Warner Baxter — As He Is (1930) 🇺🇸

Warner Baxter — As He Is (1930) | www.vintoz.com

March 02, 2023

He looks like a banker — and is best known for his Latin roles. Of sober, Anglo-Saxon lineage, he yet brings to such roles as "The Cisco Kid" an understanding and fire. An anomaly only explained by what must be histrionic talent.

by Margaret Reid

Talent he indubitably possesses. Even at ten years of age he was conscious of its existence. Discarding a desire to become a street-car conductor, his interests were transferred to the stage for no tangible reason.

His mother, sole custodian since the death of his banker-father a few months after Warner's birth in 1893, disapproved of her son's greedy taste for books on actors and theaters. She sought to interest him in the pleasures of school in Columbus, Ohio. Little Warner meekly acquiesced.

Through grammar and high school he was the backbone of their numerous dramatic societies — acting, directing, and glibly writing songs, plays, or sketches, as the occasion demanded. He developed a singing voice and. before his graduation from high school, had attained some repute as an entertainer.

Finishing high school, his mother wanted him to go to college and Warner wanted to go on the stage. Impasse. So Warner became a salesman of farm implements.

His persistent ambition was no secret from his friends. They thought he was a trifle crazy. A man should have a business and play acting was no business. Nevertheless, when a friend heard of a possible opportunity, he gave Warner the tip.

Dorothy Shoemaker, of erstwhile vaudeville fame, was sending out a desperate SOS. Her partner had fallen ill on Saturday night. Miss Shoemaker was to open the following afternoon. Warner's friend had met her and to him, as well as every one else, she confided her quandary. The friend suggested Warner. Miss Shoemaker was willing to take "anything," and sent for him, postponing her opening.

The eager salesman of farm implements was hired on Sunday, learned two songs and the "business," and went on Monday afternoon. And remained with the act for two months, laughing reminiscently at the memory of plows and binders.

Mrs. Baxter found out. Maybe she still thought the stage no place for ambitious young men. Maybe she thought Warner had no place on the stage. There were domestic storms. And Warner was put in charge of the branch of the Travelers' Insurance Company in Philadelphia.

Insurance irked him considerably. He resigned abruptly, drew his savings out of the bank and invested in a half interest in a garage in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The garage died a swift death and there was Warner in Tulsa, a most illogical place to be. An even more illogical place to be when completely broke.

Convinced that business was not his metier and, safely removed from the shocked eyes of his mother, Warner set out for Texas. In Dallas he forced his way into the North Brothers stock company. Salesmanship gave him entree. Because he happened to be a good actor, he stayed for two years, doing juvenile leads. Later graduating to leading man, at the then neat salary of thirty dollars a week.

Out of this munificent pay, he accumulated another bank roll and, bidding grand farewell to the stage, set out for moving pictures.

Arrived in Los Angeles, he set to work storming the citadel that was to be his next conquest. But something had gone wrong. For six months he canvassed the studios, but the studios showed no interest. Finally convinced that the movies, like business, were out of his line, he retreated to native ground.

The Burbank stock company was then one of Los Angeles' leading theatrical enterprises. Warner had no difficulty in effecting a contract. As leading man with Burbank, he remained in Los Angeles seven years, making no further assaults on the cinema suburb eight miles out of town. Remained, indeed, until Oliver Morosco sent him to New York for a role in Lombardi, Ltd.

Rehearsals introduced him to Winifred Bryson, of the same cast. On the day the show opened Miss Bryson became Mrs. Baxter. And Miss Bryson is still Mrs. Baxter.

After several New York appearances, Warner returned to Los Angeles as leading man of the Morosco company. Because a capricious fate likes to order affairs that way, this time old Mountain Movie came to Mahomet Warner. Scarcely had he begun activities in the Morosco Theater, when Elmer Harris sought him out and insisted that he play opposite Ethel Clayton, in "Her Own Money."

Trying to dovetail his film debut with rehearsals for A Tailor-made Man, gave Warner eighteen-hour days for several weeks. Demands for his services to the movie public came hot and heavy after his initial appearance with Miss Clayton. After a while he gave up the stage entirely.

Followed a period in which the Baxter physiognomy graced more pictures than could possibly be listed, without crowding out advertisements for parlor games, brassieres, and floor varnishes. During this time it was the custom of critics to mention him as "adequate." A damning word which worked its influence despite his popularity.

