Joe Don Baker



Birth Place
Groesback, Texas, USA
February 12, 1936


An imposing, Texas-born character actor and occasional lead who specialized in hardboiled types on either side of the moral fence, Joe Don Baker rose to fame as crime-smashing sheriff Buford Pusser in the blockbuster "Walking Tall" (1971) and enjoyed a three-decade career in its wake that included the BBC miniseries "Edge of Darkness" (1986), Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear" (1991) and thre...

Family & Companions

Maria Dolores Rivero-Torres
Married on December 25, 1969; divorced.


"Looking at my career, it seems that the good guys make more money, but the bad guys have all the fun. I guess you try to do a little of both." --Joe Don Baker quoted in the press material for "Getting Even" (1986)


An imposing, Texas-born character actor and occasional lead who specialized in hardboiled types on either side of the moral fence, Joe Don Baker rose to fame as crime-smashing sheriff Buford Pusser in the blockbuster "Walking Tall" (1971) and enjoyed a three-decade career in its wake that included the BBC miniseries "Edge of Darkness" (1986), Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear" (1991) and three appearances in the James Bond franchise, including "The Living Daylights" (1987). He began on Broadway and headed West in the mid-1960s, where he labored as hoods on episodic television. "Walking Tall," based on the tragic and violent life of a Tennessee lawman, made him a star, but he struggled to maintain a career as a leading man throughout the 1970s. He stepped back into character parts in the 1980s and 1990s, where he enjoyed steady and critically praised work, most notably in the TV biopic "Wallace" (TNT, 1997). Throughout his lengthy tenure on screen, he maintained an air of authentic toughness that made him a favorite among a wide variety of viewers.

Born Feb. 12, 1936 in Groesbeck, TX, he became interested in acting while a student at North State Texas College, later known as the University of North Texas. A role in a student play convinced him that he could make a living as an actor, so after completing a stint in the U.S. Army, he headed for New York City to study at the famed Actors Studio. In 1963, he made his Broadway debut in "Marathon '33," a play written and directed by actress June Havoc about her experiences with the infamous dance marathons that took place during the Great Depression. The following year, Baker was directed by Burgess Meredith in "Blues for Mr. Charlie," a drama about the murder of Emmett Till, then lit out for Los Angeles for a production of "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial" for director Henry Fonda at the Ahmanson Theatre.

While in Hollywood, Baker took guest roles in television series, beginning in 1965 with "Honey West" (ABC, 1965-66). His first feature film appearance was an uncredited turn in "Cool Hand Luke" (1967). Powerfully built and sporting an authentic Texas drawl and a grin that could curl into a slit-eyed sneer, Baker was frequently cast during this period as Southern heels, most notably as the maimed, bile-spewing Confederate sharpshooter who joined George Kennedy's mercenaries in "Guns of the Magnificent Seven" (1969). Less frequent, but no less capably played, were sympathetic roles, like his power company worker who befriends Michael Douglas' rootless college professor while struggling to endure his dead-end life in "Adam at 6 A.M." (1970).

Baker's career began to gain traction in the early 1970s; he and Tom Skerritt played the competitive sons of rancher Karl Malden, who seek to gain his approval by bringing in bank robbers Ryan O'Neal and William Holden in "The Wild Rovers" (1971), and though billed under Telly Savalas, Martin Sheen and Sally Field, his steely professional killer was the real star of the gritty TV movie "Mongo's Back in Town" (CBS, 1971). His big break came a year later with Sam Peckinpah's "Junior Bonner" (1972) as faded rodeo star Steven McQueen's business-minded brother, who creates a rift between them by bulldozing the family home to make way for property development. Attention-garnering appearances like these paved the way for Baker's career-defining role in "Walking Tall."

As real-life Southern sheriff Buford Pusser, who fought against crime in his small town through unorthodox means - namely, a large wooden stick - Baker's ability to play both the physical side of the role as well as its emotional requirements lent a degree of verisimilitude to the film's ultra-violent, B-movie plotline. Savvy marketing by its distributor as a stand-up-and-cheer story of American justice made the low-budget film a $23 million hit with moviegoers, which in turn placed Baker in the spotlight for the first time in his near-decade-long career. Like many character actors who suddenly find themselves thrust into leading man status, he found it difficult to land parts that fit his particular talents.

