Carroll Baker

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This article is about the American actress. For the Canadian country music performer, see Carroll Baker (singer).
Carroll Baker
Carroll Baker - Harlow.JPG
Promotional photo for Harlow, 1965
Born (1931-05-28) 28 May 1931 (age 83)
Johnstown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Residence Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Alma mater St. Petersburg College
The Actors Studio
Occupation Actress, writer
Years active 1953–2003
Spouse(s) Louie Ritter (m. 1953–53)
Jack Garfein (m. 1955–69) 2 children
Donald Burton (m. 1978–2007) (his death)
Children Blanche Baker (b. 1956)
Herschel Garfein (b. 1958)

Carroll Baker (born 28 May 1931) is an American film, stage and television actress who has enjoyed popularity as both a serious dramatic actress and as a movie sex symbol. Cast in a wide range of roles during her heyday in the 1960s, Baker was especially memorable playing brash, flamboyant women, due to her beautiful features, striking blonde hair, and distinctive drawl.

A native of Pennsylvania, Baker moved to New York City in her twenties where she studied acting with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. She initially began performing on Broadway and would go on to a leading role in Elia Kazan's wildly controversial film Baby Doll (1956), which gave Baker instant notoriety and earned her an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe.

Other notable early roles included Giant (1956) alongside Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean, and But Not for Me (1959) with Clark Gable, as well westerns such as The Big Country (1958), How the West Was Won (1962), and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). In the late 1960s, after a protracted legal battle with Paramount Pictures following her performance in Harlow (1965), Baker moved to Italy and starred in a multitude of horror and giallo films, including two directed by Umberto Lenzi, Paranoia (1969) and Il coltello di ghiaccio (1972). She returned to American cinema with Andy Warhol's Bad (1977), and later had supporting roles in the '90s films Kindergarten Cop (1990) and David Fincher's The Game (1997), before retiring in 2002.

Early life[edit]

Carroll Baker was born and raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in a Roman Catholic family, the daughter of Virginia (née Duffy) and William Watson Baker, who was a traveling salesman.[1] Baker's parents separated when she was eight years old, and she moved with her mother and younger sister, Virginia, to Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania.[2] She is of Polish descent,[3] which has given rise to a rumor that her birth name was Karolina Piekarski. However, this currently cannot be substantiated by known records.

Baker attended high school in Greensburg, and then moved with her family to St. Petersburg, Florida, where she attended St. Pete Junior College.[2] After spending a year in college, she began working as a magician's assistant and joined a dance company.[2] In 1951, Baker moved to New York City and studied acting under Lee Strasberg, eventually becoming part of the famed Actors Studio,[1] where she was an acquaintance of Marilyn Monroe and became a close friend of James Dean.[4][5]


Early career (1953–65)[edit]

Baker began her film career in 1953, with a small part in Easy to Love. After appearing in television commercials, she took a role in the Broadway production of All Summer Long. That appearance brought her to the attention of director Elia Kazan, who cast Baker as the title character in his controversial 1956 Baby Doll, a role initially assigned to Marilyn Monroe.[1] Her Tennessee Williams-scripted role as a Mississippi teenage bride to a failed middle-aged cotton gin owner brought Baker instant fame as well as a certain level of notoriety. Baby Doll would remain the film for which she is best remembered, and she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. Prior to Baby Doll's filming, she appeared in the supporting role of Luz Benedict II in Giant, opposite Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. According to Baker, in addition to Baby Doll, she had been offered numerous leading parts in feature films but chose to debut in a supporting role in Giant because she was "insecure" and "wanted to start out a little less 'profile'".[5]

Baby Doll turned Baker into a star. She was offered parts in The Devil's Disciple, The Brothers Karamazov and Too Much, Too Soon.[6] She refused to make Too Much Too Soon so Warner Bros put her on suspension, which means she was unable to make The Brothers Karamazov (1958) at MGM.[7] She defied the studio by appearing in Arms and the Man on stage.[8] Eventually the suspension was lifted so she could appear in The Big Country.[9]

