Anne Baxter – (W)right at Home in Easton
Anne Baxter was rehearsing with co-stars Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in Noel Coward in Two Keys in 1973, when they introduced her to investment banker David Klee. Four years later, Baxter and Klee were married and began searching for their perfect property in rural Connecticut. Cronyn and Tandy had long been summer residents of the area, Cronyn residing on Stepney Road in Redding, only a few yards from the Easton border, as early as 1942. It’s entirely possible that the famous pair also introduced the newly married couple to the charms and privacy that they enjoyed in Easton. In March of 1977, Mr. & Mrs. David Klee tendered $165,000 to the sellers and closed on the seven – plus acre property at 25 Knapp Street. The original house had been built in 1948 and was by 1977 in need of an update and some repairs.
For those readers who are not familiar with Anne Baxter – and I have little doubt that many under the age of forty are not – Ms. Baxter was an accomplished actress on both celluloid, television, and the stage. Her first major role on the Broadway stage came when she was cast to play Katharine Hepburn’s younger sister in the Philadelphia Story. Unfortunately, Hepburn didn’t care much for Ms. Baxter’s style of acting and she was replaced prior the show’s opening performance.
Not to be deterred, Baxter traveled to Hollywood. She auditioned for the lead in Hitchcock’s Rebecca – a part that eventually went to Joan Fontaine that earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Hitchcock rightly deemed the 16-year old Baxter too young for the part.
The following year, in 1940, Baxter signed with 20th Century Fox and soon shot the first four films of a career that would produce a total of over fifty. But her best exposure to date came when she was loaned out to Mercury Productions in 1942 and given the part of Lucy Morgan in the Magnificent Ambersons, a film that is often considered one of the best motion pictures of all time – perhaps only second or third to Orson Welles’ other masterpiece, Citizen Kane.
Baxter’s performance in 1946’s The Razor’s Edge won her both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in 1947. In 1951, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Eve Harrington along with her co-star Bette Davis in the 1950 film, All About Eve.
Anne Baxter proved to be an incredibly versatile actress, maintaining a prolific acting career through many mediums over the next three-plus decades. Her rich and unforgettable voice set her apart from virtually every other performer of her time. Two earlier marriages in the 1940’s and 1960’s produced three daughters. The youngest two, Melissa (b.1962) and Maginel (b.1963) were products of her nine-year union with Randolph Galt and were living with Baxter and Klee when they decided to buy the property and house in Easton in January of 1977.
According to a March 23, 1977 article in the Evening Standard in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, it was in February of that year when Baxter decided to visit Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. Although she had seen hundreds of photographs of the architectural masterpiece, it would be her very first visit. The structure had been designed in 1935 for the Kaufman family in Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania, about 90 minutes outside of Pittsburgh. The architect had been Baxter’s maternal grandfather – none other than the one and only Frank Lloyd Wright.
Baxter’s recollections of visits with the man she simply referred to as “Grandfather” were some of her favorite. In an interview with Studs Terkel, broadcast in 1970 – Wright passed away in 1959, Baxter said the two had “no emotional responsibility to one another.” They simply laughed together and immensely enjoyed each other’s company during their times with one another. Baxter’s enthusiastic admiration for Wright is evident throughout the narrative. If you’d like to listen to the entire interview, you can locate it through the following link: https://studsterkel.wfmt.com/programs/anne-baxter-talks-about-acting-and-frank-lloyd-wright.
Baxter held particularly fond memories of her grandfather, recounting: “Like many famous men, my grandfather had been too busy to be a good father. But he was a charming grandfather. He designed plans for me for a doll-house.”
She also recounted visiting Wright many times at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona. Her time with Wright occurred mostly after she had turned 18 and was working in Hollywood. Scottsdale would have been an easy train trip, or later, a short flight away.
Taliesin is a Welsh name meaning “Shining Brow” and is associated in Welsh legend with a wizard or a prophet. Anyone familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright’s over-sized ego will appreciate his choice of the name for his two main studio/residences. Perhaps the only thing that rivaled Wright’s ego was his immense talent as a free-thinking architect.
Taliesin West was also known as the “desert camp.” First established in 1937, the main residence was built to be used only during the winter months. The massive living room had windows that let in the light, but that did not open – making summer living in the Arizona desert an impossibility. Many of the sleeping quarters were open on one side to the elements, with only a canvas curtain available to keep out the rain during the monsoon season during the Arizona winter. Despite the camplike feel of the compound, Wright never once greeted a guest unless he was dressed in a suit and a tie.
Wright’s prairie style of architecture married his houses to the earth, and in an effort to make his students understand that, he required each and every one of them to spend their first few weeks at Taliesin living in tents in the desert on the land that surrounded the house and studio.
Baxter’s visit to Fallingwater had a purpose other than one of admiration for her late grandfather’s work. She wanted inspiration for the upcoming renovation of her and Klee’s newly acquired property in Easton. Several architectural features similar to those found at Fallingwater would make their way into the Klee’s renovated and redesigned Easton residence.
After a March closing, Baxter and Klee began fixing up their dream house in Easton. The mid-century modern already had the right bones, but Baxter had her architect make multiple alterations to bring the house a more “Wright” themed look. Unfortunately, later in October of 1977, shortly after his 70th birthday, Klee unexpectedly died following triple bypass heart surgery.
