Mar 28, 2017
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Diane Baker: Creating Films, Schools, and Communities
by Doniphan Blair
Diane Baker, dedicated to both film and life adventure, now heads the Academy of Art film school, the largest in the Bay Area. photo: CineSource
Growing up in Hollywood, Diane Baker took naturally to her local art form, not just becoming a star and dating royalty, but evolving into a world cinema traveller and then a producer, of docs, features and TV, and now a film school director, with ever more ambitious goals for filmmakers, both north and south
There's long been an argument around film schools and departments - of which there are two dozen in the Bay Area - concerning arts and crafts, transcendentalism and trade, or north and south (California), meaning indie vs. Hollywood. The sides are symbolized by the San Francisco Art Institute and the Academy of Art. In 1929, while the former had just turned 60 and moved into its deluxe digs in North Beach, the latter had just been started in a small loft downtown by the commercial artist/painter Richard Stephens.
But institutions evolve, and filmmaking is about a working relationship between those two sides. To counsel that marriage, few are better equipped than Diane Baker, the motion picture department dean of the Academy of Art (now University, or AAU), who came on board in 2004. A producer of movies, television and documentaries, as well as a committed community and political activist, and a rather wild adventurer - not to mention a stellar Hollywood actress - Baker has a deep understanding of California's north-south dilemma. Indeed, she's a cinema elder who worked in the studio system before it dissipated in the late '60s due to mismanagement and a cascade of indies (like "The Graduate," 1967, which tells a similar tale: it starts in LA and ends in Berkeley).
The Academy of Art has been spectacularly successful over the years and has expanded immensely. If you stroll San Francisco's South of Mission downtown, you'll notice all these kids running between classes or having coffee and the AAU signage everywhere - making it seem the entire area has become one big film/art school. Indeed, AAU has 32 buildings and is one of The City's largest real estate holders. Expansion has brought fresh curricula, the formation of 16 separate departments, excellent teachers, and over 16,000 students, albeit some online. With about 1,800 on-site students in its Motion Pictures and Television department, and 1,100 more in the animation division, AAU is one of largest film schools in the United States, if not the world. And some of the students are quite fascinating, from Milan (she uses only one name), who is pursuing an art 16mm film track (see p18), to Christian Ospelt, who is going the more Hollywood route (see Academy Student Screens, p34).
To guide the likes of Milan and Christian along the dragon-lined path to cine success, you couldn't conjure a more noble knight errant than Ms. Baker. When you hang out with her, as I did recently, you notice she's always on the move: as an administrator (who readily stops to chat with students or give a hug); as a teacher (who puts in long days leading production classes); as an ad hoc southland employment agency (who's constantly contacting LA friends to place indigent AAU-ers); as a festival application filler-outer (she just got Ospelt's smart short into Palm Springs); as a Hollywood figure (who's obliged to attend various functions, like an "autograph show" on a recent weekend); and, last but not least, as a devoted supporter of the film community, indeed an activist - both north and south. Community is her watchword. In fact, she dreams of creating what she calls a "filmmaker's laboratory."
For filmmakers, finding a balance between high art and cold cash is not just a nice idea, it's the law. Films don't fly without one wing of gold and the other of dream. Sure, there are art features (and Baker has starred in some, alongside LA indie John Cassavetes), and personal films (which Baker also applauds) but they still need some financing. The entertainment industry is, well, an industry, and Hollywood is its international center. Despite the homogenizing effect of having to sell the same item from Albania to Australia, can a brilliant art-commerce accord be achieved? Diane Baker thinks so.
Speaking of Islamic Albania, Baker may even tackle the East-West divide. She was recently asked to help set up acting/film schools in Jordan and Afghanistan. (Kabul's resurgent film community, led by the Makhmalbaf family, could certainly use a talented advocate like Baker.) So how did she get from young starlet to multi-talented professional?
"I learned about filmmaking while doing it," Baker explained, when I dropped by her AAU office. "I didn't wait for them to give me approval. I was an actress, so I knew they wouldn't greenlight me [as a director]." As she relaxed into life review mode, the stories started spilling out. We had to work fast since we had only an hour and change before her race to the airport for her weekend commute south. (Baker lives on Mulholland Drive, down the street from Gore Vidal.)
