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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Phyllis Thaxter - Court Square Theatre, Springfield, Mass.

Phyllis Thaxter died a week ago on August 14th. Though many will remember her film and TV roles beginning in the 1940s and ‘50s, through to her stint as Superman’s mother in the 1978 film, perhaps a few will recall the young actress who toured New England in the stage production “Claudia.”

Above we have the program cover advertising the national touring company of “Claudia” when it hit the boards at the Court Square Theatre in Springfield, Massachusetts. It ran for three days, March 29, 30, and 31, 1943. Miss Thaxter played opposite Donald Cook and Frances Starr. She understudied Dorothy McGuire as Claudia on Broadway, and when Miss McGuire won the film role of the popular play, Thaxter took over in the leading role on stage. Phyllis would have her own Hollywood career soon.

She was a New England girl, born and raised in Portland, Maine, her mother a former actress and her father, Sidney, a Maine Supreme Court judge. On a visit to her family in 1952, while swimming in the ocean, she developed the first frightening symptoms of polio. She was pregnant at the time, and required treatment in an iron lung for a brief period. Fortunately, the illness abated, she recovered her ability to walk, and had no difficulties delivering a healthy son some months later.

Phyllis Thaxter and her husband, Gilbert Lea, spent their retirement years between Maine and Florida. She was 92 years old. Her obituary in the New York Times is here.

These program pages from the Court Square Theatre display advertising from Springfield businesses of the day. Perhaps you remember True Brothers, Inc., Jewelers, or Converse Carlisle Coal Company, or J.E. Cheney and Staff opticians. Perhaps you went to the Hotel Bridgeway to dance in the Mayfair Room to Vin Breglio’s Society Orchestra.

Or bought your shoes at Stetson’s Shoe Shop on Bridge Street.

Or maybe you’ve never heard of them. Until now.

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