Baker went on to work steadily in films throughout the late fifties and early sixties, appearing in a variety of genres: romances, such as The Miracle co-starring a young Roger Moore and But Not for Me (both 1959); westerns, including The Big Country (1958) and a lead role in the epic How the West Was Won (1962); and steamy melodramas, including the controversial independent film Something Wild (1961), directed by her then-husband Jack Garfein, in which she plays a rape victim; and Station Six-Sahara (1962). She portrayed Gwen Harold in Bridge to the Sun, a 1961 production by MGM based on the 1957 best-selling autobiography of a Tennessee-born woman who married a Japanese diplomat (portrayed by James Shigeta) and became one of the few Americans to live in Japan during World War II. While only a modest success at the box office, the film was well received by critics and was America's entry at the Venice International Film Festival. Baker was also chosen by MGM for the lead in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but her contract with Warner Brothers prevented her from accepting the role, which ultimately went to Elizabeth Taylor.[4]

While Baker was on location in Africa for the 1965 movie Mister Moses, a story now considered apocryphal had it that a Maasai chief offered 150 cows, 200 goats, sheep, and $750 for her hand in marriage.[citation needed] She subsequently appeared with Maasai warriors on the cover of Life's 1964 issue. While filming Mister Moses, notorious false rumors spread that she and co-star Robert Mitchum were having an affair, though Baker confirmed that Shirley MacLaine regularly visited him on the set of the film.[4] In addition to film acting, Baker also found time to appear again on Broadway, starring in the 1962 production of Garson Kanin's Come on Strong.

Baker's portrayal of a Jean Harlow-type movie star in the 1964 hit The Carpetbaggers brought her a second wave of notoriety. The film was the top moneymaker of that year, with domestic box-office receipts of $13,000,000[10] and marked the beginning of a tumultuous relationship with the film's producer, Joseph E. Levine. Based on her Carpetbaggers performance, Levine began to develop Baker as a movie sex symbol, casting her in the title roles of two 1965 potboilers, Sylvia and Harlow. Despite much pre-publicity, the latter film was not a success, and relations between Baker and Levine soured.

Baker greeting soldiers aboard the USS Ticonderoga as part of Bob Hope's troupe, 1965

European career and theater (1965–79)[edit]

Following her role in Harlow, a protracted legal battle with Paramount Pictures, as well as a divorce from her second husband, Jack Garfein, led Baker to move to Europe to pursue a career there after what she described as being "blackballed in Hollywood".[4] Eventually settling in Italy, Baker became fluent in Italian[2] and would spend the next several years starring in hard-edged giallo thrillers and horror films, including Her Harem (1967), The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968), and The Devil Has Seven Faces (1971). Baker also starred in So Sweet... So Perverse (1969), Paranoia (1969), A Quiet Place to Kill (1970), and Il coltello di ghiaccio (1972), all horror films directed by Umberto Lenzi. Baker became a favorite of Lenzi, with her most notable role being in the aforementioned Paranoia, where she played a wealthy widow, tormented and exploited by two siblings. She followed her roles in Lenzi's films with a leading role in Corrado Farina's Baba Yaga (1973) as the titular witch, alongside Isabelle De Funès and George Eastman. In those years, film locations would take her all around the world, including Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Mexico.

A leading role in the Andy Warhol-produced Bad (1977) marked her first American production of the decade, starring as a beauty salon owner who provides hitmen with jobs. She followed Bad with a part in The Sky Is Falling (1979) with Dennis Hopper, playing a washed-up actress living among expatriates in a Spanish village. The seventies also saw a return to the stage for Baker, where she appeared in British theatre productions of Bell, Book, and Candle; Rain, Lucy Crown, and Motive. In 1978, while touring England and Ireland in productions of Motive, Baker met her third husband, stage actor Donald Burton.[2]

Later career (1980–2002)[edit]

By the eighties, Baker had largely become a character actor. She starred in the 1980 Walt Disney-produced horror film, The Watcher in the Woods, alongside Bette Davis and played the mother of Dorothy Stratten in Star 80 (1983). She also had a starring role as Jack Nicholson's wife in Ironweed (1987), along with Meryl Streep.

In 1990, she played a villainess in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Kindergarten Cop, which she filmed in Oregon, and later appeared in a supporting role alongside Michael Douglas in David Fincher's acclaimed 1997 thriller The Game. Her film and television work continued sporadically through the nineties, and she acted in many made-for-television movies, including the true crime story Judgment Day: The John List Story (1993), and Dalva (1996) with Farrah Fawcett.

