Eleanor Jean Parker
June 26, 1922
Cedarville, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||December 9, 2013 (aged 91)|
Palm Springs, California, U.S.
(m. 1943; div. 1944)
Bert E. Friedlob
(m. 1946; div. 1953)
(m. 1954; div. 1965)
Raymond N. Hirsch
(m. 1966; died 2001)
Eleanor Jean Parker (June 26, 1922 – December 9, 2013) was an American actress who appeared in some 80 movies and television series. An actress of notable versatility, she was called Woman of a Thousand Faces by Doug McClelland, author of a biography of Parker by the same title.
At age 18, Parker was signed by Warner Brothers in 1941. She was nominated three times for the Oscar for Best Actress in the 1950s: for Caged (1950), Detective Story (1951), and Interrupted Melody (1955). Her role in Caged also won her the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. One of her most memorable roles was that of "the Baroness" Elsa von Schraeder in The Sound of Music (1965).
Parker was born on June 26, 1922, in Cedarville, Ohio, the daughter of Lola (Isett) and Lester Day Parker. She moved with her family to East Cleveland, Ohio, where she attended public schools and graduated from Shaw High School. "Ever since I can remember, all I wanted to do is act", she said. "But I didn't just dream about it, I worked at it."
She appeared in a number of school plays. After graduation, she went to Martha's Vineyard to work on her acting. She got a job as a waitress, and was offered a screen test by 20th Century Fox, but turned it down. Wanting to focus on films, she moved to California and started appearing at the Pasadena Playhouse.
She was in the audience one night at Pasadena Playhouse when spotted by a Warners Bros talent scout, Irving Kumin. He offered her a test, and she accepted; the studio signed her to a long-term contract in June 1941.
She was given some decent roles in B films, Busses Roar (1942) and The Mysterious Doctor (1943), and had a small role in an expensive production, Mission to Moscow (1943), as Emlen Davies. This impressed Warners enough so when Joan Leslie was held up on Rhapsody in Blue, Parker replaced her in a strong role in a prestige production, Between Two Worlds (1944), playing the suicidal wife of Paul Henreid's character.
She stayed in support roles for Crime by Night (1944) and The Last Ride (1944), then was given the starring role opposite Dennis Morgan in The Very Thought of You (1944), replacing Ida Lupino. She was considered enough of a "name" to be given a cameo in Hollywood Canteen (1944). Warners gave her the choice role of Mildred Rogers in a new version of Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage (1946); although director Edmund Goulding called Parker one of the five greatest actresses in America, previews were not favorable, and the film sat on the shelf for two years before being released to an underwhelming reception. However, in 1953, Parker called it her favorite role.
Parker later said the "big break" of her career was when she was cast opposite John Garfield in Pride of the Marines (1945). "It was a great part, and who wouldn't look good with John Garfield", she later said. "He was absolutely wonderful." However, two films that followed with Errol Flynn, the romantic comedy Never Say Goodbye (1946) and the drama Escape Me Never (1947), were box office disappointments.
She made the comedy Voice of the Turtle (1947, aired today under the title "One for the Book") with Ronald Reagan and was in an adaptation of The Woman in White (1948). She refused to appear in Somewhere in the City (1948) so Warners suspended her again; Virginia Mayo played the role.
Parker then had two years off, during which time she married and had a baby. She turned down a role in The Hasty Heart (1949), which she wanted to do, but it would have meant going to England, and she did not want to leave her baby alone during its first year. "I probably received my salary for only six months during 1947 and 1948, but I can't regret that", she said. "All my life, I wanted a child, and anything that might happen to me professionally on that account would hardly seem a loss."
She returned in Chain Lightning with Humphrey Bogart. "I've had my fling at roles that have little or no relation to most people's lives", she said in a 1949 interview. "I want to keep away from such assignments, as I can from now on, even though, as some may say, they mean exercising your skill and talent in acting."
Parker heard about a woman in prison film Warners were making, Caged (1950), and actively lobbied the role. She got it, and won the 1950 Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award. She also had a good role in the melodrama Three Secrets (1950).
