|Sir Stanley Baker|
Baker in A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971)
|Born||William Stanley Baker
28 February 1928
Ferndale, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales, UK
|Died||28 June 1976
Málaga, Andalusia, Spain
|Occupation||Actor, film producer|
|Years active||1943–44, 1948-75|
Sir William Stanley Baker (28 February 1928 – 28 June 1976) was a Welsh actor and film producer.
'William Stanley Baker was born in Ferndale, Rhondda Valley, Glamorgan, Wales, the youngest of three children. His father was a coal miner who lost a leg in a pit accident but remained working as a lift operator at the mine until his death. Baker grew up a self-proclaimed "wild kid" only interested in "football and boxing" but his artistic ability was spotted at an early age by a local teacher, Glynne Morse, who encouraged Baker to act.
When he was 14 he was performing in a school play when seen by a casting director from Ealing Studios, who recommended him for a role in Undercover (1943), a war film about the Yugoslav guerrillas in Serbia. He was paid £20 a week and caught the acting bug, deciding to become a professional actor. Six months later Baker appeared with Emlyn Williams in a play on the West End called The Druid's Rest, appearing alongside a young Richard Burton.
Baker worked for a time as an apprentice electrician, then through Morse's influence he managed to secure a position with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1944. He stayed there for three years, until called up to do his national service in 1946. He served in the Royal Army Service Corps until 1948, achieving the rank of sergeant. After his demob he moved to London determined to resume hie acting career. He was eventually cast at Richard Burton's recommendation in a small role in a play in the West End, Adventure Story by Terence Rattigan. He began appearing in films and on television, as well as performing on stage for the Middlesex Repertory Company. He impressed when cast as the bosun's mate in the Hollywood-financed Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951).
Rise to stardom
Baker was in New York appearing in a play by Christopher Fry, A Sleep of Prisoners, when he read the novel The Cruel Sea. Attracted to the idea of playing the unpleasant and somewhat cowardly Bennett, he lobbied successfully for the role in the 1953 film version. The success of this really established Baker in films, and led to a Hollywood offer when George Sanders fell ill and was unable to play Sir Mordred in the expensive epic Knights of the Round Table (1953). His performance was received favourably and he soon found roles in Hell Below Zero and The Good Die Young (both 1954).
His career received another boost when Laurence Olivier selected Baker to play Henry Tudor in Richard III (1955). He played important roles in two Hollywood costume epics: Achilles in Helen of Troy (1956) and Attalus in Alexander the Great (1956); he also portrayed Rochester in a TV adaptation of Jane Eyre (1956).
Baker finally broke away from supporting parts when cast as the lead in Hell Drivers (1957). This was directed by Cy Endfield, who had first worked with Baker on Child in the House (1956) and went on to make six films in total with the actor. The success of Hell Drivers established Baker as a star and saw exhibitors vote him the 7th most popular British actor that year. He followed this up with a series of popular films that featured him as a tough anti-hero, usually an authority figure of some kind, such as Violent Playground (1958), Sea Fury (1958), Yesterday's Enemy (1959) and Blind Date (1959). The latter was the first of what would be four collaborations with director Joseph Losey (of which his favourite was The Criminal (1960)); he also made two films each with Val Guest, Ralph Thomas and Robert Aldrich.
After making The Angry Hills (1959) with Robert Aldrich, Baker stated that the director offered to engage him in a 28-part series about an Englishman in New York but turned it down to stay in Britain. In 1961 Baker was offered the role of superspy James Bond for the forthcoming film Dr. No, but he turned it down because he was unwilling to commit to a three-picture contract. He may have regretted this decision because some years later he asked producer Albert R. Broccoli about playing a villain in one of the films. He caused some surprise by accepting the relatively small role of "Butcher Brown", a war-weary commando, in the 1961 blockbuster war epic The Guns of Navarone.
