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Memorial Tribute to Eleanor Parker
Remind Me

TCM Remembers Eleanor Parker (1922-2013) - 12/17

A good case can be made for Eleanor Parker as the screen's "least-heralded great actress," as co-star Dana Andrews once dubbed her. A ravishing beauty with a patrician air and a distinctive, throaty voice, Parker might have become the sort of glamorous star personality who amasses a following by essentially playing herself in film after film. Ironically, she may be missing from the pantheon of best-remembered movie stars because she chose instead to create a gallery of characters so unlike one another that biographer Doug McClelland titled his 1989 book Eleanor Parker: Woman of a Thousand Faces. Commenting on her chameleon-like quality, Parker herself once said, "When I am spotted somewhere it means that my characterizations haven't covered up Eleanor Parker the person. I prefer it the other way around."

Today, despite her impressive range, frequent brilliance and three Academy Award nominations as Best Actress, Parker unjustly does not share the name recognition of studio colleagues Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland at Warner Bros. and, later, Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr at MGM. Still, Parker gave them all a run for their money, whether in gritty black-and-white Warner dramas or MGM exercises in Technicolor glamour.

Born in Cedarville, Ohio, on June 26, 1922, Eleanor Jean Parker had aspirations to become an actress from early childhood. After minor stage experience including a stint at the Pasadena Playhouse, she was signed by Warners and made her first major film appearance in Busses Roar (1942), a taut "B" thriller. Her position was soon solidified with glowing performances as the love interest in two "A"-list World War II dramas, The Very Thought of You (1944) and Pride of the Marines (1945). She reprised Bette Davis' star-making role as the sluttish Cockney waitress Mildred in Of Human Bondage (1946), which drew unfavorable comparisons at the time but may now be seen as a valid and equally powerful interpretation. Parker again demonstrated her versatility with a suitably kittenish performance in the wartime comedy The Voice of the Turtle (1947), aka One for the Book. Her high point at Warners came in Caged (1950), for which she won her first Oscar® nomination with a harrowing performance as a naive young woman transformed into a hardened convict by a prison term.

Parker's second nomination came for Paramount's Detective Story (1951), in which she delivers another hard-hitting, deglamorized performance as the anguished wife of a sanctimonious police detective (Kirk Douglas). Switching to MGM, she began her new studio contract with the classic swashbuckler Scaramouche (1952), moving memorably into tempestuous mode as the fiery red-haired leading lady of a commedia dell-arte troupe. As one of the few co-stars who could bring animation to the stoic countenance of Robert Taylor, Parker proved his perfect partner in three MGM films: the real-life drama Above and Beyond (1953), the Egyptian adventure Valley of the Kings (1954) and the backwoods farce Many Rivers to Cross (1955). Parker reached her MGM peak in Interrupted Melody (1955), a dramatic biography of Marjorie Lawrence, the Australian opera star who fought her way to a comeback after being felled by polio. Superbly miming the voice of Eileen Farrell in the operatic sequences, Parker delivered a performance termed "electrifying" by the New York Times and won her third Oscar® nomination.

Other highlights of Parker's film career, which spanned four decades, include The Woman in White (1948), The Naked Jungle (1954), The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), Lizzie (1957), Home From the Hill (1960) and, in a small but charmingly played role, The Sound of Music (1965). Her last theatrical film was Sunburn (1979).

by Roger Fristoe

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