Diane Debuted at 21 as the sister Margot in the 'Diary of Anne Frank.' photo: courtesy D. Baker
Born in Hollywood, with chutzpah and brains as well as beauty, Baker moved to New York in her late teens to study acting with Charles Conrad and dance with Nina Fonaroff. Her first film role was as Margot, Anne's sister, in 20th Century-Fox's "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1959, see photo, right), which was directed by the great George Stevens of "Shane" (1953) and "Giant" (1956) fame. "He was love of my life - platonic, of course. He didn't have to tell me much. I just understood. It was a miracle I got him for my first film." "Diary" was Hollywood's first Holocaust film and it brought Baker an early understanding of Jewish issues as well as into the media eye in that regard (Frank's father, Otto, said she reminded him of his daughter).
Baker proceeded to appear in dozens of films and garner great notices, notably for her work in "Diary," in "The Best of Everything" (1959), as the seemingly normal daughter of Joan Crawford's axe murderess in "Straitjacket" (1963), and in "Marnie" (1964), a Hitchcock film with Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren, who remains a friend. By that time, she had briefly dated King Hussein of Jordan, and had begun travelling, starting with Greece, to make "300 Spartans"(1962, see photo p35).
"It was my first trip abroad, a glorious adventure, got to meet wonderful people with whom I've stayed friends all these years. The Brits on the crew were a bit arrogant and drank too much but there was the brilliant cinematographer, Geoffrey Unsworth - he shot 'Cabaret' (1972) - and the script girl, who became his wife. We got into Greece."
Somewhere along the line, she decided there was no adventure she couldn't handle, filmically, politically, or just wandering around the location, which caused consternation among her directors. "The crew would have to come find me. I did not consider myself wild or adventurous - was rather shy, in fact - but I always had an interest in other cultures and a strong feeling for those less fortunate."
Baker and Hari Harro who did the sitar music on the doc 'Ashiana,' Baker's first self-production. photo courtesy D. Baker
A seminal moment occurred in India, in 1962, while making "Nine Hours To Rama" with some more Brits (director Mark Robson). "I was eating near the Taj Mahal and some poor people were circling around, closer and closer - I got crazed! I started handing out money on a corner and people were grabbing it, starting to scratch me, grab me. Suddenly, there was a guy on a bike with a club foot. He shoved them away and got me back to the hotel where he got some alcohol and swabbed my arm - a very sweet man, worked for Singer Sewing Machines. We became friends, even went to see a movie together. These things went like a hot poker to my soul. India was a huge emotional experience for me. I cried for weeks after I got back - had to wear dark glasses to cover it. It made me deeply aware of the world."
Baker would go native, essentially, often moving out of her hotel room to live with a family, sometimes in fairly funky conditions, simply because she enjoyed the life so much. "I wore saris and sandals. Back in London, a taxi driver started yelling, 'Why don't you go back to your country?' My Indian friends in London were thrilled. They thought I was backing them up. Back in the States, I became a Grecophile and Indiophile. I learned Greek dancing and how to cook. I still eat Indian and Greek."
Blessed by an even temper and a sunny personality, Baker was soon back in the saddle. Hollywood is famously fickle and tough, even dangerous, especially for a young woman, as Marilyn Monroe tragically dramatized with her death right around that time (August 5, 1962). But Baker was literally at home with full emotional support from her friends in the business as well as her parents and her beloved younger sisters, Patti and Sheri.
Baker's dad, Clyde, was a USC sports scholarship student (i.e. jock) and loving and generous (another secret to any beautiful woman's psychological success). He had a car dealership, so "Since I was 16, I always had something to drive." Later, he worked for Baker, helping with her bookkeeping and budgeting, "making sure I was not spending too much, which I was so grateful for. I know people who gave their funds to these so-called business managers and ended up losing everything."
"Mom (Dorothy) was stunning," Baker recalled. "She would have loved to have become an actress herself. She even did some 'extra' work with the Marx Brothers. I can imagine her sitting on a Marx brother's knee, turning heads all around - but my dad got jealous and said, 'No more of that.'"
