Warner Baxter

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Warner Baxter
Warner Baxter in 1924 - (SAYRE 3782) (cropped).jpg
Warner Baxter publicity photo
Warner Leroy Baxter

(1889-03-29)March 29, 1889
DiedMay 7, 1951(1951-05-07) (aged 62)
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California
Years active1914–1950
Viola Caldwell
(m. 1911;div. 1913)
(m. 1918)

Warner Leroy Baxter (March 29, 1889 – May 7, 1951) was an American film actor from the 1910s to the 1940s. Baxter is known for his role as the Cisco Kid in the 1928 film In Old Arizona , for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor at the 2nd Academy Awards. [1] 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.


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 notable sound films are In Old Arizona (1929), 42nd Street (1933), 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. [2]

Early life

Baxter was born on March 29, 1889, [3] [4] in Columbus, Ohio, [5] to Edwin F. Baxter, a cigar stand operator, and Jennie (Jane) B. Barrett. [6] Baxter's father died before Warner was five, and he and his mother went to live with her brother. 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. The pair were temporarily displaced by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, then 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. [7]

Film career

With June Lang and Fredric March The Road to Glory (1936) 1.jpg
With June Lang and Fredric March

Baxter began his film career as an extra in 1914 in a stock company. He had his first starring role in 1921 in Sheltered Daughters . [8] [ additional citation(s) needed ] The same year, he acted in First Love, [9] The Love Charm , [10] and Cheated Hearts. [11]

Baxter 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 as an 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. [12]

Baxter's most notable starring role was as The Cisco Kid in In Old Arizona (1929), the first all-talking Western, for which he won the second Academy Award for Best Actor. He also starred in 42nd Street (1933), [13] Grand Canary (1934), [14] Broadway Bill (1934), [15] and Kidnapped (1938). [16]

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 from 1914 to 1950. [17] In 1936, Baxter had what Leonard Maltin considered his finest job of acting in John Ford's The Prisoner of Shark Island . [18]

Personal troubles and breakdown

During the mid-1930s Baxter began to have career and personal troubles. The studio system and being a top leading man with Fox made him wealthy beyond his dreams but it also let him in for some significant 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 seemed unable to pry himself away from his salary as a contract star. [19] Some of his better 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 was an example. Director William Wellman's recollections in the 2015 biography by his son went into some detail. Baxter, according to Wellman, was aging and troubled by that, as evidenced by a major drinking problem. Baxter told Wellman he was fine during the day but as evening approached he was "gone". [20] Adding to his own insecurities as a leading man, his home studio was not known for having a strong story department. They relied on the formula of having their major stars repeat the same type of stories and characters when it reverberated with an audience. In many cases, even for Will Rogers, it often would decrease the value of the actor's contract. [21]

By 1939, he was publicly complaining about being teamed 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 did not view her as a youngster, but the new crop such as Lynn Bari and Arleen Whelan made him feel very uncomfortable. [22] As his 20th Century Fox contract was nearing completion, he was openly talking of retiring, a decision he was making with his wife Winifred Bryson. By 1941, columnist Jimmie Fidler was stating the retirement talk was on the level. [23] Some time between Adam Had Four Sons and Lady in the Dark he suffered a mental breakdown. Over the subsequent years, he was fairly candid about it in interviews. 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." [24]

The reported $284,000 ($5,315,313.12 in 2019) Baxter earned in 1936 was the highest paid contract actor that year. [25] By 1947, he was reduced to earning $30,000 ($348,337.37 in 2019) per picture in a mere two-picture deal. [26] He was, however, more comfortable both with his career and his life, giving much credit to his wife. "I never take a role 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." They moved to their beach house in Malibu, California, soaking up the sun and gradually getting better. [27] Baxter felt that the best role in motion pictures was being a leading man in a series. He had 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". [24]

Personal life

Baxter married Viola Caldwell in 1911, but they were soon separated and then divorced in 1913. He married actress Winifred Bryson in 1918, remaining married until his death in 1951. [28] Through his marriage to Bryson he was an uncle by marriage to actress Betty Bryson. [29] Betty Bryson was born Elizabeth Bryson Meikklejohn, daughter of Winifred's sister, Vivian.

