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Joe Don Baker

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Joe Don Baker
Born (1936-02-12) February 12, 1936 (age 88)
Groesbeck, Texas, U.S.
EducationNorth Texas State (now University of North Texas)
Years active1964–2012
Marlo Baker
(m. 1969; div. 1980)

Joe Don Baker (born February 12, 1936) is an American character actor and a life member of the Actors Studio.[1] He established himself as an action star with supporting roles as a mysterious cowboy drifter in Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969), and as a deputy sheriff in the western Wild Rovers (1971), before receiving fame for his roles as a mafia hitman in Charley Varrick (1973), real-life Tennessee Sheriff Buford Pusser in the action film Walking Tall (1973), a brute force detective in Mitchell (1975), deputy sheriff Thomas Jefferson Geronimo III in Final Justice (1985), and police chief Jerry Karlin in the action-comedy Fletch (1985). He is also known for his appearances as both a villain and an ally in three James Bond films: as Brad Whitaker in The Living Daylights (1987) and as CIA Agent Jack Wade in GoldenEye (1995) and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).

Life and career[edit]

Baker was born in Groesbeck, Texas, the son of Edna (née McDonald) and Doyle Charles Baker. He attended the North Texas State College in Denton[2] and graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1958. He served in the United States Army.[citation needed]

During the 1963–64 Broadway season, he appeared on stage in Marathon '33 at the ANTA Theatre in New York City.[3] His career had its roots in television, though he did appear in several movies, including an uncredited part in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke.[4] He appeared in many television series, graduating to featured guest roles in such series as The Big Valley (in which he played a Harvard-educated Native American with a penchant for fighting) and Mod Squad (where he appeared as an illiterate vending machine robber). He was the title character in the 1971 TV movie Mongo's Back in Town, starring Telly Savalas.

Standing at 6'2" tall (189 cm), Baker's physical prowess and stereotypical Texas drawl would prove perfect in Westerns, both on film and television. While working regularly on television on shows such as Bonanza and Gunsmoke, he appeared in supporting roles in such films Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969) and Blake Edwards' Wild Rovers, but his film career did not quicken until he scored the role of Steve McQueen's younger brother in Sam Peckinpah's Junior Bonner, a film about a contemporary rodeo cowboy, which was released in late 1972.


Baker appeared in the pilot episode of 1968's Lancer, titled "The High Riders", as the main villain, "Day Pardee". This role was later fictionalized in Quentin Tarantino's 2019 film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood—changed to 'Decoteau' and played by Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton. He went on to appear in a later episode as Clovis Horner in 1970.

Walking Tall[edit]

His breakthrough came with the 1973 film Walking Tall, directed by Phil Karlson.[5][6] He starred in the filmmaker's final work, Framed, two years later. Released in February as a regional exploitation picture, Walking Tall connected with audiences and became an unexpected hit, circulating for national distribution with a new TV ad campaign using the slogan, "When was the last time you stood up and applauded a movie?" The film eventually earned $23 million at the box office. His performance was praised by influential film critic Pauline Kael, but he decided not to star in the sequel.

Later that year, his work in Charley Varrick helped solidify Baker's reputation. He also co-starred with Robert Duvall in the 1973 crime film The Outfit and starred in the 1974 adventure film Golden Needles. In 1977 he had leading roles in Checkered Flag or Crash opposite Susan Sarandon and The Shadow of Chikara with Ted Neeley and Sondra Locke.

On April 10, 1978, the two part television program To Kill a Cop premiered. In it Baker is paired with Louis Gossett Jr. as police detective.[7] Baker co-starred with Karen Black in the miniseries Power (1980), a scarcely-disguised story of labor leader Jimmy Hoffa.

Baker played the Whammer, a baseball player modeled on Babe Ruth, in the 1984 baseball drama The Natural, which starred Robert Redford. In 1985, he portrayed the corrupt Chief Jerry Karlin in Fletch. In the UK, he played CIA agent Darius Jedburgh in the BBC Television drama serial Edge of Darkness. He was nominated for Best Actor by the British Academy Television Awards, losing to his co-star Bob Peck. Martin Scorsese directed him as a private detective in the 1991 remake of Cape Fear, hired by protagonist Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) to protect his family from psychopathic ex-convict Max Cady (Robert De Niro).

