University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Phyllis Schuyler Thaxter collection, 1890-1998

Full finding aid (pdf)

Collection Scope and Content

This collection consists of several manuscripts written by the author, a few pieces of correspondence, and some playbills and professional photos of Thaxter from her stage career, which spanned the 1920s-1940s. There is also a large collection of playbills from the 1930s-1960s, many related to her theater column “Through the Stage Door With Phyllis Schuyler Thaxter,” written for the Guy Gannett newspapers (Portland Press Herald) and covering theaters in Maine, Boston and New York, as well as a number of clippings of the column. Her seven scrapbooks also contain a wealth of professional photographs of Thaxter with movie stars such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, John Ford, Shirley Temple, Myrna Loy, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and others, taken in 1937 on her Press Herald-sponsored interviewing trip to Hollywood, as well as clippings of her interviews with them for her column “Adventures in Cinemaland.” The earliest album is dated 1913 and includes snapshots taken in 1936 of her travels in Europe, including shots of Russia, Denmark, and Germany under the reign of the Nazi regime. There are also three signed etchings, possibly purchased during her stay in the West.

Biographical/Historical Note

Marie Phyllis Schuyler Thaxter of Portland was a classically trained actor who performed on Broadway and in regional theaters in Maine from the 1920s-1940s. A highlight of her career was her 1923 role as “Elvira” in Booth Tarkington’s then new play, “Magnolia.” The comedy opened in Atlantic City at the Apollo Theatre and then ran on Broadway at the Liberty. Thaxter had married Maine Supreme Court Justice Sidney St. Felix Thaxter in 1913, and in the early thirties she shifted her acting focus to the greater Portland area and became involved in the promotion of regional theater as well, serving as president of the Portland Players, whose South Portland theater now bears her name.

In addition to her stage career Thaxter was also a journalist, writing two columns for the Guy Gannett newspapers (Portland Press Herald) and contributing to the entertainment section of the New York Times. Her Press Herald column “Through the Stage Door with Phyllis Schuyler Thaxter” gave readers glimpses behind the scenes of the theatrical world and the latest news from the stages of New York, Boston and Maine. Thaxter also interviewed Hollywood’s greatest film stars for her other Press Herald column, “Adventures in Cinemaland.” In early 1937, the newspaper invited readers to vote for their favorite movie stars and, once the votes were tallied, Thaxter was dispatched via jet plane to the Hollywood lot of Paramount Pictures for a whirlwind interviewing tour. From the studios Thaxter sent columns of numbered “adventures,” each sharing an interview with a particular film star or describing her observations of the movie making process. Her daughter, Phyllis Thaxter, became a successful film actor (working with a number of the stars whom Thaxter had interviewed,) and is especially remembered for her role as the mother of Christopher Reeve’s “Superman.” Thaxter’s granddaughter, Skye Aubrey, is a successful television actor.