Baker opted out of reprising the role of Buford Pusser in the two "Walking Tall" sequels: "Walking Tall, Part 2" (1975) and "Walking Tall: The Final Chapter" (1977), both of which made a star out of another unlikely lead, Bo Svenson. He then returned to supporting roles in his next two pictures. In "Charley Varrick" (1973), he essayed one of his most memorable characters, the sadistic Mob hitman Molly, in Don Siegel's extraordinary post-noir thriller "Charley Varrick" (1973) then lent his muscle to Robert Duvall's revenge-seeking ex-con in "The Outfit" (1973). He next settled into lead status for a string of misfires, beginning with 1975's "Framed," which reunited him with "Walking Tall" director Phil Karlson and screenwriter Mort Briskin. The violent revenge drama did not find the same audience as its predecessor, and set the tone for most of Baker's subsequent output for the decade. Action pictures like "Golden Needles" (1974) and "Speedtrap" (1977) and oddball efforts like the supernatural Civil War thriller "The Shadow of Chikara" (1977) or "The Pack" (1977), with Baker as a biologist pitted against wild dogs, vanished without a trace.

The enduring popularity of "Walking Tall" made sure that Baker was still receiving offers for starring roles in the late '70s and early 1980s. The 1978 miniseries "To Kill a Cop" (NBC), which cast him as a tough Southern sheriff transplanted to New York, led to the weekly series "Eischied" (NBC, 1979-1980), and he enjoyed one of his best roles of the decade in "Power" (NBC, 1980), a historical drama about a labor leader based loosely on Jimmy Hoffa. But by the midpoint of the decade, the fifty-something Baker settled back into character parts; unsurprisingly, he enjoyed something of a career rebound as a result.

Barry Levinson cast him as the Babe Ruth-esque "Whammer," who suffers the indignity of three strikeouts from Robert Redford's hero in the making in "The Natural" (1984), then enjoyed one of his best roles in the 1986 U.K. thriller "Edge of Darkness" (BBC2, 1985) as an eccentric CIA operative who aids a police officer (Bob Peck) in uncovering a government plot that led to the death of his daughter. Baker was reportedly so pleased with the script that he lowered his standard rate to play the role, which earned him a 1986 BAFTA nomination.

In 1987, Baker was the chief villain in "The Living Daylights," which marked Timothy Dalton's debut as James Bond. Baker's Brad Whitaker was a failed American general who turns to arms dealing in an attempt to mark his own place in military history. After its release, he appeared in two subsequent Bond films - 1995's "GoldenEye," which was Pierce Brosnan's first turn as 007 and "Edge of Darkness" director Martin Campbell's debut as a Bond director, and "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997). In both films, he played a completely separate character than Whitaker - he was Jack Wade, Bond's CIA contact. The three films made Baker only one of two actors - the other being British thesp Charles Gray - who played different non-recurring roles in more than one Bond movie.

Between assignments with James Bond, Baker remained remarkably busy in features and television. He briefly replaced Carroll O'Connor as the chief of police on "In the Heat of the Night" (NBC/CBS, 1988-1995) when the actor underwent bypass surgery, then reteamed with "Edge of Darkness" director Martin Campbell for the thriller "Criminal Law" (1988) with Gary Oldman and Kevin Bacon. He was a tough detective hired by Nick Nolte to defend his family against an unstoppable Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear" (1991) and took a lighter tack as Winona Ryder's businessman father in Ben Stiller's "Reality Bites" (1994) and as Lukas Haas' trailer park paterfamilias in Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks" (1996). The following year, he earned CableACE and Satellite Award nominations as the sympathetic Alabama Governor "Big Jim" Folsom, who was defeated by his firebrand protégé, George Wallace, in John Frankenheimer's biopic "Wallace" (TNT, 1997).

