Carroll Baker still remembers the call she got from a journalist one Sunday morning in 1956. "Your film 'Baby Doll' has been condemned by the Legion of Decency and Cardinal Spellman has just stepped up to the pulpit and denounced it from St. Patrick's Cathedral. What have you got to say?"
What could she say? And all because of the film's ad which showed Baker lying in a crib and sucking her thumb. Baker, 80, will talk more about Elia Kazan's "Baby Doll" when she comes to the Cinema Arts Centre Thursday night for a screening and to be interviewed by film historian Foster Hirsch.
She shared more about the movie, which was written by Tennessee Williams, by phone from Manhattan.
What did you think reading the script and seeing you first appear sucking your thumb?
It wasn't so much that that struck me, it was the fact that her name was Baby Doll. I thought that was wonderfully funny and a real Tennessee Williams touch. When I got to Mississippi, one of the locals said, "My sister-in-law is called Baby Doll." Another one said, "Our pet cow was named Baby Doll."
Were you surprised when you got nominated for an Oscar for "Baby Doll"?
Before "Baby Doll," you made "Giant" with George Stevens. Were he and Kazan different to work with?
All good directors have the same qualities. Kazan once said a director's duty is to cast the right person. That's 90 percent of the job, and then you let them act. Bad directors are the ones who want to tell you every move and think they're a better actor than you.
You knew Marilyn Monroe at the Actors Studio. What do you remember about her?
I felt so badly when she was fired by 20th Century Fox. And I used to go to the same restaurant in Hollywood where she went. I went up to her and said, "Marilyn, you don't need 20th Century Fox. You are a world-renowned star. You could work in Europe, they'll throw flowers at your feet. And she said, "I can't go, Carroll, I'm alone."
Did you feel the same way when you were dropped by Paramount?
My husband got me into a lawsuit and that's why they dropped me. It was a ridiculous thing to do. I was blackballed in Hollywood. These guys meet on the golf course and they say, "Don't hire our girl, she's giving us trouble." And I couldn't work, and I left and went to Europe and I had a very good life in Europe.
Didn't Clark Gable give you some good advice about acting when you made "But Not for Me"?
I was very young when I saw "Gone With the Wind," but I fell in love with Clark Gable. And when I got to work with him, I couldn't believe it. I still had a crush on him. He was quite an old man by then, he must have seen that I was head over heels, even though I was married. He took me aside one day and he said, "Carroll, listen, you're in this business, you're a young woman, I want to tell you something. Whenever you do a love scene, of course, you have to do it as realistically as possible, but never linger on it. The minute that the scene is over, leave the set, get a cup of coffee, take a walk, make a phone call. Because we're not what we are on the screen. We're just human beings when you get us home. We have headaches and all sorts of problems."
Did you feel that after "The Carpetbaggers" and "Harlow," people only thought of you as a sex symbol and not a serious actress?
After "Baby Doll," I did some Westerns. I would try to do something so far away from "Baby Doll." And I thought the book "The Carpetbaggers" was great fun, and I loved the part of Rina. I thought I have done so many different things up to this point, I never believed I would be cast as a sex symbol. Then they used me like that, especially Joe Levine. I remember being exhausted all the time, because if I wasn't doing a film, I was out at night promoting the film. I went on tour promoting film. They did certain things, like tell me you can't have any whiskey, you have to be seen with a glass of champagne in your hand. To this day I don't like champagne.
You really got to know the town and people when you were making "Baby Doll."
Kazan took us there three weeks ahead of time. The wonderful thing that Kazan did was he had us meet all of the townspeople. He had us go to dinner with them. We had meetings with them. So they really were behind our film and he used a lot of the local people in the film, too.
Was there a part you really wanted and didn't get?
The big one I missed out on was "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." MGM wanted me for it and Warner Bros. wouldn't give me permission to do it.
You said you didn't see yourself as a sex symbol, but that is a sexy role.
Warner Bros. would buy scripts of little Southern girls who had affairs and I turned them down because they were poor imitations of Baby Doll. But anything by Tennessee Williams, of course, I would do it.
Would you do anything different if you were starting out again today?
I'm sure I haven't changed that much. I would be just as big a pain. I was difficult. I always wanted things my way. I wanted things to be artistically wonderful, and when I worked with a bad director when I did with "The Miracle," I was jumping all over him and saying, "No, you can't do that" and "No, you're not going to have me do this." I was very difficult. He worked with Bette Davis and she was difficult, so I guess the studio thought he would be able to handle me. Obviously I was more difficult than Bette Davis.
What was Robert Mitchum like to work with, and did you two really have an affair?
He was just a big sexual animal. When we made "Mister Moses" in Africa, they put me in a cabin next to his and he used to walk around on his porch with no shirt and showing himself off and he was hard to resist. The thing is, Shirley MacLaine came to visit him. She was there, but all the New York papers were saying I had an affair with him. My husband flew to Africa, even though I said to him, "No, I'm not." I said to Mitchum one day, "You know, everybody is saying we're having an affair." And he said, "I'm sorry I missed that."
WHAT "Baby Doll" screening, plus interview with Carroll Baker and reception
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington
TICKETS $15, $10 members
INFO 800-838-3006, cinemaartscentre.org