Baker wanted to move into production, and to this end formed his own company, Diamond Films. While making Sodom and Gomorrah (1963) he struck up a relationship with Joseph E. Levine which enabled him to raise the money for Zulu (1964), directed by Endfield. This was a massive success at the box office and helped make a star of Michael Caine. Baker played the lead part of Lieutenant John Chard VC in what remains his best-remembered-role. Baker later owned Chard's Victoria Cross and Zulu War Medal from 1972 until his death in 1976. (Chard died at age 49 in 1897, only a year older than Baker at his death; both died of cancer).
Baker then made two more films in Africa, Dingaka (1965) and Sands of the Kalahari (1965), also producing the latter. Neither was as successful as Zulu. He formed a production company, Oakhurst Productions, in association with Michael Deeley, which produced such films as Robbery (1967), The Italian Job (1968) and Where's Jack? (1969). Baker starred in some of these and continued to act for other producers, giving a particularly fine performance in Joseph Losey's Accident (1967).
In the 1970s Baker expanded his business interests. He was one of the founder members of Harlech Television and continued to be a director of it until his death. With Michael Deeley and Barry Spikings, he formed Great Western Enterprises, which were involved in a number of projects in the entertainment field, notably music concerts, and bought a large building on the River Thames. They were also part of a consortium that bought British Lion Films and Shepperton Studios, selling their building in order to finance it. Baker said in 1972 that:
"I love business for the activity it creates, the total commitment. The acting bit is great for the ego, (but) all the real excitement is in business... I'm still surprised how good I am at business."
However Baker was the victim of bad timing. The British film industry went into serious decline at the end of the 1960s, and a number of Oakhurst films were unsuccessful at the box office; plans to make a costume drama, Sunblack, directed by Gordon Flemyng, did not come to fruition. His expansion into music festivals was ultimately disastrous, with the Great Western Bardney Pop Festival in Lincoln ending up losing ₤200,000. The British stock market crashed at the end of 1973, throwing the over-leveraged British Lion into turmoil. Baker was forced to keep acting to pay the bills, often accepting roles in poor films which adversely affected his status as a star. His son Glynn later said that:
"My dad had to accept any and everything to keep the companies afloat. Doing staggeringly-bad stuff like Popsy Pop, which was an Italian–Venezuelan co-production and A Lizard in a Woman's Skin [both 1971] – a movie which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. At the slowest period, Stanley still had a payroll of at least 100 in his employ. So it was, 'Here we go – take the money, make this trash, hopefully no one will ever see it.' Famous last words."'
According to Michael Deeley, the financiers of British Lion Films were reluctant for Baker to be involved in the management of the company because they felt his focus was more on his acting career. Towards the end of his life Baker pulled back on his business activities and worked mostly as an actor, taking roles in television including two of the BBC's Play of the Month series: The Changeling and Robinson Crusoe (both 1974). A BBC Wales adaptation of How Green Was My Valley (1975), broadcast shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer, was his last role. Shortly before his death he was planning on producing a prequel to Zulu, Zulu Dawn.
In his book 1982 British Film Character Actors, Terence Pettigrew recalled "[i]n the early days, Baker played lower-order tyrants with a rugged physique and a short fuse. He was shaping up nicely as a competent Hollywood-style heavy before his bosses smoothed him out to internationalise his appeal, which made him a star. But in the transformation, some of that splended, raw cutting edge disappeared."
He was a close friend and drinking companion of another Welsh actor, Richard Burton. In 1950 Baker married the actress Ellen Martin, who had been introduced to him by Burton. Their partnership lasted until his death and produced four children, Martin and Sally (twins), Glyn and Adam.
Baker was a dedicated socialist off-screen, and a friend of the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson. He was a staunch opponent of Welsh nationalism and recorded television broadcasts in support of the Welsh Labour Party. Baker was heavily criticised for earning vast sums of money despite holding left-wing socialist views, sending all his children to expensive private schools in England, and owning a large holiday home in Spain. He considered becoming a tax exile in the 1960s but ultimately decided he would miss Britain too much. Many of his friends believed Baker had damaged his acting career through his attempts to transform himself into a businessman.