Baker's output appeared to slow down at the end of the 1990s. There were small but showy roles in "Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke" (CBS, 1999) as the billionairess' father and tobacco industrialist, Buck Duke, and in the comedies "Joe Dirt" (2001) and "The Dukes of Hazzard" (2005) as aging good old boys. Of more interest were stories passed along by third parties about Baker; "Hazzard" director Jay Chandrasekhar said that the outtakes of Baker's scenes with Jessica Simpson were funnier than anything in the film itself, while the creators of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (Comedy Central/The Sci-Fi Channel, 1988-1999) reported that Baker had threatened them with physical violence after hearing that the show had lampooned his films "Mitchell" (1975) and "Final Justice" (1995).



Cast (Feature Film)

Mud (2013)
Strange Wilderness (2008)
The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)
Vegas City of Dreams (2002)
Joe Dirt (2001)
Poodle Springs (1998)
To Dance With Olivia (1997)
Horace Henley
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Mars Attacks! (1996)
Panther (1995)
Goldeneye (1995)
The Grass Harp (1995)
The Underneath (1995)
Clay Hinkle
Congo (1995)
Reality Bites (1994)
Felony (1994)
Complex of Fear (1993)
Detective Frank Farrel
Ring of Steel (1993)
Man In Black
Citizen Cohn (1992)
The Distinguished Gentleman (1992)
Cape Fear (1991)
The Children (1990)
Criminal Law (1988)
The Living Daylights (1987)
Leonard Part 6 (1987)
The Abduction of Kari Swenson (1987)
The Killing Time (1987)
Getting Even (1986)
King R Kenderson
Final Justice (1985)
T J Geromino
Fletch (1985)
The Natural (1984)
Wacko (1983)
Joysticks (1983)
Shadow Mountain (1978)
Crash (1978)
The Pack (1977)
Long Dark Night (1977)
Speedtrap (1977)
Pete Novick
Framed (1975)
Ron Lewis
Mitchell (1975)
Golden Needles (1974)
The Outfit (1974)
Charley Varrick (1973)
Walking Tall (1973)
Buford Pusser
Junior Bonner (1972)
Curly Bonner
That Certain Summer (1972)
Phil Bonner
Welcome Home, Soldier Boys (1972)
Wild Rovers (1971)
Paul Buckman
Mongo's Back in Town (1971)
Adam at 6 A.M. (1970)
Harvey Gavin
Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969)
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Where the Bullets Fly (1966)
Nearly a Nasty Accident (1962)

Cast (Special)

The Wild West (1993)
Doc Elliot (1973)
Aaron Hickey

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Too Rich: the Secret Life of Doris Duke (1999)
George Wallace (1997)
Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy (1996)
Power (1980)
To Kill a Cop (1978)

Life Events


Broadway debut, "Marathon 33"


Film acting debut as Fixer in "Cool Hand Luke"


TV-movie debut, "Mongo's Back in Town"; played professional gunman (Mongo) in cast that included Telly Savalas, Sally Field and Martin Sheen


Played Steve McQueen's little brother in Sam Peckinpah's quiet "Junior Bonner"


Starred as real-life hero Sheriff Buford Pusser in the action melodrama "Walking Tall"


Reunited with "Walking Tall" director Phil Karlson and writer Mort Briskin for the even more venal "Framed"


First played Eischied, a NYC chief of detectives, in the miniseries "To Kill a Cop" (NBC)


Starred in the NBC series "Eischied", a spin-off from "To Kill a Cop"


Portrayed a fictionalized version of Babe Ruth called The Whammer who was struck out by the young Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) in "The Natural"


Starred opposite Chevy Chase as a crooked sheriff of an L.A. beach community in "Fletch"


Delivered an accclaimed performance in the BBC miniseries "Edge of Darkness"


Portrayed Kersek, the private investigator hired by Sam Bowden to protect his family, in the Martin Scorsese remake "Cape Fear"


Played Senator Joe McCarthy in the HBO biopic "Citizen Cohn"


Cast as a trailer-trash dad in Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks!"


