Years before she was thrust into the spotlight as Joe Exotic’s arch nemesis, Carole Baskin was a young mother trying to deal with what she says was a violent husband. Though her first two husbands would gain recognition as a result of the 2020 premiere of Netflix’s “Tiger King,” few know the details of how she met and fell in love with Howard Baskin, a man very different from her both her first husband, and her second husband, the now-infamous Don Lewis, whose disappearance would become a central theme of the docuseries.
But in ‘Joe Vs. Carole’, we are primarily witness to her peaceful marriage to fellow animal rights activist, Howard Baskin (played by Kyle MacLachlan). But the road that led to their wedded bliss was a winding one.
Baskin married her first husband Michael Murdock when she was only 17. Shortly after, they had Baskin’s only child, Jamie (played, as an adult, by Marlo Kelly).
In ‘Joe Vs. Carole,’ viewers get a glimpse into the allegedly abusive marriage when, in one scene, Murdock (played by Rowan Chapman) arrives home from work to find that Baskin, played by Kate McKinnon, hasn’t washed the dishes, made dinner, or purchased the right brand of beer, gets angry. In what would become a well-worn Baskin anecdote, she finally got fed up, threw a potato at Murdock, and ran out of the house.
The scripted series shows a barefoot Baskin walking aimlessly down a wet street when Don Lewis (played by David Wenham) pulls up beside her in his car. He calls himself Bob Martin and hands her a pistol to convince her to get in the car.
“Hello, I’m Carole,” Baskin is depicted as saying while holding the gun on Lewis. Together, they drive off as Baskin smiles.
In real life, things weren’t quite so serendipitous. People reports that when Baskin met Lewis he was still married, and they began an affair. She eventually helped build his real estate business and together they amassed a fortune. Despite his wealth, Lewis had a reputation for being cheap. Where they were married in 1991, after Lewis finally divorced his wife, “he gave her a $14 wedding ring during a courthouse ceremony,” reported People.
But it wasn’t their marriage that would make Don Lewis infamous. The multi-millionaire vanished from Florida on Aug. 18, 1997, and his car was located at an airport two days later, as previously reported. Joe Exotic accused Baskin of murdering Lewis and feeding him to her tigers, a claim Baskin has vehemently denied.
“Don was not easy to live with, and like most couples, we had our moments,” Baskin said on her website. “But I never threatened him, and I certainly had nothing to do with his disappearance.”
Don Lewis has never been found.
But Baskin hadn’t given up love. According to Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue website, she met Howard at a fundraising event for a spay and neuter organization. He was the opposite of her first two husbands, reported New York Magazine. He was a good-tempered, Harvard-educated management consultant who shared her passion for animal rights.
“At that party, Howie won Carole’s adoration immediately because he had actually visited WildLife on Easy Street and knew who we were when it seemed that no one in the area had ever heard of us,” her website states.
They both hoped to change that lack of recognition and worked together to formulate a plan that would eliminate captive ownership of big cats by 2025. They married in a small beach wedding shortly after their first meeting, and Howard a whiz at fundraising, helped Baskin transform “WildLife on Easy Street” into Big Cat Rescue, reported New York Magazine. Baskin focused on ending big cat breeding as part of the sanctuary’s advocacy, and in 2009 she came upon a suspicious-looking cub-petting operation. It was operated by a man calling himself “Joe Exotic.”
And while Exotic would ultimately turn their lives upside down, the Baskins are still committed to one another.
“Joe Vs. Carole” is streaming now on Peacock.
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