Sunday, April 14, 2024

Book Review: The Accidental Star - The Life and Films of Warner Baxter

I've seen Warner Baxter in a number of films over the years, but I can't claim to have known much about him

That's changed thanks to the excellent recently published book, THE ACCIDENTAL STAR - THE LIFE AND FILMS OF WARNER BAXTER. It was written by Dan Van Neste and published by Bear Manor Media.

This is an impressively detailed 491-page book. The first half is a biography which runs 243 pages; the second half of the book contains details on all Baxter's films, including cast credits, review excerpts, and miscellany regarding the productions. The filmography also includes information on whether the film still exists and currently available viewing formats.

My favorite Baxter films include 42ND STREET (1933) and PENTHOUSE (1933). Other titles I've liked include WIFE, DOCTOR AND NURSE (1937), WIFE, HUSBAND AND FRIEND (1939), and ADAM HAD FOUR SONS (1941).

I'll add that the film he made with director John Ford, THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND (1936), will be playing at the upcoming TCM Classic Film Festival, so perhaps I'll have the chance to see another of his movies.

Despite having been aware of Baxter for many years, I couldn't have told you he was an Oscar-winning actor! He won Best Actor for IN OLD ARIZONA (1928).

Baxter worked in movies beginning with bit roles in 1918 and continued working until 1950, the year before his passing. He was a well-liked professional and steadily working actor who was long married to actress Winifred Bryson.

Baxter maintained his career despite ongoing mental health struggles and later declining physical health, including cancer. He was only 62 when he died on May 7, 1951, and was buried at Forest Lawn Glendale.

I found THE ACCIDENTAL STAR to be both well researched and engagingly written. The amount of material the author was able to share about Baxter's early years is particularly admirable, given that that time period is now a century or more ago.

The author concludes the biographical section of the book with reflections on his subject. He assesses some of the reasons for Baxter's relative obscurity, including much of his silent work being lost, and also writes about his legacy.

Like the author, I was left with a positive opinion of Warner Baxter, who had a successful career despite his struggles; moreover, he seems to have been a fine person. The book, including the filmography section, sparked my interest in exploring more of Baxter's films.

I read a paperback edition of the book, which is also available in hardback and e-book form. It's well illustrated with black and white photographs printed directly on the pages.

In addition to the information listed above, the book also includes a list of Baxter's radio appearances, a bibliography, extensive end notes, and index.

As a postscript, I was moved to discover the book was dedicated to three women, two of whom were special in my own life: "Moira Finnie" (Gina Neylon) and "Caftan Woman" (Patricia Nolan-Hall). What a lovely tribute.


Thanks to the author and Bear Manor Media for providing a review copy of this book.


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