Acted the part of Big Jim Folsom in TNT miniseries "George Wallace", starring Gary Sinese in title role


Cast as Governor Jim Applewhite in the big-screen version of "The Dukes of Hazzard" based on the 1970's hit show


Movie Clip

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) -- (Movie Clip) Get Your Man Out Of There Just the beginning of the well-received nearly ten-minute action-open, no Pierce Brosnan as 007 but his colleagues, Colin Salmon as Robinson, Judi Dench as “M,” Geoffrey Palmer as Admiral Roebuck, and Ricky Jay seen as the master war-criminal Gupta, in the 19th James Bond feature, Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997.
Natural, The (1984) -- (Movie Clip) He Looks Wild At a rail stop, sportswriter Max (Robert Duvall) arranges a showdown between "The Whammer" (Joe Don Baker) and young Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford), John Finnegan as "Sam," Barbara Hershey observing, in The Natural 1984.
Charley Varrick (1973) -- (Movie Clip) Please Expedite Following the title character (Walter Matthau) speculating that the money he stole might belong to the mob, we jump to Reno, meeting John Vernon as executive-type Boyle, Felicia Farr his assistant, and Joe Don Baker as “Molly,” linked by radio, in director Don Siegel’s Charley Varrick, 1973.
George Wallace (1997) -- (Movie Clip) All God's Children At the governor’s mansion, Montgomery, January 17, 1955, the title character (Gary Sinise) with first wife Lurleen (Mare Winningham) and aide Watson (Terry Kinney) attends the inauguration of mentor Big Jim Folsom (Joe Don Baker), the governor’s niece his future wife, in George Wallace, 1997.
Cool Hand Luke (1967) -- (Movie Clip) Every Cent In Camp A portion of the famous attempt by Luke (Paul Newman), coached by Dragline (George Kennedy), to eat fifty hard-boiled to eggs win a prison bet in Cool Hand Luke, 1967.
Junior Bonner -- (Movie Clip) Anything With Hair On It "J-R" (Steve McQueen) dines with brother Curly (Joe Don Baker), his wife Ruth (Mary Murphy), and their mom Ellie (Ida Lupino), smoking a cheroot, in Sam Peckinpah's Junior Bonner, 1972.
Junior Bonner -- (Movie Clip) Frontier Days Parade "J-R" (Steve McQueen) finally catches up with his dad Ace (Robert Preston), who's busted out of the hospital, at the Prescott, Arizona Frontier Days Rodeo parade in Sam Peckinpah's Junior Bonner, 1972.


Goldeneye (1995) -- (Original Trailer) Original trailer for Pierce Brosnan’s debut as the fifth star of the MGM-UA Eon Produtions James Bond series, in Goldeneye, 1995, directed by Martin Campbell, with Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen and Judi Dench in her first appearance as “M.”
Living Daylights, The (1987) -- (Original Trailer) Original trailer introducing Timothy Dalton as the fourth James Bond in the original series, in the 15th feature, The Living Daylights, 1987, with Maryam d’Abo, Jeroen Krabbé and John Rhys-Davies.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) -- (Original Trailer) Original trailer for Irishman Pierce Brosnan’s second appearance as James Bond, and the 18th feature in the series (which was tentatively titled Tomorrow Never Lies until a fortuitous typo caused all concerned to change their minds), Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997, with Jonathan Pryce, Teri Hatcher and Judi Dench as “M.”
Guns of the Magnificent Seven - (Pan-and-scan trailer) In Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969), a new team assemble to rescue a captive rebel leader.
Charley Varrick - (Original Trailer) A band of small-time crooks accidentally steals the mob's money in Don Siegel's action-filled Charley Varrick (1973) starring Walter Matthau.
Cool Hand Luke - (Original Trailer) A free-spirited convict refuses to conform to chain-gang life in Cool Hand Luke (1967), starring Paul Newman & George Kennedy.
Natural, The - (Original Trailer) An overaged baseball player (Robert Redford) comes out of nowhere to save his team in The Natural (1984).
Wild Rovers - (Original Trailer) An aging cowboy joins up with a beginner to rob banks in Wild Rovers (1971) starring William Holden and Ryan O'Neal.


Doyle Charles Baker
Edna Baker


Maria Dolores Rivero-Torres
Married on December 25, 1969; divorced.



"Looking at my career, it seems that the good guys make more money, but the bad guys have all the fun. I guess you try to do a little of both." --Joe Don Baker quoted in the press material for "Getting Even" (1986)