This tribute to lovely Hollywood actress Diane Baker (b. 1938) will be little more than a mash note, but can you blame me?
Though she had studied serious acting, I think of Baker as one of the last stars in the old-school Grace Kelly tradition. She also studied ballet with Martha Graham alum Nina Fonaroff, which instilled in her a certain grace of movement. Dark hair notwithstanding Alfred Hitchcock clearly saw these finer qualities, hence his casting of her in Marnie (1964) where she, frankly, outshines the ostensible star Tippi Hedren, from the standpoint of both chops and vivacity. Around this time Baker was cast as several films in the genre I call faux Hitchcock: including The Prize (1963) and Mirage (1965), both spy stories in the style of North by Northwest, Torn Curtain, and Topaz. She was also in the Psycho-esque Straight-Jacket (1964) with Joan Crawford.
Straight-Jacket was Baker’s second film with Crawford, the first having been The Best of Everything in the breakthrough year of 1959 when Baker was also in Journey to the Center of the Earth, and The Diary of Anne Frank, in which she was ingeniously cast as Millie Perkins older sister. Other early things include the title character in Tess of the Storm Country and a co-starring role with Dick Shawn in The Wizard of Baghdad, both in 1960. Those two leading roles indicate that Baker was being groomed for stardom early on, but as the decade progressed actresses like Jane Fonda, Faye Dunaway, and Katharine Ross came out on top, and the faintly old-fashioned Baker wound up in lots of guest starring roles on television shows like The Fugitive (the climactic final episode) and Mission: Impossible. In 1973 she was cast as one of the leads on the short-lived sitcom Here We Go Again (1973) with Dick Gautier, Larry Hagman, and Nita Talbot. She’s in episodes of Columbo, Kojak, Police Woman, Barnaby Jones, The Streets of San Francisco, Fantasy Island, Murder She Wrote, and House, and movies like The Silence of the Lambs (1991), The Joy Luck Club (1993), The Net (1995), and The Cable Guy (1996). She seems to have retired about a decade ago.
We are especially intrigued by the frequently quoted factoid that Baker’s mother “appeared in several Marx Brothers pictures”, which I have been unable to find any corroboration for. This would seem to be especially apt, as Baker happens to share a birthday with Zeppo!
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