On August 5, 1931, Baxter survived uninjured with 40 other cast and crew members the train derailment of the Southern Pacific Argonaut east of Yuma on route to Tucson for location shooting for The Cisco Kid . Two trainmen were killed in the derailment. Baxter, Conchita Montenegro, and Edmund Lowe were among the passengers in cars at the end of the train. [30]

The Baxter beach house was at 77 Malibu Beach, Malibu, California, for many years as noted in its 1942 voter roll. [31] He also had a cabin in the San Jacinto Mountains. [32] He was very active in Malibu civic affairs and was named honorary mayor of Malibu from 1946, replacing Brian Donlevy, through 1949. [33] For a number of years, he had an 80-acre working ranch about 12 miles north of Palm Springs at Desert Hot Springs, the Warner Baxter Ranch, later renamed the Circle B Ranch. It was used for years as a location for western films. [34] It was listed for sale in mid 1945 for a price of $40,000 and sold over a year later. [35] [36]

During the war, Baxter was chairman of the Malibu Rationing Board and also did some troop entertaining in Army camps in the Fresno and Bakersfield areas. He and his entertainers put on dozens of day and night shows for the service men. [37]

Baxter was a close friend of William Powell, with whom he had starred in three silent films, the best of which was The Great Gatsby now considered lost. He was at Powell's side when Jean Harlow died in 1937. [17] His friendship with Ronald Colman was perhaps even deeper. While tennis and the film industry were the origins of their friendship going back to their earlier days at Paramount Studios, Colman and his wife Benita Hume named Baxter and Tim McCoy as godfathers to their daughter Juliet Benita Colman at her christening in 1944. [38] Juliet Colman's biography of her father describes in detail the very private social circle of cocktails, dinner and games of tennis or poker held between her father's Hollywood house at 2092 Mound Street above and behind the Castle Argyle, and Baxter's home on South Beachwood Drive.

When not acting, Baxter was an inventor who co-created a searchlight for revolvers in 1935, which 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 with safe passage through intersections. He financed the device's installation at a Beverly Hills intersection in 1940. [17]


Baxter suffered from arthritis for several years, as well as a chronic illness which caused eating difficulties and induced malnutrition. [39] In 1951, he underwent a lobotomy as a last resort to ease the chronic pain. [40] [41] On May 7, 1951, he died of pneumonia at age 62 [5] and was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California in a private funeral service described as markedly reminiscent of the film capital's earlier days. Among his pallbearers were friends Ronald Colman and William Powell. [42] He left all his property to his wife. [43]

Winifred married St. Louis architect Ferdinand Herman Menger at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 15, 1953. They would remain married until the end of her life. [44] [45]


In 1960, Baxter posthumously received a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6284 Hollywood Boulevard. [2]


1914 Her Own Money Lew Aldenuncredited
1918 All Woman uncredited
1919 Lombardi, Ltd. uncredited
1921 First Love Donald Hallidayincomplete; 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 Hammondlost
Blow Your Own Horn Jack Dunbar
In Search of a Thrill Adrian Torrens
Those Who Dance Bob Kaneextant; Library of Congress (per Tave/IMDb review)
1924 Christine of the Hungry Heart Stuart Knightextant; Library of Congress (per Tave/IMDb review)
The Female Col. Valentia
His Forgotten Wife Donald Allen/John Rolfeextant; Library of Congress
Alimony Jimmy Mason
The Garden of Weeds Douglas Crawford
1925 The Best People Henry Morganlost
A Son of His Father Big Boy Morgan
Rugged Water Calvin Hornerlost
Welcome Home Fred Proutyextant
The Awful Truth Norman Satterleeprint preserved at UCLA Film and Television (per IMDb)
The Air Mail Russ Kaneincomplete
The Golden Bed Bunny O'Neillextant
Mismates Ted Carrolllost
1926 Aloma of the South Seas Nuitanelost
The Runaway Wade Murrelllost
Mannequin John Herrickextant
The Great Gatsby Jay Gatsby lost
Miss Brewster's Millions Thomas B. Hancock Jrlost
1927 The Coward Clinton Philbrook
Singed Royce Wingate
Drums of the Desert John Currylost
The Telephone Girl Matthew Standish
Craig's Wife Walter Craiglost
1928 Danger Street Rolly Sigsby
Ramona Alessandroextant
Three Sinners James Harrislost
The Tragedy of Youth Frank Gordonlost
West of Zanzibar Docdirected by Tod Browning; extant
A Woman's Way Tonylost
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 Beethamextant
The Far Call  ?lost
Thru Different Eyes Jack Winfieldextant (special silent version only, incomplete)
Linda Dr. Paul Randallextant
1930 Renegades Deucalionextant
Such Men Are Dangerous Ludwig Kranzextant; Library of Congress
The Arizona Kid The Cisco Kid extant; Library of Congress
1931 Their Mad Moment Esteban Cristera
Doctors' Wives Dr. Judson Penning
The Stolen Jools The Cisco Kid
Daddy Long Legs Jervis Pendleton
The Squaw Man James 'Jim' Wingate, aka Jim Carstonextant
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 Himselfshort 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 Morganfirst of 14 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
The Devil's Henchman Jess Arno
Prison Warden Warden Victor Burnell
1950 State Penitentiary Roger Mannerslast of the Crime Doctor series
1952 O. Henry's Full House clip of Baxter from The Cisco Kid

See also

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