About ten years ago, I was at a party in the Hollywood Hills in an old agent’s home. The decor was late 70’s if it was a day, complete with a red-velvet pool table and a plush living room with the largest-screen TV I’d ever seen at the time. I walked around the house drinking in the atmosphere, looking at the pictures on the walls and came face to face with one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen: her picture was hanging in the foyer. I asked my host who the gorgeous woman was and he informed me that she had been a very famous, Oscar-winning actress who owned the home at the time of her death. She was Anne Baxter.
A couple years later I caught All About Eve on late night and was immediately infatuated with the lovely, bitchy Eve Harrington played by Anne Baxter. This beautiful actress not only held her own against Bette Davis, she was any Hollywood actresses equal. Anne was such a believable, conniving, back-stabbing opportunist that it sent shivers up and down my spine. She had the looks, the fierce intelligence and the ambition that would today be characterized as a diva. And I had stood in her Hollywood mansion, which she supposedly was still haunting to this day. Cue shivers down my spine again!
Of course, Anne Baxter playing a conniving, back-stabbing actress in All About Eve doesn’t mean she was one. Even though there were rumors of off-screen squabbles on the set between Anne and Bette (Marilyn Monroe even made an amusing cameo) a lot of that can be attributed to Hollywood hyperbole. But there is always an element of truth to these stories and I think Anne was a force to be reckoned with both on and off the screen.
Anne’s maternal grandfather was Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect. Her father was an owner and executive of Seagram’s Corporation – of liquor fame. Legend has it she was 10 years old when she saw Helen Hayes in a play and told her family afterward that she was destined to become an actress. She was 16 when she auditioned for the role of Rebecca, but lost out to Joan Fontaine because Hitchcock thought she was too young. But Anne never quit when she wanted something and was cast in The Razor’s Edge (the original) and won a best supporting actress Oscar for the role. She would have received another Oscar for All About Eve, but she foolishly forced the Academy to nominate her as a Leading Actress instead of Best Supporting – putting her in direct contention with Bette Davis who had also been nominated for Best Actress. Both actresses lost out as a result and apparently Bette blamed Anne. So, maybe all Hollywood rumors are true after all.
For those of you who love Anne Baxter as much as I do, check her out in Cecil B. DeMille’s amazing technicolor wonder, The Ten Commandments. She’s one hot number as the Pharaoh’s Queen and love interest of Moses before God stepped in and put an end to the romance. Anne is deliciously evil in the role, as usual. With that upturned, button nose and eyes like a vipers – she was inspired casting and glows in warm primary colors. A perfect compliment to an Easter dinner, preferably ham.
Sadly, Anne died of an aneurysm while hailing a cab at the age of 62. But apparently she had a hell of a ride as one of our most celebrated actresses and brought a new realism to the fantasy that is tinseltown. I’m proud to have once stood in her foyer and gazed upon the portrait of a beautiful woman who had once walked through that same door every night after a long day on the set. I can only imagine how she was in the privacy of her own home. I have no doubt that she was infinitely more complex than the characters she portrayed in her movies. And I hope she had a measure of happiness with all her success in the short time she graced us with her presence.