“Giant,” at Monday Nights with Oscar, with Carroll Baker
On Monday, September 12 The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, at its monthly program “Monday Nights with Oscar,” presented the 1956 movie “Giant,” preceded by an interview with “Giant” cast member Carroll Baker. The interview was conducted by author and teacher Foster Hirsch. The event took place at the Academy’s screening room at The Lighthouse, 111 East 59 Street.
Hirsch introduced Baker by saying that “You cannot qualify unique. Unique is unique.” True to Hirsch’s description, Baker, attractive and lively at age 80, proved to be gracious, funny, vivacious and frank, especially when it came to herself and her remembrances of her fellow actors in “Giant.”
Baker spoke about her relationship with actor James Dean and shooting “Giant” on location, in a small Texas town, with Hollywood movie stars Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. “Jimmy (Dean) and I were snobby because we were from The Actor’s Studio and we knew everything, and Rock and Elizabeth were just Hollywood actors who were shallow.” Baker recalled that, at first, she and Dean would always have dinner together. “Jimmy sort of clung to me and I clung to him until Elizabeth (Taylor) decided to take him over,” Baker explained. “Elizabeth decided that they were going to stay up all night and that he was going to tell her stories that he had never told anyone else, and that was it. He never ate with me again,” Baker explained to audience laughter.
Regarding Dean’s still legendary status and cult following (Dean was killed in a car accident prior to “Giant’s” release) Baker said, “I really did think he was a great actor. If he had continued I think he would have given some marvelous performances. I think dying young has a lot to do with becoming a legend.”
In “Giant” Baker plays Taylor’s daughter, despite the fact that Baker was actually a year older than Taylor. Baker recalled, “(Taylor) loved that. She told everybody.” Baker described Taylor as “very friendly, very generous, lovely to be with. She really took your breath away. She was gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous.” Baker observed that Taylor, who had been practically raised at the MGM studios, had a sentimental outlook on life, which matched the sentimental point of view of MGM’s movies. “Because she went to bed with five different men she didn’t have to marry them, but in MGM movies you did that,” Baker observed to uproarious audience laughter.
As for “Giant” co-star Rock Hudson Baker said, “Rock was so wonderful because he was so much fun.” She said that Hudson had a party every night and that everyone was invited. Baker recalled, “The laughs and the wonderful times we had with him. He was a great, great guy.” When Hirsch offered that Hudson is terrific in the film and earned his Oscar nomination Baker paused. “That’s your opinion,” Baker replied, to surprised audience laughter. She continued, “I think Elizabeth deserved an Oscar. She was very good. I thought Rock got by with it. I didn’t think it was a great performance.”
Hirsch pointed out that Baker has worked with “four of the greatest directors in the history of American films: George Stevens (“Giant”), Elia Kazan (“Baby Doll”), William Wyler (“The Big Country”) and John Ford (“Cheyenne Autumn” and parts of “How the West Was Won”).” Hirsch asked Baker if the four had anything in common. She replied, “I think the one big similarity was that they cast you in a part because they knew you were right for it and that you could act it. The bad directors, and I’ve had a few of those, always thought that they were better than you, that they could tell you how to act. Just do your job, just direct, don’t tell me how to act.” Baker graciously acknowledged that she had been very privileged to have worked with such great directors.