Oscar-Winning Actor Melvyn Douglas, who lived nearby (Baker played with his daughters), was her mentor and inspiration, along with his wife Congresswoman Helen Douglas.
Baker dodged the bullet of Hollywood pretension by getting to know the artists that lived, literally, all around her. "It was never a conflict," she said, with a smile. "I simply stayed out of the falsity of it. I was surrounded by serious people, like Melvyn and Helen Gahagan Douglas, whose daughters I played with." Douglas was an Oscar-winning actor, with a large filmography ranging from 'Hud' (1963) to 'Being There' (1979), and Helen was a three-term congresswoman (their granddaughter is Illeana Douglas).
"I was inspired by them; they introduced me to classical music; they were serious political people. I would visit Melvyn on the set, like of 'The Americanization of Emily.'" Progressive, star-studded and a hit, "Americanization" was penned by "new realism" pioneer Paddy Chayefsky. The Douglases and Chayefsky were part of the Hollywood Left, the main object of the '50s Red witch hunt, one of the darkest chapters in American history, which was led by Richard Nixon as well as Joseph McCarthy. In fact, Helen Douglas ran against Nixon for the Senate in 1950. He pulled a "dirty-trick," impugning her vote on a minor bill with a massive pink mail out that tagged her as the "Pink Lady."
"It was the most ludicrous thing," Baker said. "I remember being in social studies at Van Nuys junior high. I begged the teacher to let me out to call and say, 'I'm so sorry.' Helen just gave me the best words of advice. 'You go back to class and always remember one thing: Do your best, it's all you can do.'"
Across the street, in two different apartments, lived Jerome (or Jerry as she calls him) Lawrence (with whom she became a regular friend in adulthood) and his writing partner Robert Lee. They wrote many famous scripts, including the play "Inherit the Wind" (1955) about the notorious teaching-of-Darwin Scopes Monkey Trial" (which became a TV moving starring Melvyn Douglas), and "Mame" (1966), the beloved musical about a bohemian whose motto is "Life is a banquet and most suckers are starving to death."
"I never got into drugs or that side of Hollywood," Baker told me. "Early on, I hung out with a couple of guys who did. I'm sitting in my dressing room at the studio and they're smoking pot on both sides of me. I just said, 'No, not interested.'"
"What do you think of Dennis Hopper?" I wondered.
"We used to hang out, you know, a group of us, run around together, that's all. He's an icon. He stretched the limits, but his personality was such ... that's who he was. His individuality actually was his success. He was always with a camera at that time. He took photographs of all of us and [later] did a book. I'm in it. He had some tough times there [in the biz] but it finally came around."
"In those days, we had studios running things. I was over at MGM one time, and Bill Tuttle was doing my makeup for 'The Prize' [1963, starring Paul Newman]. I thought I could do it better, so I started penciling my eyes. He showed me that was the worst thing I could do - taught me a huge lesson. The studio professionals were where I learned everything. I was always on a set, watching Orson Welles or Joanne Woodward or Paul Newman. The directors let me watch. Marty Ritt ['The Sound and the Fury,' 1959, 'Hud' 1963] said, 'Come on in and watch this scene.' Frank Tashlin, a comedy director [four Jerry Lewis films], Debbie Reynolds - they were all around."
Baker was also all over the television set: "Dr. Kildare," "Bonanza," Mission Impossible," a television version of "Inherit the Wind," and many more - even as David Janssen's girlfriend in the grand finale of "The Fugitive" (1967), the most-viewed show to that date.
Impassioned about Justice and Film: We can only imagine what Baker is saying at a friends house in Malibu in the 1970s. photo courtesy D. Baker
Baker was a starlet that didn't become a superstar, perhaps lacking the megalomania that required, hence, doesn't have a star on Hollywood Boulevard, although friends are starting the lobbying process. As natural innovator and risk taker, she began looking for the next leg in her journey, when her ingénue phase timed out. She began producing, starting in India, using leftover stock donated from Louis Malle's famed doc "Phantom India" (1970), no less. Baker was introduced to Shama Habibullah by Melvyn Douglas (he served in India during WWII), who was from northern India and suggested they make a documentary in a village there. "Ashiana" ("The Nest," 1972) was about a Muslim family separated by the Pakistan-India partition.
