I could be voted off the island for saying this but...I have no idea who Carroll Baker is. Have I been missing something?
Ha ha, Scooter! Carroll Baker had a very strange career in Hollywood; she made a splash as the ingenue in "Giant," holding her own against Liz Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson. She had her first starring role as the child bride in the controversial "Baby Doll"; she became a star, but the studios didn't seem to know how to best promote her. She wasn't considered quite "bombshell" material in the Monroe/Mansfield mold; and too serious to do the frothy sexy comedy route. Then, in 1964, Baker and producer Joseph Levine completely refashioned her image as a sex kitten via big, splashy roles in Levine's productions of "The Carpetbaggers"; the Jean "Harlow" biopic; and "Sylvia." During that brief time, Baker was arguably the most publicized actress in the world; but the reviews were scathing, and even worse, the public didn't really seem to buy Baker as a sex symbol, either -- she seemed to be playing dress up, rather than an actual sex goddess. She and Levine had a major falling out, and Baker spent the remainder of the 1960's and most of the 1970's in increasingly tawdry Italian sexploitation/horror flicks with titles like "Orgasmo," "The Sweet Body of Deborah," "So Sweet, So Perverse," etc. Andy Warhol cast her in "Andy Warhol's Bad" in 1977, which cemented her cult reputation -- which had been building thanks chiefly to the campiness of those Levine films, which had been so badly reviled upon their original release. I find her fascinating, her acting style alternately extremely mannered and very raw; she comes across as very modern and ultimately a little strident. Had she come along in the 1970's or 80's, rather than the 1950's, she probably would have fared better -- of course, I probably wouldn't be as interested!
Friends of mine love Carroll's Italian thrillers, where she and cute actors like Jean Sorel are often semi-naked or more. They are quite fun actually. but yes its a very strange career - she's terrific in the all-star The Big Country in '58, and I love Sylvia, that 1964 kitschfest with George Maharis investigating her past for sleazeball Peter Lawford. It has a terrific theme song as well by Paul Anka. Carroll also penned some very racy novels about the movie business, well worth seeking out.
Michael,"Sylvia" is somewhat of the Holy Grail of sleaze movies for me -- I've never been able to track it down! I DO have the soundtrack, though, and I love that smarmy David Raskin theme song (the chorale version AND Paul Anka's supremely smarmy pop version!). I can't believe that it hasn't been released on DVD yet. I mean, my God, Carroll Baker, George Maharis, Ann Sothern, Joanne Dru... it's like a big budget "Whp Killed Teddy Bear"!
Thanks for the great summary. I am glad you mentioned Giant. It's one of my faves. She played Liz's and Rock's daughter - though I doubt I could have identified her without the hint!
Nice tribute to a strange and intriguing actress. I'm really curious to see one of Baker's more notorious, noir-ish and art-y American films called "Something Wild" (1961), which John Waters has compared to the Ann-Margret vehicle "Kitten with a Whip". For anyone interested, here is my analysis of Andy Warhol's BAD.
"Strange and intriguing" about sums her up! I don't like a lot of her acting choices, and I find it difficult to get into a lot of her films, either because they're inherently...well, difficult ("baby Doll"); or simply bad ("The Carpetbaggers"); or ponderous ("Bridge to the Sun"); yet, I can't look away from her. "Something Wild" definitely sounds interesting, and very "fringe"...Thankd for the comment, and the link to your essay! I enjoyed it very much.
I'm a fan of hers but she has an odd presence on screen as you said part old Hollywood mannerisms but also sometimes she comes across as very real.Personally I thought she stunk in Harlow, the whole thing save Angela Lansbury was an abomination, she was certainly beautiful but possessed none of the real Jean's magic or fire. Before the misbegotten attempt to be the new Marilyn she was good in But Not for Me with Gable and Lili Palmer and especially so in How The West Was Won up against Debbie Reynolds and Jimmy Stewart plus she has a beautiful parting scene sending George Peppard, playing her son, off to war. I was glad to see her come back in the 80's as a character actress in Kindergarten Cop, The Game, Ironweed etc. those kinds of parts suit her strengths of flinty self assurance and cool authority.
Her 1983 autobiography is one of the few that's actually well-written and interesting. (Another intelligent one is Lilli Palmer's, from 1975.) Baker did not actively search out those sleazy, later roles -- actually breaking her Warner Brothers contract because she didn't want to play a nymphomaniac drunk in "Too Much, Too Soon -- but her husband and her employers seemed to think that was her most profitable image. It's too bad she didn't get more "regular" roles, because in real life she seemed to be rather level-headed, and calmly demure. I respect her acting a lot...she's great playing Jack Nicholson's exwife in "Ironweed", for instance : )