Carroll Baker won an Oscar nomination for her role as a child-wife in the steamy 1956 Tennessee Williams story "Baby Doll," grew up when American moviegoers weren't looking, reared her children in Rome and became a star in Italian films.
She spent years making movies she admits were not always good, even though they grossed a fortune for her. "I think I made more films in Italy than I made in Hollywood, but the mentality is different," she commented. "What they think is wonderful is not what we might."
She fled Hollywood to live in Spain and Italy and to escape a career that was disintegrating in front of the klieg lights. She had started out well, with the "Baby Doll" role, which won her a 1956 Academy Award nomination even while the film was condemned by the Legion of Decency. She was the next Jean Harlow, said her press releases, and in 1965 made a film based on the life of the '30s star.
But "Harlow," "The Carpetbaggers" and "Sylvia" were mediocre and eclipsed her better work in "But Not for Me," with Clark Gable; in George Stevens' "Giant," appearing opposite James Dean in his last film; and in John Ford's "Cheyenne Autumn," playing a Quaker girl.
Baker was under contract to Joe Levine, "who behaved like he owned me," she said in a 1977 interview, and "my husband [Jack Garfein, from whom she was later divorced] thought it was all terrific as long as I kept bringing in the money. I started objecting to everything, but it was too late. The sex-symbol image had already started. I turned down parts and they blacklisted me. . . .
"Then Paramount tried to squeeze me out of my contract and take me for everything I was worth financially and my marriage was breaking up. . . . The press attacked me viciously at every opportunity. I came very close to suicide."
So she left Hollywood at the end of the '60s and went to work in Italian films. She had no regrets about moving to Rome, saying the change was "marvelous for me because it really brought me back to life, and it gave me a whole new outlook. It's wonderful to know about a different world. "
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