The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

June 11, 2016

June 11, 1923

George Baxt (June 11, 1923 to June 28, 2003) the writer and screenwriter, deserves more acclaim. His writing often combines humor and drama.

According to an obituary notice:

Wit was something the rotund and jovial Baxt had in abundance, and it permeated most of his crime novels, including a series of "celebrity mysteries" which utilised Hollywood settings and personalities such as Alfred Hitchcock, Marlene Dietrich, Noël Coward and Mae West. In The Greta Garbo Murder Case (1992), the legendary star is offered a role in a film away from her home studio, prompting her to declare, "I vant to be on loan." .....

Baxt, who had formerly been a high-powered agent for actors and a gossip-feed for the newspaper columnist Walter Winchell, was a dedicated movie buff and knew more trivia than anyone....
[He]was able to name players in some of the [old movie] stills that nobody else had been able to do....

Born George Leonard Baxt in Brooklyn, New York, in 1922, to Russian and Polish immigrants, he was educated at City College of New York and Brooklyn College. After serving in the US Army during the Second World War, he worked briefly as a disc jockey before joining a casting agency in Manhattan. Eventually he opened his own agency with an office at the Plaza Hotel.

Energetic and enterprising, he knew that the way to get to Winchell was through his tough and protective secretary, so he courted her favour and was able to get stories about his clients - some of them tall tales invented by himself - into Winchell's influential column. Always on the hunt for new clients, he would ride in the elevator in the Algonquin Hotel to find out who was staying there. He began to write television scripts in the early 1950s. "I sold one to Kraft, one to Philco, one to Matinée Theater and a few others," he recalled. "I made sure most of my clients worked in them."

In the mid-1950s, with several of his clients blacklisted because of suspected Communist affiliations, Baxt took up an offer from the producer Hannah Weinstein to come to the UK
[to] work....[and wound up staying five years.]

Baxt's first complete film script was City of the Dead (1960), a story of witchcraft with the singer Dennis Lotis as its hero and Christopher Lee playing a history professor who is secretly the head of a coven. Called Horror Hotel in the United States (and sold with the slogan "Just Ring For Doom Service"), it shared Psycho's device of killing off the heroine midway into the film. When asked by the writer Matthew R. Bradley if the plan was to achieve the same shock effect, Baxt replied, "I think I killed her because I couldn't figure out what else to do with her."

Baxt was then asked to write a horror film "about a circus with lots of gorgeous girls in it". He came up with
Circus of Horrors (1960) in which Anton Diffring is a plastic surgeon turned circus master who staffs the circus with female criminals whose faces he has altered. Critics praised the mixture of horror and comedy that Baxt achieved with his screenplay. The Shadow of the Cat (1961) was a thriller in which a cat takes revenge on those who murdered its mistress. The director John Gilling effectively shot much of it from a subjective cat's-eye view, but Baxt was upset that the cat itself was also shown:

I could kill him. My script did not have a cat in it at all. You saw the shadow. That's why it was called
The Shadow of the Cat.

Baxt's next two films were among his most admired. Payroll (1962) was a taut thriller in which a security-van driver's widow (Billie Whitelaw) wreaks vengeance on the gangsters who killed her husband. Night of the Eagle (1962), entitled Burn, Witch, Burn in the US, was based on the novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber Jnr, which had already been filmed by Universal as Weird Woman(1944). In this creepier version, Janet Blair played the professor's wife who aids his career by dabbling in voodoo and witchcraft...

The Independent obituary discusses more of his movies and novels, and certainly gave me a greater appreciation for George Baxt.

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