The Baby Doll HousePosted: October 27, 2007
I grew up knowing about it. It was ten miles from my hometown–near Benoit, near the River. The River, that is, the Mighty Miss, the Ole Mississipp, the Old Man River. (Yes, it deserves a capital R!) It was believed the house was haunted. High school kids went there for kicks–for the thrill of maybe seeing a ghost. I only went once–drove by, didn’t get out. The house is famous because the movie Baby Doll, based on a screenplay by Tennessee Williams, was filmed there in 1956. Carroll Baker was Baby Doll, a 19-year-old naive, yet sultry, seductive girl, married to sexually-frustrated, older Archie Lee (Karl Malden), but who has never allowed him to lay a hand on her and by agreement, the marriage has never been consummated. Her first sexual encounter ends up not being with broken-down-gin owner Archie Lee, but rival gin owner and younger, vibrant, “wop” Silva. Themes of the film are lust, sexual repression, seduction, and moral decay. Amazing that it was filmed right there, deep in Baptist mud! In the 1950’s, no less. I was only in first grade at the time, so I wouldn’t have known anything about the steamy, suggestive, salacious scenes. I recently ordered the black-and-white from amazon.com because the Baby Doll house is referenced in my novel and one scene takes place at the current site of the house. I wanted to see it again.
The last time I went to the Baby Doll house was about seven years ago. It was about the time Dad was beginning to get ill. I was home for a visit, along with my sister and older son. I always loved going home, getting in the car with Dad, and going somewhere–especially to the River. That trip, we drove over to Rosedale and went to the riverbank in the rough part of town, then to Benoit. We drove up on the levee and followed it a while, and then decided to go find the Baby Doll house. It is stuck in the middle of nowhere and is decaying and dilapidated, what’s left standing ripped to shreds and falling down. It wasn’t safe to go inside. It’s the last high-style antebellum house left standing in Bolivar County. The only reason it was left alone during the Civil War was that Judge Burrus, the owner, knew the invading federal officer. It’s said that John Wilkes Booth stayed there for 10 days after shooting Lincoln.
My sister wanted to buy it and fix it up. My father walked around, kicking dust, commenting on details. I stood there in awe of what was and how time wears on something of beauty and significance until it wastes to beyond restoration. I will always remember it because it was the last time I went to the River with Dad.