In February 1950, Parker left Warner Bros. after having been under contract there for eight years. Parker had understood that she would star in a film called Safe Harbor, but Warner Bros. apparently had no intention of making it. Because of this misunderstanding, her agents negotiated her release.
Parker's career outside of Warners started badly with Valentino (1951) playing a fictionalized wife of Rudolph Valentino for producer Edward Small. She tried a comedy at 20th Century Fox with Fred MacMurray, A Millionaire for Christy (1951) (originally called The Golden Goose).
In 1951, Parker signed a contract with Paramount for one film a year, with an option for outside films. This arrangement began brilliantly with Detective Story (1951) for director William Wyler, playing Mary McLeod, the woman who doesn't understand the position of her unstable detective husband (played by Kirk Douglas); Parker was nominated for the Oscar in 1951 for her performance.
Parker followed Detective Story with her portrayal of an actress in love with a swashbuckling nobleman (played by Stewart Granger) in Scaramouche (1952), a role originally intended for Ava Gardner. Parker later claimed that Granger was the only person she didn't get along with during her entire career. However, they had good chemistry, and the film was a massive hit; MGM rushed her into Above and Beyond (1952), a biopic of Lt. Col. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. (Robert Taylor), the pilot of the aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It was a solid hit. While Parker was making a third film for MGM, Escape from Fort Bravo (1953), she signed a five-year contract to the studio.
She was named as star of a Sidney Sheldon script, My Most Intimate Friend and of One More Time, from a script by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin directed by George Cukor, but neither film was made. Back at Paramount, Parker starred with Charlton Heston as a 1900s mail-order bride in The Naked Jungle (1954), directed by Byron Haskin and produced by George Pal.
"I maintain that if you work, believe in yourself, and do what is right for you without stepping all over others, the way somehow opens up", she said in 1953. "By that, I don't mean just sitting back. At Warners, they still have a mile-long list of my suspensions for refusing certain parts. Anyway, I never did a Western. Not once. It's paid off too."
In a 1954 interview, she said her favorite films were Caged and Detective Story and her least favorite were Chain Lightning, Escape Me Never, Valentino, and Woman in White. She had commitments to make two films a year at MGM, and one a year at Paramount. "Personally, I prefer to be under contract", she said.
MGM gave her one of her best roles as opera singer Marjorie Lawrence in Interrupted Melody (1955). This was a big hit and earned Parker a third Oscar nomination; she later said it was her favorite film.
Also in 1955, Parker appeared in the film adaptation of the National Book Award-winner The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), directed by Otto Preminger and released through United Artists. She played Zosh, a woman confined to a wheelchair and the wife of heroin-addicted, would-be jazz drummer Frankie Machine (Frank Sinatra). It was a major commercial and critical success.
It was then back at MGM for two movies, both dramas: Lizzie (1957), in the title role, as a woman with a split personality; The Seventh Sin (1957), a remake of The Painted Veil in the role originated by Greta Garbo and, once again, intended for Ava Gardner. Both films flopped at the box office and, as a result, Parker's plans to produce her own film, L'Eternelle, about French resistance fighters, did not materialize.
Parker supported Frank Sinatra in a popular comedy, A Hole in the Head (1959). She returned to MGM for Home from the Hill (1960), co-starring with Robert Mitchum, then took over Lana Turner's role of Constance Rossi in Return to Peyton Place, a 1961 sequel to the hit 1957 film. That was made by 20th Century Fox who also produced Madison Avenue (1961) with Parker.
In 1960, she made her TV debut. "I look for the quality story and for parts that I think will be good or fun. People told me I was crazy to do Hole in the Head and Home from the Hill, but both those pictures appealed to me. I did enough of the bad ones (films), while I was under contract - because I was being told to do them. That's the problem with being under contract. You do the pictures, or be suspended. Now, I don't want to work unless I have faith in the part. This has nothing to do with wanting to be famous, or anything like that. It's just that I love acting."
In the early 1960s, she worked increasingly in television, with the occasional film role such as Panic Button (1964).