The 2006 DVD release of Baby Doll includes a documentary featuring Baker reflecting on the film's impact on her career. Baker has also been featured in documentaries about several of her co-stars, including Clark Gable, Roger Moore, Sal Mineo, and James Dean, including the 1975 James Dean: The First American Teenager, and a 1985 BBC Radio 2 tribute marking the 30th anniversary of the actor's death. She also appeared in the documentary Cinerama Adventure.

Baker has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1725 Vine Street, which was erected on February 8, 1960. In 2001, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was also dedicated to her.[11] Baker formally retired from acting in 2002, with a career spanning 50 years, and more than 80 roles in film, television, and theater.


In 1983, Baker published an autobiography entitled Baby Doll: An Autobiography, detailing her life and career as an actress and revealing the issues with Warner Bros. Pictures that led her to move to Europe in the 1970s and pursue a career in Italian films.[12] The book was well received. She later wrote two other books, To Africa with Love, detailing her time spent in Africa, and a novel entitled A Roman Tale. Her memories of James Dean at the Actors Studio and later in Giant were recalled on BBC Radio 2 in 1982 when she guested on You're Tearing Me Apart, Terence Pettigrew's documentary which commemorated the 25th anniversary of Dean's death in a car accident in 1955. Also on the programme were singer-actor Adam Faith and the screenwriter Ray Connolly.

Personal life[edit]

Baker has been married three times. Her first marriage, to furrier Louie Ritter, began and ended in 1953 before she enrolled in the Actors Studio. Her second was to director Jack Garfein, a Holocaust survivor she met at the Studio and for whom she converted to Judaism (having been raised a Catholic).[13] They had one daughter, Blanche Baker, born in 1956, and a son, Herschel Garfein, born in 1958. Garfein and Baker divorced in 1969.

Baker married her third husband, British theater actor Donald Burton, on March 10, 1978,[14] and resided in Hampstead, London, in the 1980s.[2] The couple remained together until Burton's death from emphysema at their home in Cathedral City, California, on December 8, 2007.[14]



Year Film Role Notes
1953 Easy to Love Clarice
1956 Giant Luz Benedict II
Baby Doll Baby Doll Meighan Won - Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer (female)*
*shared with Jayne Mansfield and Natalie Wood

Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated - BAFTA for Best Foreign Actress

1958 The Big Country Patricia Terrill
1959 But Not for Me Ellie Brown/Borden
The Miracle Teresa
1961 Bridge to the Sun Gwen Terasaki
Something Wild Mary Ann Robinson
1962 How the West Was Won Eve Prescott
Station Six-Sahara Catherine
1964 The Carpetbaggers Rina Marlowe Cord Golden Laurel — Dramatic Performance, Female (2nd place)
Cheyenne Autumn Deborah Wright
1965 Sylvia Sylvia: West (Karoki, Kay, Carlyle)
The Greatest Story Ever Told Veronica
Mister Moses Julie Anderson
Harlow Jean Harlow
1967 Her Harem Margherita
Jack of Diamonds Herself
1968 The Sweet Body of Deborah Deborah
1969 Paranoia Kathryn West also known as: Orgasmo
So Sweet... So Perverse Nicole Perrier
1970 A Quiet Place to Kill Helen also known as: Paranoia
1971 The Fourth Mrs. Anderson Julie Spencer/Lillian Martin also known as: Death at the Deep End of the Swimming Pool
Captain Apache Maude also known as: Deathwork
The Devil Has Seven Faces Julie Harrison/Mary Harrison
1972 Knife of Ice Martha Caldwell also known as: Silent Horror
1973 Baba Yaga Baba Yaga also known as: Baba Yaga, Devil Witch, and Kiss Me, Kill Me
1974 The Flower with the Deadly Sting Evelyn
The Body Madeleine
1975 Private Lessons Laura Formenti
At Last, at Last Lucia
1976 As of Tomorrow Polly Pott
My Father's Wife Laura
Bait Carol
1977 Andy Warhol's Bad Hazel Aiken also known as: Bad
1978 Cyclone Sheila
1979 The World Is Full of Married Men Linda Cooper
The Sky Is Falling Treasure
1980 The Watcher in the Woods Helen Curtis
1983 Star 80 Dorothy's Mother
Red Monarch Brown
1984 The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud Mama Freud
1985 Hitler's SS: Portrait in Evil Gerda Hoffman TV movie
What Mad Pursuit? Louise Steinhauser TV movie
1986 Native Son Mrs. Dalton
1987 On Fire Maureen TV movie
Ironweed Annie Phelan
1990 Kindergarten Cop Eleanor Crisp
1991 Blonde Fist Lovelle Summers
1992 Gipsy Angel
Jackpot Madame also known as: Cyber Eden
1993 Judgment Day: The John List Story Alma List TV movie
Men Don't Tell Ruth TV movie
A Kiss to Die For Mrs. Graham TV movie
1995 In the Flesh Elaine Mitchelson
1996 Dalva Naomi TV movie
Witness Run Martha Shepard TV movie
Just Your Luck Momie
1997 The Game Ilsa
Skeletons Nancy Norton TV movie
Heart Full of Rain Edith Pearl Dockett TV movie
North Shore Fish Arlyne TV movie
1998 Nowhere to Go Nana
2000 Another Woman's Husband Laurel's Mom TV movie
2002 Rag and Bone Sister Marie, Tony's Aunt TV movie
Cinerama Adventure Herself documentary


