Carroll Baker: An interview on “Baby Doll” and Hollywood’s studio days

Carroll Baker will be attending a screening of “Baby Doll” (1956) this weekend, Saturday, Aug. 17, in Winston-Salem, NC through the RiverRun Retro film series. Following the film, Ms. Baker will be interviewed by film historian Foster Hirsch. Learn more about how to get tickets.

Today, Ms. Baker is retired from films and is now an author. Her fourth book, Who Killed Big Al?, was published this May.

I interviewed Ms. Baker on the phone about her career and upcoming appearance:

Comet Over Hollywood:
Have you ever done anything with River Run Film before?

Carroll Baker:
My daughter has. Um, she, she does the short films with her students. She’s an acting teacher. She went to the festival (River Run International Film Festival) last year, and I think she’ll go again this year. Then Rob came to New York. And then he came up with this incredible thing of doing, uh, and evening with just me. They do wonderful stuff. So the screening will be of “Baby Doll” and then Foster Hirsch, a film historian, will interview me, and we will talk about my new book, “Who Killed Big Al?”

Comet Over Hollywood:
I had some questions about your career that I was going to ask. So we’ll start kind of at the beginning of it all. What made you get into acting? What interested you about the craft?

Actress Carroll Baker in the 1950s

Carroll Baker:
Well, you know, this is a long story. My mother and father had divorced, and I was living with my father in Pennsylvania. We didn’t have very much money. And when I graduated from high school, I was working in a factory. All my girlfriends had gone to university. The boy I was in love with went to university. And, and I said to myself, “I’m just not going to be stuck in this small town working in a factory.”

Because of my mother, I had taken dancing lessons. So when I was off work, I would go to our attic, which had a wooden floor. I used to tap, tap, tap and follow Ann Miller’s routines. So then my mother said, “Well, why don’t you come for a while and stay in Florida with me?” Well, that was terrific, because in Florida they have every conceivable club, like the Lions Club. And I got my first engagement there dancing. I earned $20. I kept getting dancing engagements and went to beauty contests.

We went to Daytona Beach and there was an International Convention of Magicians. There was this one magician, named Burling Hull and he called himself the Great Volta. So He was retired, and he didn’t have an assistant. He said, “I’m inventing acts now, and I’ve invented an act that’s just for a woman. It’s the magic jewel act.” So I went to stay with he and his wife and practiced really hard. And learned how to do this magic act. And this ties me into North Carolina! I was booked on Kemp Time, which was one of the last vestiges of vaudeville. It was a western show. Everybody famous you could think of was in it, like Elvis Presley. Virginia Mayo did her act with Pansy the Horse.

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“Is that Pedro?” -Happy Thanksgiving from Comet Over Hollywood

Sometimes holiday family gatherings can be awkward, if not disastrous.

One cinematic example of an unhappy Thanksgiving is in “Giant” (1956) starring Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson.

The film follows Bick (Hudson) and Leslie (Taylor) and their life as cattle ranchers in Texas. Leslie, originally from Maryland, marries Bick after knowing him for a short time, and their marriage is tumultuous.

At one part of the film, Leslie travels back to Maryland with her children to evaluate her marriage, participate in her sister’s wedding and spend Thanksgiving with her family.

During the visit, Leslie’s three children become attached to the turkey named Pedro…

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(Comet Over Hollywood/Screen Cap by Jessica P)

Here is to hoping your Thanksgiving is less dramatic.

Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful for everyone of you who reads Comet Over Hollywood and shares the love of classic film.

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Who’s that turkey?

Happy Thanksgiving from Gordon and Doris.

Several holiday themed TV shows and films have the theme of having a pet turkey that is destined to be Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.  Through the months, the turkey has become a friend to the main character so they are reluctant to cover it with cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving day.

Here are two films that show this:

Wesley (Billy Gray) getting nervous at Thanksgiving dinner.

By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953): This is the sequel of the Doris Day-Gordon MacRea romance “Moonlight Bay” (1951). These films are also based off of Booth Tarkington’s “Penrod” series, which is where Wesley Winfield’s (played by Billy Gray) shenanigans come from.
The Winfield’s have been raising a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner and naturally Wesley has gotten attached to the turkey named Gregory. He sets the turkey free and steals another. The family invites Mr. Winfield’s (Leon Ames) boss to Thanksgiving dinner and wants to impress.  Gregory somehow finds his way into the dining room during the meal. You can see what happens in the video below

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RIP Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper, Nick Adams and Natalie Wood

I have to admit, I haven’t seen many of his movies.

Mr. Hopper is best known for his late 1960s and 1970s  “Easy Rider” like persona and continued on into the 1980s and 1990s with a long and successful film career.

He was nominated for his role in the 1986 film “Hoosiers” and was in retirement commercials to make financial planning look “cool.”

However, I would like to look at the times that many people forget. Before he was a pot smoking motorcyclist or crazed bus high-jacker.

None of this would have happened without those movies where he was casted as a 1950s angst young adult.  Without his friendship with James Dean, Nick Adams and Natalie Wood (three actors who died tragically), would Hopper have been the actor that some call crazy?

“Jimmy (James Dean) was the most talented and original actor I ever saw work,” Hopper said. “He was also a guerrilla artist who attacked all restrictions on his sensibility. Once he pulled a switchblade and threatened to murder his director. I imitated his style in art and in life. It got me in a lot of trouble.”

Hopper started out in the 1950s, a time people think of as pure and “Leave It To Beaver” like, but the youthful actors were not out playing bridge on Saturday nights.

“In the 50s, when me and Natalie Wood and James Dean and Nick Adams and Tony Perkins (Anthony Perkins) suddenly arrived… God, it was a whole group of us that sort of felt like that earlier group – the John Barrymores, Errol Flynns, Sinatras, Clifts – were a little farther out than we were… So we tried to emulate that lifestyle,” Hopper said. “For instance, once Natalie and I decided we’d have an orgy. And Natalie says “O.K., but we have to have a champagne bath.” So we filled the bathtub full of champagne. Natalie takes off her clothes, sits down in the champagne, starts screaming. We take her to the emergency hospital. That was *our* orgy, you understand?”


One of my favorite performances of Dennis Hopper’s is his role as Jordy in “Giant.”  Whenever I hear his name I always get the mental image of him throwing the perfume bottle into the mirror (my favorite part of the movie) when his Spanish wife couldn’t get her hair done in the hair salon.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hopper.

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