"Basically, it was a wonderful family split in two," Baker recalled. "Shama directed and Govind Nihilani, a great visual artist, shot. Back in LA, I hired an editor, Gary Rocklin,
and we spent eight months in a studio on Santa Monica editing it. It showed on PBS: a poetic 23 minutes with no narration. That was a big deal for me - the beginning of becoming a producer." "Ashiana" won the Special Jury Award at the Atlanta Film Festival in 1971. Baker was now a film creator: sometimes also writing the material, sometimes starring in it, sometimes only producing, and part of the first generation of women to do those jobs.
There was "Portrait of Grandpa Doc" (1977), starring Melvyn and directed by Randal Kleiser, who did "Grease" the following year (biggest grossing musical ever). Produced for $45,000, the movie sold to ABC for double. "I got so excited, I got hold of my friend Harry Winer, and said 'You want to direct a film?' 'That's what I went to film school for,' he said."
"We did 'One of a Kind' , which we shot at the Santa Monica Pier. We found a group of kids, did it non-union; I acted. I still have a very poor copy. It's a really lovely film, about a Punch and Judy puppet show, won awards all over the place - like the "Child Movie of the Year" at Milan. We made it for $80,000, sold it to ABC for about $200,000." Winer went on to direct TV shows like "Veronica Mars" and "Alias."
Other producing projects of note include the English film "Never Never Land" (1982) starring Petula Clark, who only acted - didn't sing (she remains a friend and has offered to do a concert fundraiser for the Academy). Then there was 1985 miniseries "A Woman of Substance," for which she enticed Deborah Kerr out of retirement. "That was a major achievement because I went it alone, went to the U.K. and raised the final funds. It was the start of my independent company, Baker Street Entertainment."
Meanwhile she continued to dominate smaller roles: the senator and mother of a victim in "Silence of the Lambs" (1991) - "Love your suit," Hannibal Lecter/Anthony Hopkins leered - and the pompous lawyer in the comedic "A Mighty Wind" (2003). Such a diverse career makes Baker not only a great teacher and school director but a peacemaker between the diverse departments of California's film business, which ranges from DIY-ers to ad agencies, as well as the north-south indie-Hollywood camps.
"The studio did help create community. I brought this up recently to some big names. We should go back to a studio system of some sort. You could get singing, dancing, and acting lessons. You weren't constantly panicking, because you'd be getting small parts, then you'd get a bigger part. They provided a sense of stability. Nowadays, you can be a hit today and be on the streets tomorrow - and never get a chance to make another movie. Except for the character actors, they end up being used. But even [Robert] Duvall, he gets all those great character roles, but he can't easily get his own movie." (Duvall, 80, has a promising project to be directed by Billy Bob Thorton.)
"The Cinematographers Guild, the ASC in Hollywood, is one of the great community organizations. DPs have meetings, share information, friendships. My dear friend, William Fraker, who passed away recently ['Rosemary's Baby'(1968), 'Bullitt' (1968), etc.], loved those meetings - wouldn't miss one unless he was working. They are the thread that holds us together. I invited Billy to our school to receive an honorary doctorate. He was so grateful. The students and faculty loved being in his presence - and he certainly had one! Later, he convinced Technicolor to offer an award to the best cinematographer at our Epidemic Film Festival. They receive two weeks training at Technicolor, funds to live on, and full processing on their next film - a pretty great gift!"
"That kind of humanity, I think, is vital. If I can bring talented students together with old-timers, bring them into the system ... not just father to son. It's usually passed down, you know, like with Bruce Surtees [son of cinematographer Robert Surtees]. We have to bring new blood into the industry. An avant-garde filmmaker who's paid his dues should have every right."
"Johnny Cassavetes, for example. Originality is so important: you can't make yourself original, you just are or you are not. That is how Dennis was, and Johnny. They had the courage of their convictions. But the system wants to pigeon-hole you. The studio owners don't appreciate something new, something they can't bank on. If you take risk, they throw you out. It's sad."