Year Series Role Notes
1952 Monodrama Theater Clarice late-night show on DuMont Television Network
1954 The Web Episode: "The Treadmill"
1955 Danger Episode: "Season for Murder"
1963 Armchair Theatre Lena Roland Episode: "The Paradise Suite"
1970 W. Somerset Maugham Sadie Thompson Episode: "Rain"
1975 The Wide World of Mystery Sandy Marshall Episode: "The Next Victim"
1984 Sharing Time Fran Episode: "Oceans Apart"
1990 Grand Viva Episodes: "The Well", "Wolf Boy", "The Mother Load"
1991 Tales from the Crypt Mother Paloma Episode: "The Trap"
P.S. I Luv U Victoria Episode: "The Honeymooners"
1992 Davis Rules Episode: "Everybody Comes to Nick's"
1993 Murder, She Wrote Sibella Stone Episode: "Love's Deadly Desire"
L.A. Law Rae Morrison Episodes: "How Much Is That Bentley in the Window", "Leap of Faith", "Book of Renovation, Chapter 1"
1995 Chicago Hope Sylvie Tannen Episode: "Informed Consent"
1999 Roswell Grandma Claudia Episode: "Leaving Normal"
2003 The Lyon's Den Jack's Mother Episode: "The Quantum Theory"

Short subjects[edit]

  • Flashes Festival (1965)
  • The Spider (1970)

Stage credits[edit]

On Broadway[15]
  • Escapade, as Molly (November 1953)
  • All Summer Long, as Ruth (September 1954 – November 1954)
  • Come on Strong, as Virginia Karger (September 1960 – October 1960)
  • Rain (1977)
  • Bell, Book and Candle (1978)
  • Motive (1978)


  1. ^ a b c "Carroll Baker Biography". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "The Private Life and Times of Carroll Baker". Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen. Retrieved 2012-11-11. 
  3. ^ "Caroll Baker". Polish American Encyclopedia. p. 23.
  4. ^ a b c d Bubbeo, Daniel (2011-06-20). "'Baby Doll' Carroll Baker in Huntington". Newsday. Retrieved 2012-11-11. 
  5. ^ a b Carroll Baker on working with James Dean on YouTube. Media Funhouse (2000). Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  6. ^ Carroll Baker Becomes Star in Quick Order Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 17 Feb 1957: E1.
  7. ^ WARNERS TO HOLD ACTRESS TO PACT: Studio Halts Deal Between Carroll Baker and M-G-M for 'Karamazov' Movie Maria Schell Sought By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 03 May 1957: 20.
  8. ^ TOWER TICKER Lyon, Herb. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) [Chicago, Ill] 01 July 1957: b11.
  9. ^ Carroll Baker Unleashed by Warner Louella Parsons:. The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959) [Washington, D.C] 22 July 1957: A10.
  10. ^ Steinberg, Cobbett (1980). Film Facts. New York: Facts on File, Inc. p. 23. ISBN 0-87196-313-2. 
  11. ^ Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated
  12. ^ Baker, Carroll (1983). Baby Doll: An Autobiography. Arbor House. ISBN 978-0877955580. 
  13. ^ "Carroll Baker". St. Petersburg Times. 1957-01-23. Retrieved 2009-11-02. 
  14. ^ a b "British actor Donald Burton, husband Carroll Baker, dies at 73". San Jose Mercury News. 2008-01-11. 
  15. ^ "Carroll Baker – Broadway Theater Credits". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 2012-11-11. 

External links[edit]