueds with their neighbors, future plans, upcoming sideshow adventures, etc.

 

Johnny's drawings and paintings were done during the winter months when he was at home for the off season, which included a variety of lovely watercolors.

Also included were drawings that are highly sexually charged and offer an insight into the repressed sexual feelings Johnny felt, although rumor has it that he was once married.

 

In 1938 Johnny climbed the stairs to the top of the Washington Monument, on his hands.

 

Eck resided in Baltimore with his twin brother Robert and pursued his interests in screen painting, race cars, photography, music and model-making.

In 1988, Eck was physically assaulted during a home robbery. Soured by the experience, he and Robert thenceforth lived in seclusion, declining to admit strangers into their home.

 

Eck died of a heart attack on January 5, 1991 at age 79. His devoted brother Robert died on February 25, 1995. They are buried under one headstone in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore.

 

During 79 years on this earth Johnny Eck accomplished more than most people with legs. He was a sideshow performer, artist, photographer, magician, Punch and Judy operator, expert model maker, race car driver, swimmer, gymnist, actor, train conductor, traveler and all around Renaissance man...God bless him.

 

Quoted: "I met hundreds and thousands of people, and none finer than the midgets and the Siamese twins and the caterpillar man and the bearded woman and the human seal with the little flippers for hands. I never asked them any embarrassing questions and they never asked me, and God, it was a great adventure."

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A project that never materialized:

 

In 2001 Fox Searchlight was reported to finance and distribute "Johnny Eck," a dramatic vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio to play the star of the 1932 Tod Browning film "Freaks" and his identical twin brother. "Edward Scissorhands" scribe Caroline Thompson was signed to write the screenplay.

 

Perhaps Johnny Depp will consider the roles.

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