By a trick of circumstances, it so happened that this actor, through whose stage career had run a constant strain of well-defined characterizations, was cast solely in roles which required only a manly, well-tailored shoulder over which the lady might flicker her eyelids at the camera. Warner philosophically gave up his attempts to instil a vestige of life into the roles — or rather the role, since each one resembled its predecessor so closely that even their scenarists couldn't tell them apart.

"The Great Gatsby," Aloma of the South Seas, and Allesandro, in Ramona, were the only brief flares in which indication of his talent was given. After Ramona, and even previous to it, his career suffered inevitable reaction from the long line of mediocre vehicles. Demand for his appearance slackened. Engagements decreased in number, the intervals between them lengthened. Boulevard opinion ventured that he was through.

He was looking around for a likely business interest, when Raoul Walsh, in the midst of directing and acting In Old Arizona, suffered the accident that cost him the sight of one eye. The picture was half finished and represented too much money for dismissal. Irving Cummings was substituted as director. The only remaining difficulty was a substitute for The Cisco Kid, which Walsh had been playing.

Walsh himself suggested and — when objections were raised — insisted on Warner Baxter for the part. Executives demurred. A Walsh argument is belligerent. He won. Warner was signed and hastily thrust into the waiting production.

The release of In Old Arizona established Warner, in one fell swoop, as one of the most important personages of the sound era. Signed, immediately after, on a long-term contract, he is one of Fox's most dependable offerings to hungry exhibitors.

Unlike most of his confreres, Warner has been given new power by the microphone. His screen personality, through the kind offices of the sound track, has acquired new strength. The audibility of his excellent voice has given him, besides added charm and vigor, a variety which was not his before. The Cisco Kid was followed by the somber artist of Through Different Eyes, the reckless adventurer of Behind That Curtain and the Jekyll-Hyde character of Such Men Are Dangerous.

With the advent of talkies, Warner feels his first active satisfaction in his work. In silent pictures, feeling himself insentient clay for the too omnipotent director, he concentrated his interest on the pay checks. Now that the director's function necessarily ceases with the interlock of the sound camera, and the actor is freer to work out his own characterization, Warner delights in the pleasure of independent creation. It has become, at last, work in which he can take intelligent pride.

Having a good head for business, despite his dislike for its routine, he is financially secure. He invests cautiously. The stock market disaster passed him by. He owns three houses — one in the Wilshire district of Los Angeles, another at Malibu Beach, and a lodge in the San Jacinto Mountains.

His friends are, in the main, not picture people, but men prominent in business circles. William Powell, however, is an intimate, and for his work Warner has deep admiration.

He plays a fast game of tennis, but golf bores him. He has a sincere love for music and plays the piano rather well. Mastery of the guitar is a talent he reveals sheepishly.

Having a frank liking for good clothes, his wardrobe is extensive. Apparently permanently well groomed, he always gives the impression of having stepped fresh from the attentions of a valet. Which he hasn't. Hovering servants make him nervous and he prefers to do things for himself. He employs a chauffeur for his two cars, but generally takes the wheel himself.

Almost a fanatic for system, he is miserable unless everything is in its exact place. Flawless order and neatness is his desire. He is careful of his belongings and likes his affairs and life in general to be equally tidy. One manifestation of this, gratefully received in a community of dramatically delayed entrances, is his unerring punctuality — at all times and for all occasions.

A gourmet by nature and connoisseur by practice, he is an authority on strange cooking, odd recipes, and delicacies. He is particular about the appearance and quality of his food, and keenly enjoys a skillfully prepared meal. He has an unaccountable aversion to apples and even dislikes to see others eat them. An accomplished cook himself, he is locally famous for his chili con carne.

A serious conversationalist, he is not witty, but likes to be among people who laugh a good deal. He would love to be able to remember funny stories, but no matter how earnestly he tries, he always tells them wrong. Although not brilliant, he is, nevertheless, charming to a considerable degree. Never rude, never in too great a hurry for courtesy, he sincerely likes people and to talk with them.

He loves the normal existence and regular hours of screen work as contrasted to the stage. His life is quiet, full, peaceful. He is devoted to his mother, who has passed from resignation to intense pride in his career, and to his wife, whose ill health resulting from her heart trouble is his one anxiety.

Although he is not "one of the gang," after working hours, he is a favorite in the colony. Lacking in pyrotechnics of personality, he is recognized as a sincere, unassuming and thoroughly likable person.

Warner Baxter was once a salesman of farm implements.

Warner Baxter is a stickler for neatness and order; he can't tell a funny, story, and he is never too preoccupied to be considerate of any and every one. But these are only a few of Margaret Reid's discoveries opposite.

Photo by: Philip Newberg

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, May 1930