Probably one of pop culture’s first female Gothic personality, Carolyn Jones was the unforgettable Morticia Addams on TV, proving once and for all that black tight-fitting long dresses couldn’t be more sexy. Leaving us at a too young age, Carolyn often played roles with a tragic touch, many solitary girls with a heart of gold trying to escape a mediocre fate. Fine comedienne, she could steal scenes away from major stars, with limited screen time. Once again we pay homage right here to someone whom we don’t want to be forgotten in our collective memory.
Curious to note that many sources don’t agree on Carolyn Sue Baker’s year of birth. She was born in Amarillo, Texas, on April 28, maybe in 1929, 1930 or 1933. Considering that she finished high school in 1947, what is the truth? Seems that she was a direct descendant of Indian Chief Geronimo. At a young age, she decided to become an actress, taking refuge in many movie theaters (when her asthma was not too bad). Carolyn was a solitary child, working as a radio deejay for some time. Her dad had abandoned the family in 1934. After graduating, she moved to California to attend the Pasadena Playhouse, famed for its training of some Hollywood stars. It’s probably right there that confusion about her age began, as she lied to be enrolled, claiming to be three years older.
Carolyn would work at the Playhouse the following three years, learning her craft and being part of numerous tours around the country, often being the lead female role. She got married in 1950 to Don G. Donaldson, retired officer. In 1952, as she was playing in Dark of the Moon, an agent took notice and offered her a short part in The Turning Point, alongside William Holden. This will give the chance to sign a six-month contract with Paramount Studios. After this, she asked her mom and sister to come live near her in California.
Carolyn got regular work, with a short phase where she wore her hair blonde to play dumb characters. We can see her like that in House of Wax, as a none too bright future victim of Vincent Price who selects her to be his Joan of Arc wax figure. A scene where Carolyn is seen wearing a ultra-tight corset defies description. Some scenes in House of Wax were charmingly sexy for their times. During that period, Carolyn also appeared in some television series, during its golden age.
As her first marriage disolved, Carolyn wed Aaron Spelling, on his way to become a legendary TV producer. This union lasted about ten years. Spelling had directed Carolyn in a play, The Live Wire. Our actress enjoyed another good supporting role in the sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in 1956. Her versatility would be rapidly acknowledged and she could benefit in getting good roles in top of the line productions. She would get an Best Actress in a Supporting Role nomination at the Academy Awards for The Bachelor Party, even with very limited screen time (eight minutes!). Her trademark look was born for this movie: short hair newly dyed black. In 1958, the Golden Globes honored her as Most Promising Newcomer – Female.
Inevitably, Carolyn met Elvis during the shooting of King Creole, possibly his best film project. Let’s have some cheers for ‘50s feminine fashion, with stiletto heels, tight dresses and bullet bras. She would unite with another popular singer and chick magnet, Frank Sinatra, for A Hole in the Head, in 1959. The early sixties meant more television than big screen work for Carolyn, oddly enough. But the perfect project would soon stand out among the guest-starring roles…
Her career would take a positive spin in 1964, as Carolyn debuted in a regular role for The Addams Family TV series, becoming the magnificent Morticia Addams, the perfect stepping point after Vampira and before Elvira. Trotting around in a long body-fitting dress (let’s consider also that her measurements were 35-25-37), Carolyn found success in that black comedy that is still enjoyable for viewing these days, even after modern movie adaptations and a short-lived second series. Again, some sexy subtext was a great part of the show’s success for fans of any era. The Addams Family was broadcast a week before its competition, The Munsters (ironically, both were cancelled in 1966, one week after another!).
The Batman series proposed Carolyn playing Marsha, a villainess obsessed with diamonds. She would wed Herbert S. Green in 1968, a voice specialist for actors. Seems that Green was not very well-liked in Hollywood and Carolyn suffered for it, as she lost contact with many friends after moving to Palm Springs. Still doing TV work, Carolyn would be cast in Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, in 1977. This horror film also featured future Freddy Krueger, Robert Englund. She divorced Green in 1977. More important for us, she was seen in some Wonder Woman episodes, as Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons, alongside Lynda Carter. The same year, there was also an Addams Family reunion TV movie.
In 1978, she played in an episode of Fantasy Island, produced by Aaron Spelling. She got a regular role in the soap Capitol from 1982 to 1983, even as she was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1981, a situation that she hadn’t revealed to many people. After agressive treatment, the cancer returned and was declared terminal. She even worked in a wheelchair. In 1982, Carolyn wed again , this time with comedian Peter Bailey-Britton, who also starred in Capitol. They had been intimate for the last five years. Carolyn passed away on August 3, 1983. Was she 54, 51 or 50?
Able to play innocent characters of the last century, blasé femmes fatales hanging around nightclubs or solitary Far West gals, Carolyn Jones is not easily forgotten, if only because for a most fascinating pair of eyes, unique in Hollywood history. A lucky dude, that Gomez Addams…