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Biography

Diane Baker’s career began with a spilled beverage at the Beverly Hills Hotel. At age 18, she was one of hundreds of entrants in the annual Rheingold Beer contest, yet despite having been born and raised in Hollywood, she had no ties to the entertainment industry, and her only preparation for Rheingold’s prestigious contest consisted of some modeling classes taken after school. As Diane nervously approached judges Irene Dunne, Joan Fontaine, and Ida Lupino, her attempt to gracefully set her portfolio on the table resulted in a decidedly ungraceful fumble which sent a glass of the beer flying—directly into the lap of Irene Dunne. An inauspicious beginning? Far from it; Ms. Dunne just laughed and told Diane to take the impromptu drenching as a good sign, and Diane became one of the six Rheingold finalists.

While on the Rheingold tour, Diane was constantly asked by the press what she hoped to do with her life. Each time she answered that she was torn between becoming an actress, or a career in politics. To all who knew Diane, it looked as if politics would prevail. When Diane was 8 years old she met the Douglas family who made a profound impression on her. Although Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas was defeated in her run against Richard Nixon for the Senate, she impressed upon Diane the importance of doing the best work you could to make a difference in the world.

When Diane returned to Los Angeles, her parents convinced her to put an acting career aside in favor of attending the University of Southern California. She attended college for two semesters, but found herself reading every play she could get her hands on. These she carefully concealed within the pages of her textbooks, and spent much of the time learning lines for scenes for her evening acting class. She continued through her third semester, when one of her understanding, professors helped Diane accept the fact that her heart belonged to acting and that she should pursue a career in that field.

Taking the money she earned from the Rheingold contest, Diane moved to New York where she studied acting with Charles Conrad, and ballet with Nina Fonaroff. Diane’s California boyfriend, however, wasted no time in launching an extensive campaign to bring Diane home. When Diane held firm, the resourceful fellow enlisted the aid of Diane’s father, until the barrage of phone calls and letters stemming from their collective efforts could no longer be ignored. Diane returned to Hollywood, to her family, her boyfriend and her friends.

She continued her training in Los Angeles at the Estelle Harman Workshop, and quickly secured a contract with Twentieth Century Fox. There she was introduced to director George Stevens Sr., who was in the process of casting "The Diary Of Anne Frank." With the possible exception of spilling beer on Irene Dunne, it is difficult to imagine a more awkward meeting. Diane was taken by the hand and marched across the commissary to meet George Stevens while he was eating his lunch. His attempt to stand and shake her hand became a muddle of dropped napkins and silverware, but it also led to an audition for the role of Margot Frank. Diane won the coveted role during her first screen test, when Otto Frank was moved to tears over how very much Diane resembled his daughter. That night, Otto Frank invited Diane and Millie Perkins, who played "Anne" to visit, high in the Hollywood hills where he was a house guest. With the lights of the city spread out below them, Diane sat with Otto Frank, and as she shared photos and memories of his family, she realized that she had found her true calling. Like her mentors, Helen Gahagan and Melvyn Douglas, she knew she wanted to make a difference in the world, but she now knew that she might be able to communicate her beliefs through the medium of film. This would continue to be the hallmark of Diane’s career.

Diane remained at 20th Century Fox as a contract player for four and a half years where she performed in films such as "Journey To The Center of the Earth", "The Best of Everything", "300 Spartans," "The Wizard of Baghdad," and "Nine Hours to Rama" directed by Mark Robson. After her contract ended she went to MGM to film "The Prize" again working with Mark Robson. She was offered a new contract at Universal, which she turned down but did two films for the studio; "Mirage" with Gregory Peck and "Marnie" for director, Alfred Hitchcock. Diane’s knowledge and appreciation of her craft constantly grew, thanks to the excellent directors and actors with whom she worked, including George Stevens, Mark Robson, and actors, Melvyn Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Newman, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford.

The filming of the movie "Nine Hours to Rama" took Diane on location to India, where she visited a local home in which several children were gathered around a tiny black and white television set, engrossed in an American program. Diane was struck, not just by how far American entertainment reached, but by the low caliber of material that was being produced. And so, in a dusty Indian village, she decided it was time to take responsibility for a higher quality of television and film, and her career as a producer was born.

Diane’s first effort as a producer was the self-financed documentary, "Ashiana," which dealt with the end of feudalism in India. Other documentaries followed, and then dramas, but even when she took on a work of fiction, Diane never strayed from her commitment to tell stories that would have a positive impact on her audience. Diane produced "Portrait of Grandpa Doc," for director Randal Kleiser whom she credits with "really helping me to start my producing career" and the award winning "One of A Kind." She personally screened these films for an executive at ABC and they were immediately purchased and aired on ABC. She next tackled the independent feature "Second Star to the Right," aka "Never Never Land", which initially seemed destined to fall apart due to a myriad of difficulties, but she refused to give up and decided to go "hat in hand" and raised the money through private financing and set out to film on location in London. It was more than enough to scare away the most seasoned producer, but Diane had based her career on less than easy beginnings. If she could follow an awkward introduction to George Stevens with an audition performance that moved everyone watching to tears, she could keep her film afloat. With no office other than her briefcase, Diane produced the film in London with the help of wonderful members of the British Film Industry and Petula Clark, who played the lead. This success opened the door for a future project, a mini-series based on Barbara Taylor Bradford’s "A Woman Of Substance," which received an Emmy nomination.

Fortunately for her fans, Diane’s producing career did not signal an end to her acting days, although she has remained resolute in her desire to only accept quality acting work. She has worked with Anthony Hopkins and director Jonathan Demme in "Silence of the Lambs," and her television credits include "The Blue and the Gray," "Inherit the Wind" and most recently "About Sarah", "ER" and CBS "Jackie O." playing the role of Rose Kennedy. As well a part in a new HBO pilot series directed by George Clooney.

Diane is developing several feature films and is bringing the creative elements together. She enjoys working with new writers, directors and actors, helping them achieve their goals.  

 Diane continues to reinvent herself, as an actress, a producer and soon as a director. She will always be driven by her interest in social issues, coupled with the knowledge that while no one person can single-handedly improve man’s plight,  by making good films, one can make a difference. Framed in Diane’s office is a quote from one of her favorite filmmaker’s, Francois Truffaut, which reads, "Making a movie is like a stage coach ride through the old west. At first you hope for a pleasant journey, and then you simply hope to reach your destination." For Diane Baker, however, there is no doubt that as she continues moving forward she will continue to enjoy her journey.

 


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Last modified: September 11, 2004

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