Upon completion of the renovations to the Easton house, Baxter and her two youngest daughters, both then teenagers, moved in and called it their main home. In an early 2000’s interview published in Midwest Today, daughter Melissa Galt recalled the house was architecturally similar to her great-grandfather’s other flat-roofed structures. Her mother had remodeled the living room fireplace to closely resemble the fireplace in her grandfather’s masterpiece, Fallingwater. The stones were gathered from the site in Easton.
Melissa also recalled a Christmas break in college when she went home to Easton visit her mother and sister. Her mother had requested a “Flexible Flyer” – a wooden sled – for Christmas. Despite Anne being in her mid-50s at that point, Melissa recalled that her mother had never lost her child-like sense of adventure and was absolutely ecstatic when her daughters acquiesced to her request and bought her that sled.
Talking about the simple life that Baxter preferred in Easton, her daughter recalled: “We never had a swimming pool. We didn’t have a butler. We didn’t have a maid. Mother was into Jello before Bill Cosby discovered it. If you wanted soft towels, you better do the laundry, because if mom did it, she hung it out on the line in the backyard, thinking it smelled good, and you got sandpaper for towels. She was not big on modern conveniences. We had them, but she didn’t use the dishwasher. She believed in washing dishes by hand.”
Anne lived out the remainder of her life in her Easton home. During her final three years, she starred as Victoria Cabot in Aaron Spelling’s Hotel on ABC. While hailing a taxi on Madison Avenue in New York City on December 4, 1985, Ms. Baxter suffered a brain aneurysm and collapsed. She died in a New York hospital, eight days later on December the 12th at the age of only 62.
While searching for as much information as I could come up with given the relatively low profile that Ms. Baxter kept while quietly residing on her secluded property on Knapp Street, I ran across the following essay – its author unidentified by name other than “Spryte” under the title with the publishing date of September 1, 2008. I have included a few interesting excerpts from that essay about the time spent with Anne’s daughters at the Easton house only a few days after her death:
My college roommate lost her mother shortly before Christmas in 1985. I remember the tearful phone call asking if I’d seen the news, requesting that I not talk to any media…and then begging me to come to her mother’s home in Connecticut because she needed me…
We were an introspective group gathered in the living room that wintry evening. A cheerful fire crackled in the great stone fireplace, totally at odds with the mood. Katrina was there with her husband, Michael. I had never met Melissa, the second oldest daughter, until now, but I recognized her from Mag’s photo album. Maginel clung tightly to her boyfriend, Harvey with one hand and to me with the other. There was sadness…but there was also a comfortable peace to be found in the companionship we shared. Katrina had been in the middle of describing what was in store for us the next day, so Mag whispered an explanation to catch me up to speed.
“Umm…my mother used to hide things in odd places,” she admitted with a bit of chagrin. “So, tomorrow we’re going on a scavenger hunt to make sure we’ve found everything.”
I furrowed my brow in puzzlement. “Hide things? Like what…and where?” I asked.
“Well…sometimes she’d put something in a baggie…you know…one of those plastic sandwich types and then tape it to the underside of things…like furniture, countertops….” Melissa volunteered a bit defensively having overheard us. I suppose she thought I might make fun of it…but the idea caught me completely off guard…
As everyone slowly woke up and set about searching the premises, I chose the office next to her bedroom. The space was actually more of an alcove tucked off the main room, overlooking the back gardens through a large window. The only furniture was a rather formal looking dark wood writing desk, a couple of chairs and a reading lamp. Dutifully, I knelt and checked the underside of the furniture and was relieved to find no plastic packages. As I was glancing through the contents of the bottom drawer though, I came upon a nondescript white envelope with rather puzzling contents.
Mag saw my frown as she was passing the doorway and stuck her head in. “What did you find?” she asked, her curiosity piqued.
“I’m not sure…come see,” I said holding out the envelope.
Maginel peered into the envelope while standing beside me. “What is it?” she wondered out loud.
Tentatively, I dipped my forefinger into the dusty contents and stirred it slightly. The grey powder clung to my fingertip with a rather unpleasant chalky sensation. “I’m not sure…” I admitted.
At that moment, Katrina blew into the room with her usual exuberance and with one quick glance announced, “Wonderful! You found David!”
In horror, Mag and I looked at each other over the contents of the envelope. Quickly I tried to shake the remains of her mother’s last husband off of my finger…and after failing that held the offending digit up in panic, not wanting to wipe it on my jeans. With cool disdain at our sudden shrieks, Katrina snatched the envelope from my hand and marched out of the room. By now Maginel was squealing in laughter, writhing on the floor…so I took advantage and wiped her stepfather onto the shirt that she was wearing.
On the bright side, Maginel’s mother would now get her last request…which was to have her ashes scattered with her late husband’s, minus a small amount, beneath the cherry tree outside.
The entire essay “Maginel’s Mother – My Memories of Anne Baxter” can be found at: https://letterpile.com/memoirs/Maginels-Mother—My-Memories-of-Anne-Baxter.
In 2019, the home at 25 Knapp Street underwent a rather major renovation/update, and received a good-sized addition. Unfortunately, the only photograph we have of the house after Baxter’s renovation comes from the town assessor’s property card. If anyone knows of any additional time period photos, please contact us at the Historical Society of Easton so that we may add them to our historic house photo collection. Email: hsectresearch@gmail.