Baker was a heavy cigarette and cigar smoker and was diagnosed with lung cancer on 13 February 1976. He underwent surgery later that month. However, the cancer had spread to his bones and he died that same year from pneumonia in Málaga, Spain, aged 48. He was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium, but his ashes were scattered from the top of Llanwonno, over his beloved Ferndale. He told his wife shortly before he died:
"I have no regrets. I've had a fantastic life; no one has had a more fantastic life than I have. From the beginning I have been surrounded by love. I'm the son of a Welsh miner and I was born into love, married into love and spent my life in love."
Ferndale RFC, a rugby club in the Rhondda Valleys, South Wales, established a tribute to Baker in the form of their "Sir Stanley Baker Lounge". Officially opened by his widow, Lady Ellen Baker, on Friday 24 November 2006, the day's events featured a presentation to Sir Stanley's sons and family members, and a fitting and moving tribute to the man himself via speeches and tales from celebrities and various local people who knew him best. The afternoon also featured a BBC Radio Wales tribute to Sir Stanley, hosted by Owen Money and recorded live in Ferndale RFC itself. The Sir Stanley Baker Lounge features many pictures and memorabilia from his successful career, including a wall plaque commemorating the official opening in both English and Welsh.
- Undercover (1943)
- All Over the Town (1949)
- Obsession (1949)
- Something in the City (1949)
- Choir Practice (1949) (TV film)
- Lilli Marlene (1950)
- The Tragedy of Pompey the Great (1950) (TV film) - as Acillus
- Your Witness (1950)
- Cloudburst (1950)
- The Rossiter Case (1951)
- Rush Job (1951) (TV film)
- Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951)
- Whispering Smith Hits London (1951)
- Home to Danger (1951)
- The Taming of the Shrew (1952) (TV film) - as Petruchio
- The Cruel Sea (1953)
- The Red Beret (1953)
- Knights of the Round Table (1953)
- The Tell-Tale Heart (1953) (voice)
- Hell Below Zero (1954)
- The Good Die Young (1954)
- Twist of Fate (1954)
- Richard III (1955)
- The Creature (1955) (TV film)
- Helen of Troy (1956)
- Alexander the Great (1956)
- Checkpoint (1956)
- Jane Eyre (1956) (TV film)
- Child in the House (1956)
- A Hill in Korea (1956)
- Hell Drivers (1957)
- Campbell's Kingdom (1957)
- Violent Playground (1958)
- Sea Fury (1958)
- Yesterday's Enemy (1959)
- The Angry Hills (1959)
- Blind Date (1959)
- Jet Storm (1959)
- Hell Is a City (1960)
- The Criminal (1960)
- The Guns of Navarone (1961)
- Eva (1962)
- A Prize of Arms (1962)
- Sodom and Gomorrah (1963)
- In the French Style (1963)
- The Man Who Finally Died (1963)
- A Fear of Strangers (1964) (TV film)
- Zulu (1964) - also producer
- Dingaka (1965)
- Who Has Seen the Wind? (1965) (TV film)
- Sands of the Kalahari (1965) - also producer
- Code Name: Heraclitus (1967) (TV film)
- After the Lion, Jackals (1967) (TV film)
- Accident (1967)
- Robbery (1967) - also producer
- The Girl with the Pistol (1968)
- The Other People (1969) - producer only
- Where's Jack? (1969) - also producer
- The Italian Job (1969) - producer only
- The Last Grenade (1970)
- Colosseum and Juicy Lucy (1970) - producer only
- Perfect Friday (1970) - also producer
- The Games (1970)
- A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (Lucertola con la pelle di donna, Una) (1971)
- Popsy Pop (1971)
- Innocent Bystanders (1972)
- Graceless Go I (1974) (TV film)
- Who Killed Lamb? (1974) (TV film)
- Play of the Month: The Changeling (1974) (TV film)
- Robinson Crusoe (1975) (TV film)
- Pepita Jiménez (1975)
- Zorro (1975)
- How Green Was My Valley (1975–76) (TV series)
- Orzowei, il figlio della savana (1976)
Box office rankings
Baker featured several times in the annual poll of British exhibitors for Motion Picture Annual listing the most popular stars at the local box office:
- 1957 - 7th most popular British star
- 1958 - 10th most popular British star
- 1959 - 4th most popular British star
- 1960 - 8th most popular star in Britain regardless of nationality
Select theatre credits
- The Druid's Rest by Emlyn Williams (1943) - with Richard Burton
- 1944-46 - various with Birmingham Repertory Theatre
- Adventure Story by Terence Rattigan (1949) - with Paul Scofield
- Treasure Island (1949) - with Middlesex Repertory Company
- Wuthering Heights (1949) - with Middlesex Repertory Company
- Sylvia Duncan, 'The Home Town I Love', Woman's Own 1971 accessed 26 May 2012
- Stanley Baker, 'My Story', Woman's Mirror, November 1961 accessed 26 May 2012
- Stanley Baker Interview (YouTube); accessed 8 April 2014.