Baker received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of North Texas in 1994.

While actor Carroll O'Connor was undergoing coronary bypass surgery, Baker took his place on the television series In the Heat of the Night. Baker appeared as Captain Tom Dugan, a retired police captain who substituted while O'Connor's character was away at a police convention. More recently, he appeared in Joe Dirt, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Strange Wilderness.

In 2009, Baker delivered another performance in The Cleaner on A&E, playing an alcoholic military veteran attempting to help a friend cope with the loss of his son. He hires William Banks (played by Benjamin Bratt) to help him start back down the road to sobriety. Baker played King in Mud (2012).

James Bond series[edit]

In 1987, Baker played the villainous arms dealer Brad Whitaker in the James Bond film The Living Daylights, starring Timothy Dalton as 007. In 1995 and 1997, Baker returned to the series, this time playing a different character, CIA agent Jack Wade, in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies, with Pierce Brosnan as Bond. Baker is one of four actors to appear as both a Bond ally and a villain, the others being Charles Gray, who appeared as Henderson in You Only Live Twice and Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever; Walter Gotell, who appeared as Morzeny, the SPECTRE Island trainer, in From Russia with Love and as General Gogol, the chief of the KGB, in six films between 1977 and 1987; and Richard Kiel as Jaws, in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, becoming Bond's ally against villain Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) in the latter film.



Year Title Role Notes
1967 Cool Hand Luke Fixer uncredited
1969 Guns of the Magnificent Seven Slater
1970 Adam at Six A.M. Harvey Gavin
1971 Wild Rovers Paul Buckman
1971 Welcome Home Soldier Boys Danny
1972 Junior Bonner Curly Bonner
1972 The Valachi Papers Irish Member of Valachi Gang uncredited
1973 Walking Tall Buford Pusser
1973 Charley Varrick Molly
1973 The Outfit Jack Cody
1974 Golden Needles Dan Mason
1975 Framed Ron Lewis
1975 Mitchell Mitchell
1977 Checkered Flag or Crash Walkaway Madden
1977 The Shadow of Chikara Wishbone Cutter
1977 Speedtrap Pete Novick
1977 The Pack Jerry
1982 Wacko Dick Harbiger
1983 Joysticks Joseph Rutter
1984 The Natural The Whammer
1984 Final Justice Deputy Sheriff Thomas Jefferson Geronimo III
1985 Fletch Chief Karlin
1986 Getting Even King R. Kenderson
1987 The Living Daylights Brad Whitaker
1987 The Killing Time Carl Cunningham
1987 Leonard Part 6 Nick Snyderburn
1988 Criminal Law Detective Mesel
1990 The Children Cliffe Wheater
1991 Cape Fear Claude Kersek
1992 The Distinguished Gentleman Olaf Anderson
1994 Reality Bites Tom Pierce
1994 Ring of Steel Man in Black
1994 Felony Donovan
1995 The Underneath Hinkle
1995 Panther Brimmer
1995 Congo R.B. Travis
1995 The Grass Harp Sheriff Junius Candle
1995 GoldenEye Jack Wade
1996 Mars Attacks! Richie's Dad
1997 Tomorrow Never Dies Jack Wade
2001 Vegas, City of Dreams Dylan Garrett
2001 Joe Dirt Don, Brandy's Dad uncredited
2003 The Commission Representative Hale Boggs
2005 The Dukes of Hazzard Governor Jim Applewhite
2008 Strange Wilderness Bill Calhoun
2012 Mud King Nominated — Independent Spirit Award for Robert Altman Award


