Real name: Carroll Baker
Birthdate: May 28, 1931
Partner: Donald Burton
Baker was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania to Virginia and William Baker, a traveling salesman of Polish ancestry. After working as a magician's assistant, she began her film career in 1953, with a small part in Easy to Love. After appearing in television commercials and training at New York's famed Actors Studio, 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 Baby Doll. 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. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the film.Carroll Baker in Baby Doll
Also in 1956, she appeared in a supporting role in the epic Giant, opposite Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean.
She would go 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 How the West Was Won (1962); and steamy melodramas, including Something Wild (1961), directed by her then-husband Jack Garfein, and Station Six-Sahara (1962). She also found time to appear again on Broadway, this time starring in Garson Kanin's Come on Strong, produced in 1962.Publicity still for The Carpetbaggers
Baker's flashy portrayal of a Jean Harlow-type movie star in the 1964 hit The Carpetbaggers brought her a second wave of notoriety and marked the beginning of a tumultuous relationship with the film's producer, Joseph E. Levine. Based on her Carpetbaggers performance, Levine began to position Baker to be a movies 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.Carroll Baker (left) in Something Wild
Following a protracted legal battle with Paramount Pictures and divorce from her second husband, she moved to Europe. Eventually settling in Italy, she would spend the next several years starring in hard-edged giallo thrillers, including The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968), Paranoia (1970), and Baba Yaga (1973). During those busy years, film locations would take her all around the world, including Italy, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Mexico. A lead role in Andy Warhol's Bad (1977) brought her back to American shores. The seventies also saw a return to the stage, where she appeared in productions of Lucy Crown and Motive.
By the eighties, Baker moved into character work, playing the mother of Dorothy Stratten in Star 80 (1983) and Jack Nicholson's wife in Ironweed (1987). Film and television work continued sporadically through the nineties, and the 2006 DVD release of Baby Doll features a documentary with Baker reflecting on the impact the film had on her career.
Carroll Baker has written three books: Baby Doll, An Autobiography, published in 1983, and A Roman Tale and To Africa, With Love, both published in 1985.