With her hit film, Ray,
winning acclaim and awards, Karen Baldwin ’85 is
poised to make more movie magic.
By Rebecca Smith ’99
From the beginning, Karen Baldwin ’85 loved stories.
As soon as she could read, she devoured books. She spent
summer vacations immersed in the fictional worlds created
by authors as diverse as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and
Ray Bradbury. Then came the day in 1974 when her grandmother
brought her to a Hartford movie theater to see the film, Mame.
She recalls with fondness getting dressed up and feeling “very
grown up” at the theater. And as she watched Lucille
Ball singing “We Need a Little Christmas” on
the big screen, Baldwin promptly fell in love with the movies.
“I remember being totally mesmerized by the singing and dancing
and thinking how magical it was,” she reflects.
Soon after, Baldwin ’s parents took her and her sister
to see another film, Mary Poppins, at New York ’s
Radio City Music Hall . Although she was quickly enamored
of the cinema, at the time Baldwin had no idea that she would
end up one day making movie magic of her own.
“I always loved a good story,” she recalls, “but
it was never something I thought would turn into a career.”
However, with the 2004 Oscar-winning film, Ray,
on her list of production credits—and many others in
the works, including this spring’s Sahara and A
Sound of Thunder—producer Karen Baldwin has proven
that you can take a passion, add a little patience and persistence,
and end up at the top. Even at the Academy Awards.
Act I: Holy Cross
Born in Boston to a Holy Cross family—her father,
James E. Mulvihill, D.M.D., ’62, and uncles, John ’65
and Thomas ’70, are alumni—Baldwin grew up in
Massachusetts and, later, Long Island. After high school
she entered Wellesley College, during which time her family
moved to Connecticut. However, after two years at Wellesley,
Baldwin decided to follow in her father’s footsteps
and transferred to Holy Cross.
“And I decided to stay,” she says. “Obviously,
the education is fantastic at both schools, but I just found
a warmth and a family atmosphere at Holy Cross that weren’t
quite as prevalent at Wellesley.”
As to her professors, Baldwin characterizes them as inspirational
and hard working.
“They all had passion for their particular subject
matter,” she says, “and I think that that really
came across. I can honestly say that I didn’t have
a professor at Holy Cross who wasn’t a genuinely good
person. I think that they really care about the student.”
During her two years on Mount St. James, Baldwin did not
have as much time to get involved in acting and performing
as she had wanted. A psychology major who was premed, she
carried a heavy course load and studied hard, graduating
Phi Beta Kappa. But she was sure to make time to attend theatrical
productions at the College.
“They really had a nice program,” she says. “They
put on some wonderful things, and I always liked to attend
Even now, in her Santa Monica, Calif., office—along
with countless movie scripts and aspiring actors’ headshots—she
receives Holy Cross theatre department mailings. And she
finds the department’s quality level and the strong
film component “very impressive.”
Always one step “Ahead of
Although she was premed, Baldwin was not sure during her
final year on the Hill that she wanted to attend medical
Instead, she applied her liberal arts degree to the field
of marketing: first at an advertising firm, and then with
the National Hockey League, heading up the 1986 All-Star
event in Hartford, Conn.
Always looking forward to her next challenge, Baldwin drew
on her knowledge of hockey and her passion for entertainment
to write and co-host her own television sports show on the
New England Sports Channel, Ahead of the Game. A
breakthrough in the world of sports news, the show was the
first of its kind to feature two female hosts.
During her time in Hartford, Baldwin met her husband, Howard,
then-owner of the Hartford Whalers hockey team. The couple’s
foray into the movie business began when a friend in Los
Angeles came to them with a proposition: if he ever came
across a movie script or a project that needed the last bit
of funding, would they consider contributing to it? The Baldwins
responded to the opportunity with great interest.
“Again, I love to read,” she says. “And
so, we said that we’d take a look at anything that
The first project in which the Baldwins invested was Disney’s Flight
of the Navigator in 1986, which did quite well in
theaters. Encouraged by their initial success, Baldwin
and her husband continued to invest in films, and one day,
David Kelley, the son of then-Whalers’ Coach Jack
Kelley, timidly approached the couple with a script for
The project, a legal comedy called From the Hip,
was made into a movie immediately. And after writing that
script, David Kelley landed a job as a writer for the television
series, L.A. Law, which launched his career.
Even after he became a TV wunderkind, Kelley continued
collaborating with the Baldwins, based on their shared love
of hockey and entertainment. Their film, Mystery, Alaska,
is a story he and Howard Baldwin developed, which celebrated
hockey and the way that both had learned to play it—out
on the pond.
Change of scenery
Eventually, the Baldwins decided to leave the East Coast
and move to Los Angeles in order to pursue full-time careers
in the film industry. To become better acclimated to the
business, Baldwin took writing and acting classes. She studied
under many different teachers, all the while getting to know
casting directors and her classmates—most notably of
whom was an aspiring actor named Johnny Depp.
“I often will turn on the TV or go to a movie and
see someone who was in one of my classes; so that’s
kind of fun,” she adds.
Baldwin’s own acting credits include the films, Who’s
That Girl?, Spellbinder, and two films for
which she is also credited as writer: Eyewitness to
Murder and Sudden Death.
