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    The Best of Baker

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Diane Baker, turning 78 today, was born and raised in Hollywood and entered movies toward the end of the studio system of contract players whose careers would be shaped from project to project. While still active as an actress and producer, she also serves as Executive Director of the Motion Pictures, Television & Acting program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, where she devotedly shares the expertise she’s developed across 50 years in show business. Her vast résumé includes work with directors Alfred Hitchcock (Marnie), Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), Mark Robson (Nine Hours to Rama and The Prize), Edward Dmytryk (Mirage), Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) and Christopher Guest (A Mighty Wind). Perhaps most fondly remembered are her three first screen performances as an ingénue at Twentieth Century Fox which unfolded on theatre screens in her debut year of 1959: The Diary of Anne Frank, playing the title character’s sister Margot under the direction of the masterful George Stevens; and two equally polished and popular Cinemascope productions that are available on shimmering Twilight Time hi-def Blu-rays, The Best of Everything, directed by Jean Negulesco from Rona Jaffe’s best-seller about young Manhattan career women, and Journey to the Center of the Earth, a wonderful and influential adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic directed by Henry Levin. As The Best of Everything’s April Morrison, Baker registers as perhaps the most poignant of a trio of publishing company assistants (the others played by Hope Lange and Suzy Parker) struggling to balance their work and love lives in the big-city bustle. Her naïve optimism leads to a risky romantic choice and a traumatic accident that sadly but finally sets her life on a better course. Her sweet-faced Jenny Lindenbrook in Journey to the Center of the Earth has a more promising and stable love interest, the resourceful and reliable Alec McEwan (Pat Boone), the student of her geologist uncle (James Mason), but these two men in her life have no idea what dangers they’ll face when they journey to Iceland for a hastily-mounted expedition to the earth’s interior. Being a perilous but ultimately family-friendly adventure, all ends well despite more close calls with treacherous assassins, giant reptiles, molten lava and other dangers that anyone has a right to survive. Baker herself has survived in fine fettle through dozens of memorable TV appearances in the top dramas and comedies of the past four decades, producing the charming film Never Never Land and the cherished miniseries of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance, and appearing at last year’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival with co-star Millie Perkins for a screening of The Diary of Anne Frank. Her priceless memories and unfailing good humor can be experienced in the TT Audio Commentary of Journey to the Center of the Earth. The best of birthday wishes is most deserved.