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Director Fred Baker dies at 78

Made Lenny Bruce documentary

Fred Baker, a filmmaker, actor, director, screenwriter and jazz musician, died of natural causes on June 5 in New York City. He was 78.

Baker was among the subversive, experimental, underground filmmakers of the 1960s and ’70s, turning out films such as “Events,” “The Murder of Fred Hampton” and 1992’s “White Trash.” He was an uncredited exec producer on Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 classic “The Battle of Algiers.”

A longtime friend of comedian Lenny Bruce, Baker was best known for his 1972 documentary “Lenny Bruce Without Tears.”

Born in Los Angeles, Baker came to films via an extensive career in the theater, which began in 1952 playing a lead role in Mary Chase’s “Bernadine” on Broadway. After a three-year stint in the Army in Korea and Europe, Baker starred in three films in Germany for U.S. television. Upon returning to New York, he began a string of character roles in many Broadway and touring productions.

Eventually, Baker began directing Off Broadway and road companies.

He started his film and TV work in the mid-’60s at New York pubcaster WNET. From there, he began his work as an independent filmmaker. His short Jazz dance film “On the Sound,” featuring Martha Grahame dancers, won awards and special mention at USA Golden Eagle, Venice and Berlin film festivals and was most recently honored at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 2011 “Dance on Camera Series.”

“Lenny Bruce Without Tears” was featured at the 2011 Toronto Jewish Film Festival as part of “The 3 Lenny’s: Bernstein, Cohen and Bruce.”

In the 1970s Fred and his wife Barbara founded FBFVCO, Fred Baker Film & Video Co. Fred went on to produce independent films of his own, as well as to acquire and distribute films including David Lynch’s “Eraserhead,” Luchino Visconti’s “The Innocent,” Marco Fererri’s “Tales of Ordinary Madness” and Jean-Charles Tachella’s “Cousin Cousine.”

His last directing effort was 2008’s “Assata aka Joanne Chesimard,” about a Black Panther’s who’s falsely convicted.

Baker kept up his acting work onstage with a 1996 appearance as Roy Cohn in Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” during a 10-week road tour of the Southwest.

Survivors include his partner, Beverly; two daughters and a son; three grandchildren; and two sisters.

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