300 Spartans (1962) was a great Cinemascope spectacle shot in Greece with the assistance of the Greek government but it also was directed by the great Polish Hungarian Rudolph Maté, who worked with Carl Dreyer, and it launched the overseas career and cultural adventures of Diane Baker. photo courtesy D. Baker
"Johnny was very protective of us actors. He would say, 'Don't shoot,' when the men in dark suits showed up - he didn't like their interference. I came into the commissary one time and got on my hands and knees and told him, 'You're the best.' Peter Falk was there. That was on 'Free of Charge' . He starred, I co-starred, Lee Pogostin wrote and directed. It was one of Lee's first films but Johnny was the guide. Johnny created a whole generation of filmmakers. He was so creative and I had the luck to work with him. I'm trying to think, who still works like that? I guess only Rob Nilsson over in Berkeley. I think the underground filmmaker can prevail if there is some thought behind it - not a complete disregard for all rules."
"I want to have a place where people can meet and talk and show films. I am going to try to get a little support from the studios, perhaps in a historic building - I'm going to go scouting. Right now, the university is the only place where they bring in guests. USC does it; we [at AAU] do it. I want to bring back the past to fit the present. We have to raise up the younger generation."
"I think Oakland is doing a very good job; Berkeley with the Saul Zaentz Screening Room; it feels like there's something creative being generated over there - more then here - even though there's this great Lucas building in the Presidio. Somehow, I feel he is not involved. It is not an easy place to feel community. The [San Francisco] Film Society is trying and succeeding, but I still would still like to have a place were people could gather and feel comfortable, a laboratory. True filmmakers want to bring in the young people and teach them. It's a cycle: You get there, you give back."
"Who can get into USC any more? You either buy your way in or you need a five point average. That is why I love the Academy. They have financial aid. We can see who comes to the top, who has the passion. I want to see other people get breaks. We owe it to them. Why are we taking all this money from all these students if we can't help them find an industry job? I'm getting calls every week from students in LA who just graduated. Five or six, living in a small house."
"Last week, I got a call: 'Diane, I've been here three months and I can't even get a job as a waiter!' So I get on my computer, email a director I know, who emails another a guy, who's a production manager on this film and, in one hour, the boy is a PA [production assistant]," she says, smiling, obviously gratified by coaxing her charges a step forward on the cinema road. But then she sighs, "This is a full-time activity."
"It's all a part of what community means. You help each other. It's automatic. We can't live in ivory towers. Being a part of a community is so important. We learn to trust, to make lasting friendships, then that becomes the norm."
"It goes to politics as well," Baker says, suddenly switching gears. " I heard [Benjamin] Netanyahu [the Israeli Prime Minster] on TV the other night. I applauded that he said 'Look, we don't want to fight the Palestinians; we want them to have a state; we want to work side by side with them.' Can you imagine how powerful it would be if we can communicate and offer our goods to one another and create an economy? It could be the beginning of stopping war in the Middle East. We've got to do it!"
"You have a connection to the Middle East, right?" I asked.
"When I first started acting, I was on the lot at Fox as a contract player, and who should come to visit - on a royal visit - King Hussein of Jordan! He was twenty-some years old, and I was 19. We walked and talked on the back lot and he invited me out. So I went. I'll never forget. He was driving alone with me, but he had the Secret Service [following him]. Every time we made a turn, I'd look back and there was this stream of cars. We became very close friends. I read aloud some of my poetry - I wrote a lot back then. He shared some of his beliefs - he wanted peace. I was so taken by him. I happened to do a film not far away and was invited to Jordan but I never made it. We never saw each other after that. It was just innocent, simple, sweet ... we were young."
"During that same period, I also met the future young King Constantine, who was at the studios invited by [Spyros] Skouras [head of Fox, 1942-62]. Skouras wanted to make a film in his own country, so I was off to Greece! ['300 Spartans'] I was on this journey of discovery: new lands, new cultures - which I joyfully joined the minute I got off the plane! I have always felt comfortable meeting people who are different culturally." And it would continue for years: as well as India, there was Spain, Algiers, France, Israel, back to Greece - many times, to visit friends she made during the first shoot. She even got involved in the politics of Greece during the dictatorship in the late '60s.
