by James W Thomas
Nefretiri: Oh, Moses, Moses, why of all men did I fall in love with a prince of fools?….
He spurned me like a strumpet in the street. I, Nefretiri, Queen of Egypt….
[Handing Ramses his sword] Bring it back to me, stained with his blood!
Oh, that movie queen on holiday TV! Every year since 1973 at Easter/Passover time on ABC-TV, Queen Anne Baxter Nefretiri falls for Charlton Heston’s Moses but marries Yul Brynner’s Pharaoh on the rebound, and demands revenge in Cecil B. DeMille’s film The Ten Commandments, “The Greatest Event in Motion Picture History” (at least up through 1956).
Although Anne Baxter felt miscast as Nefretiri, because of her delicate features (DeMille said “No” to a putty nose), she did enjoy watching the marathon movie on TV, of which she said: “Nefretiri ruled the glamor arena some 3,200 years ago, and it’s surprising how much the ladies of that day knew about the art of stalking a man.”
Queen Anne would have turned 95 this year.
Born on 7 May 1923 in Michigan City, Indiana, Anne Baxter was the daughter of Kenneth Baxter and Catherine Wright, herself a daughter of Welsh-American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. After the family moved to New York, Anne saw Helen Hayes in Mary of Scotland in1933 and decided she would become an actress. Three years later, she played her first Broadway role in the comedy Seen But Not Heard.
In 1939, Baxter was cast as Dinah Lord, Katherine Hepburn’s kid sister in The Philadelphia Story, but was replaced during the pre-Broadway run. Supposedly Hepburn didn’t like Baxter’s acting style, which, perhaps, wasn’t theatrical enough for Hepburn. Baxter, after all, had only studied with the Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya, who had worked with Konstantin Stanislavsky and the Moscow Art Theatre.
So Baxter moved west to the movies. The teen-ager’s first film was the 1940 20 Mule Team with Wallace Beery and her career blossomed quickly. She became popular in World War II pictures as “the idealized girl next door,” getting, as she said, “almost as much mail as Betty Grable.”
In 1946, her role in The Razor’s Edge won her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Then, after appearing with William Holden, Clark Gable, and Gregory Peck, she was cast in the 1950 All About Eve starring Bette Davis. Baxter got an Oscar nod but no statue as understudy Eve Harrington, nemesis of Broadway idol Margo Channing played by Davis. Baxter based her performance on her own understudy from her first professional play, who had once bitchily threatened to “finish her off.”
In 1956, her performance in the coveted role of Nefretiri (“beautiful companion” in Egyptian) in Commandments was panned in Variety, as “close to the old-school siren histrionics,” but The New York Times said that it was “unquestionably apt and complementary to a lusty and melodramatic romance.” Baxter said that she “loved slinking around – really, this was silent film acting but with dialogue.”
She came back to Broadway in 1971 to replace Lauren Bacall as Margo Channing in the musical Applause, based (not quite) on the movie All About Eve. The understudy returned in triumph, singing.
While hailing a cab on Madison Avenue on the night of 4 December 1985, Anne Baxter collapsed from a stroke and died eight days later at the age of 62. She is buried in the Lloyd Jones Cemetery near Taliesin East in Spring Green, Wisconsin, on the estate of her “charming grandfather” Frank Lloyd Wright.
In 1960, Baxter’s star was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2005, a line of Nefretiri ’s was nominated but, unfortunately, was not a finalist for the 2005 American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time. “Oh, Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!”