Parker's best-known screen role was playing Baroness Elsa Schraeder in the 1965 Oscar-winning musical The Sound of Music. The Baroness was famously and poignantly unsuccessful in keeping the affections of Captain Georg von Trapp (played by Christopher Plummer) after he falls in love with Maria (played by Julie Andrews).
In 1966, she played an alcoholic widow in the crime drama Warning Shot, a talent scout who discovers a Hollywood star in The Oscar, and a rich alcoholic in An American Dream. From the late 1960s, television would occupy more of her energies.
In 1963, Parker appeared in the NBC medical drama about psychiatry The Eleventh Hour in the episode "Why Am I Grown So Cold?", for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award as Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. In 1964, she appeared in the episode "A Land More Cruel" on the ABC drama about psychiatry, Breaking Point. In 1968, she portrayed a spy in How to Steal the World, a film originally shown as the two-part concluding episodes of NBC's The Man from U.N.C.L.E..
In 1969-1970, Parker starred in the television series Bracken's World, for which she was nominated for a 1970 Golden Globe Award as Best TV Actress – Drama. "I wanted to do the series so I could stay put", she said. "Every movie I'm offered is shot in Europe or Asia or somewhere. I'm tired of running around." Parker left the series after the first 16 episodes, citing the limited nature of her role.
After 1969, she continued to work steadily, but with the exception of a small role in the 1979 Farrah Fawcett vehicle Sunburn, her onscreen acting work was all on television. Parker appeared in the NBC series Ghost Story episode "Half a Death" (1972), a suspense-thriller about a wealthy woman reconciling the lives of her two daughters. She starred in a number of made for TV movies, and made guest appearances on series such as Hawaii Five-O, The Love Boat, Hotel, and Murder, She Wrote. He final TV role was a small supporting role in the 1991 TV movie Dead on the Money.
Concurrent with her TV career, Parker starred in a number of theatrical productions, including the role of Margo Channing in Applause, the Broadway musical version of the film All About Eve. The role was originally played in the musical by Lauren Bacall and in All About Eve by Bette Davis. In 1976, she played Maxine in the Ahmanson Theater revival of The Night of the Iguana. She was replaced in the Circle in the Square Theatre revival of Pal Joey during previews.
Parker was married four times:
Eleanor Parker died on December 9, 2013, at a medical facility in Palm Springs, California, of complications of pneumonia. She was 91. Upon her death, she was cremated. Sources vary as to whether her ashes were scattered at sea or buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, where her late husband Dr. Raymond Hirsch is buried.
Parker was raised a Protestant, and later converted to Judaism, telling the New York Daily News columnist Kay Gardella in August 1969: "I think we're all Jews at heart ... I wanted to convert for a long time." She later embraced "Messianic Judaism", and was a supporter of "Messianic Jewish" philosopher, teacher, and commentator Roy Masters, owner of the Foundation of Human Understanding in Grants Pass, Oregon. In 1978, she wrote the foreword to Masters's book, How Your Mind Can Keep You Well.