Year Title Role Notes
1965 Honey West Rocky Hansen "Rockabye the Hard Way"
1965 Iron Horse Johnson "Cougar Man"
1967 Judd for the Defense Merl Varney "Shadow of a Killer"
1967 The Felony Squad Shep Taubus "My Mommy Got Lost"
1968 Bonanza Luke Harper "The Real People of Muddy Creek"
1968 The Outsider Billy Joe Corey "A Wide Place in the Road"
1966-1969 Gunsmoke Woody Stoner / Tom Butler 2 episodes
— "Prime of Life" (1966)
— "Reprisal" (1969)
1968–1970 Lancer Day Pardee / Santee / Clovis Horner 3 episodes
— "The High Riders" (1968)
— "Cut the Wolf Loose" (1969)
— "Shadow of a Dead Man" (1970)
1969 The Big Valley Tom Lightfoot "Lightfoot"
1969 Mod Squad Willie Turner "Willie Poor Boy"
1970 Bracken's World Nick Fontaine "Focus on a Gun"
1970 The F.B.I. Alex Drake "Summer Terror"
1970 The Most Deadly Game Alan "Breakdown"
1971 The High Chaparral Yuma "The Hostage"
1971 Mission: Impossible Frank Kearney "The Miracle"
1971 Mongo's Back in Town Mongo Nash TV Movie
1972 Ironside Eric Blair "Camera... Action... Murder!"
1972 That Certain Summer Phil Bonner TV Movie
1973 Doc Elliot Aaron Hickey "Pilot"
1973 The Streets of San Francisco Leonard Collier Cord "Beyond Vengeance"
1978 To Kill a Cop Chief Earl M. Eishied TV Movie
1979–1980 Eischied Chief Earl Eishied series regular (13 episodes)
1980 Power Tommy Vanda TV Movie
1985 Edge of Darkness Darius Jedburgh Miniseries (6 episodes)
Nominated – BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor
1987 The Abduction of Kari Swenson Sheriff Onstad TV Movie
1989 Screen Two Hunter McCall "Defrosting the Fridge"
1989 In the Heat of the Night Tom Dugan / Acting Chief Tom Dugan 4 episodes
— "Fifteen Forever"
— "Ladybug, Ladybug"
— "The Pig Woman of Sparta"
— "Missing"
1992 Citizen Cohn Senator Joseph McCarthy TV Movie
1993 Complex of Fear Detective Frank Farrel TV Movie
1993 The Wild West Unknown (Voice Role) Miniseries
— "Gunfighters/Townspeople"
1996 The Siege of Ruby Ridge Gerry Spence TV Movie
1997 To Dance with Olivia Horace Henely TV Movie
1997 George Wallace Big Jim Folsom Miniseries
Nominated – CableACE Award for Supporting Actor in a Movie or Miniseries
Nominated – Satellite Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television
1998 Poodle Springs P.J. Parker TV Movie
1999 Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke Buck Duke Miniseries
2009 The Cleaner Major Larry Duren "Last American Casualty"


Year Title Role Notes
1963–1964 Marathon '33 Mr. James 48 performances
1964 Blues for Mister Charlie Ellis 148 performances
Understudy for multiple parts (Rev. Phelps, Judge, Court Stenographer)


  1. ^ David Garfield (1980). "Appendix: Life Members of the Actors Studio as of January 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of the Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 277. ISBN 0-02-542650-8.
  2. ^ Monaco, James (1991). The Encyclopedia of Film. New York: Perigee Books. p. 1881. ISBN 978-0-399-51604-7.
  3. ^ Playbill, vol. 1 (January 1964) No. 1, Marathon ’33, p. 27.
  4. ^ Rosebrook, Jeb; Rosebrook, Stuart. Junior Bonner: The Making of a Classic with Steve McQueen and Sam Peckinpah in the Summer of 1971. BearManor Media. p. 52.
  5. ^ Kehr, Dave (May 18, 2012). "Idealistic Lawmen Taking Crime Very Personally". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Freese, Gene (19 October 2017). Classic Movie Fight Scenes: 75 Years of Bare Knuckle Brawls, 1914-1989. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 217. ISBN 978-1-4766-6943-4.
  7. ^ "Monday". The Sun-Advocate. April 8, 1978. p. 11.

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