- "Tamiroff set for UK film.". The Mail (Adelaide, SA: 1912-1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 1 August 1953. p. 4 Supplement: SUNDAY MAGAZINE. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
- 'Playing the Game', Films and Filming August 1970 p32 accessed 26 May 2012
- Raymond Hyams, 'Why I Turned Down a Fortune', Photoplay, January 1960 p35 accessed 26 May 2012
- Victorian & Colonial Anecdotes, battlefield-site.co.uk; accessed 8 April 2014.
- "ITA announcement criticized as 'expropriation without compensation'." The Times [London, England] 12 June 1967: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 July 2012.
- JULIAN MOUNTER, South Wales Correspondent. "Harlech TV cake 'will take some chewing'." The Times [London, England] 16 June 1967: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 July 2012.
- 'The Tough Guy Who's In Business', Radio Times, 3 March 1973 accessed 28 May 2012
- Walker (1985), p.118
- Geoffrey Wansell, Bardney, Lincolnshire, May 25. "Pop festivals 'on trial' in Lincolnshire hamlet." Times [London, England] 26 May 1972: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 July 2012.
- Geoffrey Wansell. "35,000 arrive in village for four-day pop festival." Times [London, England] 27 May 1972: 2. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 July 2012.
- Mel Neuhaus, "Apes of Wrath", Examiner.com, 19 July 2011
- Michael Deeley, Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: My Life in Cult Movies, Pegasus Books, 2009 p 109
- 'Gambling is Unfair to Punters Says Stanley Baker' Titbits April 1976 pp. 12-13; accessed 26 May 2012
- Profile, ODNB; accessed 8 April 2014.
- 'My First Love Affair', Daily Mail, p. 11, 4 May 1971; accessed 26 May 2012
- Shail, Robert (2010). "Stanley Baker and British Lion: A Cautionary Tale", in Don't Look Now: British Cinema in the 1970s, ed. by Paul Newland. Bristol: Intellect Books. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-84150-320-2.
- Stanley Baker profile, bbc.co.uk; accessed 8 April 2014.
- Ellen Baker, 'My Husband, My Love', Woman's Own Magazine, December 1976 accessed 26 May 2012
- "A spirited "Crusoe" was tough for star.". The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982) (1933-1982: National Library of Australia). 1 January 1975. p. 10. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
- "BRITISH ACTORS HEAD FILM POLL: BOX-OFFICE SURVEY", The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959), 27 December 1957, p. 3.
- "Year Of Profitable British Films." The Times [London, England], 1 January 1960, p. 13. The Times Digital Archive, 11 July 2012; accessed 8 April 2014.
- Walker, Alexander (1985). National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties. Harrap.
- Stanley Baker at the Internet Movie Database
- Stanley Baker biography and credits, Screenonline.org; accessed 8 April 2014.
- The Sir Stanley Baker Tribute Site, freewebs.com; accessed 8 April 2014.
- Ferndale RFC official website, "Sir Stanley Baker Lounge"; accessed 8 April 2014.