"I had no fear. I just wanted justice. That's what it's always been about for me - helping the underdog. I spend have my whole life in state of shock over people's behavior. I got that from Helen and Melvyn [Douglas]. When he got angry, he would hit the table. When I got to New York, my voice teacher said, 'You will never play Antigone, you don't have the dynamic depth.' I told this to Melvyn [who moved there after getting fed up with Hollywood]. He was in the kitchen grilling a chicken. When he heard what my teacher said - he introduced me to her - he slammed the pan down so hard the fat came flying out! 'How dare she say you can't get those parts?!? You've to go for number one!' It's called spontaneous emotional reaction. I got that from Melvyn in the arts and from Helen in politics. Even when she was dying, Helen was furious about something President Carter did and insisted I send a telegram to him for her. What was right and what was wrong - it was very quick for them."
Flash forward to today, and Baker has just heard from King Abdullah II of Jordan, her momentary beaux's son, about his interest in starting an acting program. She received a similar request from Afghanistan.
"This follows what our university is trying to do," Baker explains. "I may have been put on this earth to do some good by connecting ... students, teachers, groups, even countries. We should be connecting: to the Middle East, to Serbia, to countries that have been devastated by war. For the young people, to give them a chance."
"I met the Crown Princess of Serbia, Katherine, when she came to visit the school. She wanted to create a film program in Belgrade that would resemble what we do at the Academy. 'Would you come and help us?' she asked me. I laughed because Dr. Stephens [the Academy president] was standing right there and she wouldn't be to eager to send me off to Belgrade. But I think that is a role that our university is going to play."
"We have so many international students from so many countries. They all come to study film, animation, fashion [AAU is the only school outside NY that shows in NY Fashion Week]. It behooves us to partner with these cultures and learn from them, as they learn from us. I haven't decided anything yet and can't speak any further [about going to the Middle East]. My plan had been to go in the fall, but I may postpone 'til next year."
Baker has already been to Afghanistan as a board member of the San Rafael-based Roots of Peace, whose founder/director is Heidi Kuhns. "Heidi and her husband Gary are spearheading work in many countries, clearing landmines and replanting, doing amazing work. I travelled with them to Croatia and Afghanistan and filmed two documentaries." Kuhns introduced her to the Afghan Ambassador Said T. Jawad and his wife, Shamin.
"I spoke at the Bayat Foundation last June [a two-day session with NGOs, Afghan Parliamentarians, etc]. I said, 'I've been sitting here listening to all of you talk, and I haven't heard one thing about music or art.' Shamim [Jawad] said, 'Yes, we should have talked about this. It's key.' One woman, who has been researching Afghan music, is putting out a book for young people, so they have a history of their own music. Later, the Ambassador asked if I would help start a film school."
Then there is Horace Shansab, an Afghan kid, who immigrated his parents to West Virginia, became a cinematographer/director, and did "Zolykha's Secret," a feature about a family under the Taliban. He sent Baker his new script. "It is about an American woman who has to go back and look for a family member. I would love to do it, nothing would be more exciting, but then I don't know about the state Afghanistan is in right now. When I went, we stayed at the main hotel [in Kabul], the Serena. It's all guarded, huge security, soldiers with guns. We were afraid to move."
But this is nothing new for Baker. While shooting a film in Israel, "Sands of Beersheba" (1964) directed by Alexander Ramati and starring Tom Bell, she was invited by the young Arab interpreter and production consultant to visit his village on the Lebanese border.
"When we passed by the border patrols with their rifles, I remember dropping down to hide. The taxi dropped us off on a dirt road. I had a small overnight bag and we walked up a stony path to his home, inside a stone enclosure. No electricity, no toilet, only a large mud room with glassless windows. I was given the mayor's meeting room, to sleep on a small cot, with a curtain separating me from the men who gathered there. I watched them drag a lamb dripping with blood across the courtyard. How can I explain it? That food was the best I've ever tasted!"