When writing the screenplay for Sudden Death, Baldwin
drew on her knowledge of, and connection to, hockey. Featuring
Jean-Claude Van Damme, the action movie was filmed in the
ice rink that was home to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team
owned by the Baldwins at the time. She calls the film, “Die
Hard in our Pittsburgh arena.”
After learning all the different aspects of the business,
Baldwin zeroed in on producing, the role she liked best.
“The best thing about producing is that you go from
the original concept,” she explains, “and you
can take it all the way through to marketing it in the theaters.”
Baldwin especially enjoys the creative side of the business,
such as assisting with writing the script and casting the
actors. And her acting background is often put to work when
reading lines with potential actors.
The Baldwins partnered with their Sudden Death co-producer,
Richard M. Cohen, to form their own production company. They
began by producing and developing their own projects, and,
eventually, other writers started approaching them with story
ideas. In addition, the Baldwins began to option books and
obtain the rights to individuals’ life stories.
After the death of their producing partner, the Baldwins
formed a partnership with Philip Anschutz, and Crusader Entertainment
was created. Named by Baldwin after the Holy Cross mascot,
the company produced quality family films, including, Children
On Their Birthdays, Joshua and Danny Deckchair.
However, the Baldwins missed being their own bosses and,
in early 2004, amicably parted ways with Anschutz to form
Baldwin Entertainment Group, of which Karen is currently
partner and senior executive vice president of creative affairs.
“The hardest thing with leaving Crusader Entertainment,” she
says, “was knowing that we wouldn’t be able to
take that name with us!”
Having worked alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest
names—from Robert Redford to Russell Crowe— Baldwin
cites recent Oscar and Golden Globe-winner Jamie Foxx, star
of the hit movie Ray, as the most talented and versatile
actor with whom she has worked.
“He’s a comedian, he’s a classically trained
pianist, he sings, he dances, he acts,” she says. “I’ve
had a lot of fun getting to know him through the Ray process.
I think of everybody that I’ve worked with, Jamie—by
far—is able to do just so much so well, that I find
him really inspiring.”
But she is quick to point out that Foxx has not been an
overnight success; he has worked hard and has dedicated himself
to acting. In fact, in order to play Ray Charles, he performed
the role as if he were really blind, wearing prosthetics
over his eyes.
The first time Foxx actually saw the film was with Baldwin
at the premiere.
“It was really wild,” she recalls. “He
was saying, ‘Oh my God, that’s what that scene
looked like!’ and ‘That’s what she had
on!’ because he had not seen it until then.”
With two Oscars, a Golden Globe, two Critics’ Choice
Awards and two National Board of Review Awards, Ray’s
success is being celebrated throughout the film community.
And Baldwin is enjoying every minute of it, including some
walks down that famous red carpet.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” she says, and
adds, “I’ve had to buy some new clothes!”
Switching gears from the true-life drama of Ray,
Baldwin’s next film is an action-adventure called Sahara.
Based on Clive Cussler’s popular book series, the film
features Matthew McConaughey as Dirk Pitt, Steve Zahn as
his sidekick Al Giordino, and Penelope Cruz as U.N. scientist
Also due out this year from Baldwin Entertainment Group
is the much-anticipated film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s
famous short story A Sound of Thunder, in which
time travelers inadvertently change the future by going back
in time to hunt dinosaurs.
Although the movie features the star power of Edward Burns,
Catherine McCormack and Ben Kingsley, Baldwin was most impressed
with getting to know the man behind the story—science
fiction author Ray Bradbury.
“He’s in his 80s, and he has such a fantastic
mind,” she says. “And he’s a wonderful
Another project that Baldwin has optioned is the true-life
story of Julia Butterfly Hill, the environmentalist who sat
in a redwood tree for two years to save it from destruction.
Baldwin Entertainment will make history with the movie, Luna.
It will be the first film shot on an “all-green” set:
almost everything on the set will be recyclable; and no Styrofoam
will be used.
“We wanted to put our money where our mouth was,” she
Although it will take some extra work on Baldwin’s
part, she and her husband hope to start a trend in Hollywood,
making films in which both the message and the production
itself are environmentally responsible.
“It’s really what the whole movie is about,” she
explains, “how each person can make a difference, even
if it’s just in a small way.”
Other upcoming projects that Baldwin has in the works include
a film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s best-selling novel, Atlas
Shrugged; Mandrake, based on the famous comic
book magician; and the family film, Rat’s Tale,
the Cinderella story told from the perspective of the rat
that becomes a human coachman for the night.
Baldwin acknowledges that her success has been a long time
coming and expresses gratitude for her family’s support
over the years.
“Although they really tried to understand just what
the heck we were doing,” she says, “I’m
not sure they really did. When we finally had a movie on
the screen that people could go see, then I think they got
it a little more.”
She also credits her husband and business partner, Howard,
as integral to her many accomplishments.
As to her time at Holy Cross, Baldwin looks back on it with
“Holy Cross really gave me the confidence to do well
in business and the social skills to interact with people,” she
And she recognizes that the passion she learned from her
Holy Cross professors has stuck with her throughout her professional
“The key is ‘don't give up,’” she
says. “This is an extremely competitive business. You
need real tenacity. If you work hard and keep moving forward,
sooner or later, the dream comes true.”
Rebecca Smith ’99 is a freelance
writer from Auburn, Mass.
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