Although she is known best for her minor role as Ma Kent, the brunette farm wife and mother of Christopher Reeve’s Man of Steel in 1978’s “Superman,” Phyllis Thaxter was one of Hollywood’s most grounded, serious actresses, playing multiple roles in dramas and war films.
Born in 1921 in Portland, Maine, the daughter of a onetime Shakesperean actress and Supreme Court Justice Sidney Thaxter, Thaxter made her Broadway debut at age 17 in “What a Life!” the 1939 play by Henry Aldrich. She signed with MGM in 1944 and took on a variety of roles in films including “Bewitched” (1945), “Week-End at the Waldorf” (1945), “The Sea of Grass” (1947) and “Tenth Avenue Angel” (1948).
In the 1950s, Thaxter moved to Warner Bros., playing the wife character to many top actors, including John Garfield in “The Breaking Point” (1950), Gig Young in “Come Fill the Cup” (1951) and Gary Cooper in “Springfield Rifle” (1952).
Her career was brought to a sudden halt, however, after she contracted a form of infantile paralysis while visiting her family in Portland. Though she made a quick recovery, she was forced to terminate her contract.
She did continue to work, largely on television, appearing on series including “The Twilight Zone,” “The F.B.I.,” “Cannon” and “Barnaby Jones” and several TV movies.
Thaxter was married to CBS-TV president and former head of MGM, James Aubrey (1918-94). They have three children, including actress Skye Aubrey.
Thaxter died Aug. 14, 2012 at her home in Orlando, Fla. She was 92.