"It's astonishing when I think back - I was totally trusting and unafraid. I actually argued with the man's brother about his anger towards his Jewish neighbors. I kept saying, 'If you're so unhappy, why don't you cross the border and live in Lebanon or Syria?' His eyes flashed as he fired back, 'Why should I, this is my country, too!' That was the first time I ever heard the other point of view. I was trying to reach an angry human being. It was like talking to a wall, yet there was truth to what he was saying." Ramati, panicked he would lose his star and then his entire movie, finally located her and brought her back to the set.
"Everyone has their own side to the story, whatever the story, that much I've learned. I keep telling my students: 'Make your films personal, personal films, about who you are and where you come from, but also try to see some positive way to resolve differences.' There are so many things that bind us together and show us: we are basically very similar. I am an optimist - always have been - but I do get angry when people don't take responsibility for their actions and don't want to earn their way."
"I almost got into real hot water - seriously - during the late sixties in Athens and then back home, when I went on talk shows and talked about what was happening. The Junta was a dictatorship - cruel and inhuman, as they all are. My actor friends in the National Theater left the theater in protest over government censorship of the ancient Greek plays! I met people under house arrest, saw where their doors were smashed in. The secret police watched our every move."
"I wasn't bothered, only when I returned to LA. I was on the Universal lot, having lunch at the commissary, when a Greek script supervisor came and said, 'You should stop doing interviews about Greece.' It was a warning I did not heed. I went back to Athens and did a few interviews just after the fall of the dictatorship - we were celebrating in the great amphitheater in Athens."
"In so many countries, someone has lost a family member, a friend. In Croatia, we drove to Vukavar [site of Serbia's brutal opening attack, 1991] and had a meal with a Serbian family who saved Croats in their basement. All sides seem equal when it comes to the loss of lives, dreams crushed, families destroyed. Why war? Why is it somehow so appealing, when it is so painful? It's such a complex subject - it will keep us busy for years."
"I deal with some of these issues with my actors: to get them to dig deeper for a better understanding of their material. Many have never experienced any of this, so they need to do a lot of work to represent a broken or a hungry person."
We were running out of time and I had to get to Baker's final analysis of the North-South California cinema situation. I asked Baker, "Aside from being a one-woman cultural ambassador, how about that other big divide? Do you ever feel like you're a diplomat between LA and San Francisco?
"I'm doing that all the time. In the middle of the budget meeting today, I went over to Elisa [Dr. Stephens] and whispered, 'Do you know the difference between sound design and postproduction supervisor?' We're looking for one, so we probably don't want the other. Also - you might be happy to hear, at the same budget meeting - we're sticking with [16mm film] Bolexes for our beginning classes."
"I think people love leaving LA and coming to San Francisco for location shooting. I worked on 'Streets of San Francisco' , playing Karl Malden's love interest. We filmed in the Opera House. It was great. I came up for 'The Joy Luck Club' , and for a CBS movie with Richard Crenna - we used the wine country. Why not more series in San Francisco? It's an exciting place!"
"You have such opportunities in Northern California," Baker says. "Everywhere, Sonoma, Napa, Marin - Kerner, which Lucas built - there are colleges and theater communities that are really good. There are a lot of creative people: directors, actors, writers, etc. I wonder why some of them don't insist on helping to create a film center. It should be a -"
"Diane," interrupted Megan Strauss, Baker's indefatigable assistant, "The car is here."
"Oh my god! Yes, we're out of time. Megan, dear, did you find that voice recorder -"
"Yes, it's in your bag." And with that, Diane was moving, walking down the stairs at the AAU's large building on Townsend (a bit afield from their Mission and Second center, but they have an internal bus system to ferry students around). We continued our conversation, even as Baker stops to remind a student about an upcoming class shoot. "I find life is a circle: every move has a consequence, and our actions come back around at some point in our lives. What we put into living is what we get out of it. We have a lot more to discuss, but -" with hug and a wave Diane Baker was off to the south.
Her adventure continues.
Posted on Aug 13, 2010 - 03:36 AM