Tennessee Williams wrote Baby Doll with her in mind, and she was considered the sexiest blonde bombshell ever, much sexier than Jean Harlow, whom she portrayed on film. She was great in The Carpetbaggers, The Great Divide, Harlow, Giant and countless other 1950s, ’60s and ’70s hits. Carroll Baker is 91, still very much compos corpus and without make-up; a lively dinner companion who Michael Mailer and I took out to dinner last week.
No, they don’t make them like her any more – except for Lily James and Keira Knightley. I sat next to her in an Italian outdoor restaurant, ordered some good wine and the three of us downed two bottles in no time. Unlike the stars of today, who are spoilt and too stupid to speak and make any sense, Carroll was funny and not at all bitter at having been exiled for ten years for not giving in to the slob Joe Levine, thankfully no longer with us. Levine was a physically repulsive man, but a big-shot producer at Paramount. Carroll stopped him from climbing into a car with her, and fat Joe took it rather badly. (Most fat and ugly men do.) The result was that she was blackballed, left Hollywood and worked for ten years in Italy ‘where I met the most gorgeous of men, including your friend Gianni Agnelli, whose boat I went on’.
I did not ask for further details. Italian men were not known for being fat or ugly, and are still considered better lovers than Frenchmen, if somewhat sillier. But this is about Carroll, not French or Italian males. She still speaks with the same radiating voice as when she played the daughter of Rock Hudson and Liz Taylor in Giant, seduced by a drunken mega oilman, played by James Dean.