What Happened to Lora Baxter?

A mildly interesting enigma this morning concerning actress Lora Baxter (1902-1955). It’s said that in her early years Baxter appeared in vaudeville and wrote silent scenarios for MGM. In 1931, she made ito Broadway in The Sex Fable, supporting Mrs. Patrick Campbell. 1932 may have been her most eventful year: The Black Tower, a play which she cowrote with Ralph Murphy, was produced on Broadway; she starred in Philip Barry’s The Animal Kingdom with Leslie Howard, which ran for six months; and she married poet William Rose Benet, older brother of Stephen Vincent Benet (while the latter is better remembered, William also won a Pulitzer Prize, for his 1941 volume The Dust Which is God). But 1933 was also eventful: she starred in two more Broadway plays, The Comic Artist and A Party, and appeared in her only movie Before Morning, opposite Leo Carrillo.

From here, it all seems to be denouement. Her next three plays were all short-lived: False Dreams Farewell (1934), The Laughing Woman (1936), and Young Mr, Disraeli (1937). She divorced Benet in 1937, and subsequently married actor Bretaigne Windust in 1939. Interestingly, their marriage lasted a shorter time than the play he was in when they married: Life With Father ran 1939-47; Windust and Baxter divorced in 1945. Windust later went on to become a film and television director, 1948-1960.

Baxter was in only one more Broadway play after marrying Windust, Fledgling (1940). At the time she was only 38. When she divorced Windust she was just 43. Wither wandered she? Awfully young to retire. Surely, discouragement must have played a role. The Animal Kingdom had been her biggest success. When it was made into a film in 1932, she had been replaced in her role by Ann Harding. She made her only movie, the independent production Before Morning, the following year, almost as though to prove to anyone who doubted she could carry a picture that she could in fact do so. But her stage, screen, and marital careers had all fizzled. Unike Windust and so many others, she didn’t opt to move to Hollywood to give films a serious tumble. She was born, lived, and died in New York City. It is known that she had done some radio with Orson Welles and others in the ’30s; I haven’t yet found any radio credits for her in the ’40s. How she spent her last decade is a mystery.

To learn more about vaudeville, where Lora Baxter got her start, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,