Carroll Baker is an American actress who has enjoyed popularity as both a serious dramatic actress and, particularly in the 1960s, a movie sex symbol. Despite being cast in a wide range of roles during her heyday, Baker’s beautiful features, blonde hair, and distinctive drawl made her particularly memorable in roles as a brash, flamboyant woman.
Baker was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Virginia and William Watson Baker, who was a traveling salesman. She spent a year at community college, and subsequently worked as a magician’s assistant.
Baker 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 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. Two months prior to Baby Doll’s release, she appeared in the supporting role of Luz Benedict II in 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 ; westerns, including The Big Country and How the West Was Won ; and steamy melodramas, including Something Wild, directed by her then-husband Jack Garfein, and Station Six-Sahara. While Baker was on location in Africa for the 1965 movie Mister Moses, an apocryphal story has it that a Maasai chief offered 150 cows, 200 goats, sheep, and $750 for her hand in marriage. She subsequently appeared with Masai warriors on the cover of Life‘s 1964 issue. In addition to her film acting, she also found time to appear again on Broadway, starring in the 1962 production of Garson Kanin’s Come on Strong.