Joe Don Baker Biography
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Born in: Groesbeck, Texas
Famous as: Character Actor
Spouse/Ex-: Maria Dolores Rivero-Torres (m. 1969–1980)
father: Doyle Charles Baker
U.S. State: Texas
education: University of North Texas
Joe Don Baker is an American actor, famous for his outstanding performances in movies such as ‘Walking Tall’ and ‘Charley Varrick.’ He is a graduate from ‘Actors Studio’ and a lifetime member of this prestigious organization. Baker was interested in acting since an early age. Unfortunately, he was never considered a lead performer in school plays. It was during his university years that he truly understood his calling. After graduation, he served in the ‘United States Army’ for a brief period of time before enrolling at the ‘Actors Studio’ in New York. He started his journey as an actor with theater and ‘Broadway’ when he was in his early 20s. He made his first appearance on TV in ‘Honey West,’ as a truck driver. Baker eventually established himself as an action hero, with his tough and cynical roles in iconic Westerns such as ‘Guns of the Magnificent Seven’ (1969). He reached the pinnacle of his career in the mid-1970s, with consecutive successful films such as ‘Walking Tall,’ ‘Mitchell,’ ‘Final Justice,’ and ‘Charley Varrick.’ Throughout his career, Baker was never recognized as a quintessential Hollywood leading man, notwithstanding the tough characters he played and the critical acclaim he received.
- Joe Don Baker was born on February 12, 1936, in Groesbeck, Texas, to Doyle Charles Baker and Edna Baker. During his high-school days, young Joe often participated in school productions. However, he was never cast in the lead due to his shy demeanor. It was during his time at the university that he became fully aware of his potential as an actor. His first audition for a stage production, at the ‘State Texas College’ (‘University of North Texas’), was an instinctive step. He soon realized that he wanted to be an actor for the rest of his life.
- In 1958, he graduated with a business degree and joined the ‘United States Army’. However, after a 2-year stint in Washington, DC, he moved to New York to study at the prestigious ‘Actors Studio.’
- Baker started his ‘Broadway’ career in 1963, with June Havoc’s ‘Marathon ‘33,’ based on the writer’s experiences during the Great Depression. The following year, he was cast in Burgess Meredith’s ‘Blues for Mr. Charlie’ and Henry Fonda’s production of ‘The Caine Mutiny Court Martial’ (which ran for 48 shows at the ‘Ahmanson Theatre’ in downtown Los Angeles).
- Baker made his TV debut in 1965, as a truck driver, in an episode of ‘Honey West.’ Though it was a passable performance and lasted only a few minutes, it defined the type of work he would be offered in the future. In 1967, he made his film debut with ‘Cool Hand Luke,’ in an uncredited, small role.
- His tall frame and roughneck look earned him several stereotypical roles in films and TV series. In 1969, he made a breakthrough with the character ‘Slater,’ a hired gun with a rough mouth, in the Western drama ‘Guns of the Magnificent Seven.’ The film could not replicate the success of the cult classics ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960) and ‘Return of the Magnificent Seven’ (1966).
- In 1971, he played the supporting role of ‘Paul Buckman’ in yet another Western movie, ‘MGM’s ‘Wild Rovers.’ His movie ‘Mongo’s Back in Town’ was released the same year. Even though he was not among the billed actors, Baker managed to steal the show from stalwarts such as Telly Savalas, Martin Sheen, and Sally Field, who starred in the movie.
- In 1972, he was featured as ‘Steve McQueen’s brother in Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Junior Bonner,’ a role that helped him pave his way to success.
- Following his performance in ‘Junior Bonner,’ Baker earned the lead role of ‘Buford Pusser’ in Phil Karlson’s ‘Walking Tall’ (1973). It turned out to be a career-defining role for him. The film was an unexpected success, both critically and commercially, owing to Baker’s remarkable portrayal of the character. Made on a small budget of $500,000, the film ended up making $23 million.
- Continuing his stint with hits, he delivered yet another memorable performance in ‘Charley Varrick’ (1973). The film failed at the box office even though it received positive reviews from critics. It was hailed as a film that was “ahead of its time.”
- 1973 became one of the best years of Baker’s professional life. His third successful movie of the year was a gripping action–drama named ‘The Outfit,’ in which he played the lead role, ‘Jack Cody,’ a felon seeking revenge for his brother’s murder.
- Considering the record of his successful movies in the early 1970s, it was assumed that Baker was on his way to the top of his career. However, things went astray for him with a slew of unsuccessful films, such as ‘Golden Needles’ (1974), ‘Speedtrap’ (1977), ‘The Shadow of Chikara’ (1977), and ‘The Pack’ (1977).
- Due to his remarkable performance in ‘Walking Tall,’ Baker was cast in ‘NBC’s ‘To Kill a Cop’ in 1978 and the crime-drama series ‘Eischied’ (1979–1980), regardless of his other failures.
- During the early 1980s, he diversified his career by playing lead roles in the comedy movies ‘Wacko’ and ‘Joysticks’ and the sports drama ‘The Natural’ (1984).
- In 1985, he appeared in one of British TV’s masterpieces, ‘BBC's ‘Edge of Darkness,’ which ushered Baker into the realm of European film and TV. He received a ‘BAFTA’ nomination for the ‘Best Actor’ for his performance in the series. Describing his experience in an interview, he said, “It was a great part, a great script, great actors and a great director, Martin Campbell.”
- His performance in ‘Edge of Darkness’ drew a lot of offers from British movies and TV shows. Baker found his foothold in one of the most celebrated British movie series, the ‘James Bond’ franchise, with Timothy Dalton’s ‘The Living Daylights’ (1987). He appeared in two more ‘Bond’ movies: ‘Golden Eye’ (1995) and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ (1997).
- In the 1990s, Baker mostly appeared in supporting roles on the big screen, with movies such as ‘Cape Fear,’ ‘The Distinguished Gentleman,’ ‘Underneath,’ and ‘Congo.’ His more recent works include ‘The Cleaner’ (2009). He appeared as ‘Major Larry Duren’ in one of its episodes, ‘Last American Causality.’ He also appeared in ‘Strange Wilderness’ (2008) and ‘Mud’ (2012).
- He served as a production manager for the 1980 TV movie ‘Power.’
- Joe Don Baker married his long-time girlfriend, Maria Dolores Rivero-Torres, on December 25, 1969. Their marriage lasted for almost 10 years, before they parted ways and divorced in 1980. He has managed to keep his personal affairs away from the media ever since. It is unclear whether Baker has any children.
- Baker is a self-confessed fan of actors Robert Mitchum and Spencer Tracy.
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