|1941||They Died with Their Boots On||Bit Part||Scenes deleted|
|1942||The Big Shot||Telephone Operator||Voice, uncredited|
|Soldiers in White||Nurse Ryan||Short subject|
|Men of the Sky||Mrs. Frank Bickley||Short subject|
|1943||The Mysterious Doctor||Letty Carstairs|
|Mission to Moscow||Emlen Davies|
|Destination Tokyo||Mike's Wife on Record||Voice, uncredited|
|1944||Between Two Worlds||Ann Bergner|
|Atlantic City||Bathing Beauty||Uncredited|
|Crime by Night||Irene Carr|
|The Last Ride||Kitty Kelly|
|The Very Thought of You||Janet Wheeler|
|1945||Pride of the Marines||Ruth Hartley|
|1946||Of Human Bondage||Mildred Rogers|
|Never Say Goodbye||Ellen Gayley|
|1947||Escape Me Never||Fenella MacLean|
|Always Together||Herself||Cameo, uncredited|
|The Voice of the Turtle||Sally Middleton|
|1948||The Woman in White||Laurie Fairlie
|1949||It's a Great Feeling||Herself||Cameo, uncredited|
|1950||Chain Lightning||Joan "Jo" Holloway|
|Caged||Marie Allen||Won – Volpi Cup|
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
|Three Secrets||Susan Adele Connors Chase|
|A Millionaire for Christy||Christabel "Christy" Sloane|
|Detective Story||Mary McLeod||Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress|
|Above and Beyond||Lucey Tibbets|
|1953||Escape from Fort Bravo||Carla Forester|
|1954||The Naked Jungle||Joanna Leiningen|
|Valley of the Kings||Ann Barclay Mercedes|
|1955||Many Rivers to Cross||Mary Stuart Cherne|
|Interrupted Melody||Marjorie Lawrence||Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress|
|The Man with the Golden Arm||Zosh Machine|
|1956||The King and Four Queens||Sabina McDade|
|The Seventh Sin||Carol Carwin|
|1959||A Hole in the Head||Eloise Rogers|
|1960||Home from the Hill||Hannah Hunnicutt|
|The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio||Sister Cecelia|
|1961||Return to Peyton Place||Connie Rossi|
|Madison Avenue||Anne Tremaine|
|Episode: "The Renaissance of Gussie Hill"|
|1963||The Eleventh Hour||Connie Folsom||Episode: "Why Am I Grown So Cold?"|
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
|Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre||Fern Selman||Episode: "Seven Miles of Bad Road"|
|1964||Panic Button||Louise Harris|
|Kraft Suspense Theatre||Dorian Smith||Episode: "Knight's Gambit"|
|1965||The Sound of Music||The Baroness Elsa Schraeder|
|Convoy||Kate Fowler||Episode: "Lady on the Rock"|
|1966||The Oscar||Sophie Cantaro|
|An American Dream||Deborah Kelly Rojack|
|1967||Warning Shot||Mrs. Doris Ruston|
|The Tiger and the Pussycat||Esperia Vincenzini|
|1968||The Man from U.N.C.L.E.||Margitta Kingsley||Episode: "The Seven Wonders of the World Affair"; released in cinemas as How to Steal the World|
|1969||Eye of the Cat||Aunt Danny|
|Hans Brinker||Dame Brinker|
|Bracken's World||Sylvia Caldwell||Episodes 1-16|
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama
|1971||Maybe I'll Come Home in the Spring||Claire Miller|
|Vanished||Sue Greer||TV movie|
|1972||Circle of Fear||Paula Burgess||Episode: "Half a Death"|
|Home for the Holidays||Alex Morgan|
|1973||The Great American Beauty Contest||Peggy Lowery||TV movie|
|1975||Guess Who's Coming to Dinner||Christine Drayton||TV movie|
|1978||Hawaii Five-O||Mrs. Kincaid||Episode: "The Big Aloha"|
|The Bastard||Lady Amberly|
|She's Dressed to Kill||Regine Danton||TV movie|
|1980||Once Upon a Spy||The Lady||TV movie|
|Vega$||Laurie Bishop||Episode: "A Deadly Victim"|
|1981||Madame X||Katherine Richardson|
|1979-1982||The Love Boat||Rosie Strickland
|Episode: "A Dress to Remember"|
Episode: "Buddy and Portia's Story/Julie's Story/Carol and Doug's Story/Peter and Alicia's Story"
|1977-1983||Fantasy Island||Peggy Atwood
Eunice Hollander Baines
|Episode: "Nurses Night Out"|
Episode: "Yesterday's Love/Fountain of Youth"
|1983||Hotel||Leslie||Episode: "The Offer"|
|1984||Finder of Lost Loves||Nora Spencer||Episode: "The Gift"|
|1986||Murder, She Wrote||Maggie Tarrow||Episode: "Stage Struck"|
|1991||Dead on the Money||Catherine Blake||TV movie|
Source: "Eleanor Parker". IMDb. Retrieved 2013.