Today marks the centennial of the birth of actress Eleanor Parker (1922-2013).
Parker is best known today for playing the Baroness in The Sound of Music (1965), the older, jealous rival of governess Julie Andrews. At that point, she had been starring in Hollywood films of a rather middling sort for over 20 years. Untrained but for a little regional theatre experience, the Ohio native was discovered (on the basis of her beauty, for she was knock-out Ava Gardner level gorgeous) at the Pasadena Playhouse in her late teens. She began acting in films for Warner Brothers in 1942.
Though she didn’t perform in vaudeville, one of Parker’s first movies was a short called Vaudeville Days with Eddie Garr, Leo White, Franklyn Farnum, the Rio Brothers, the Duffins, and The Whirling Camerons. Cast as a “Colleen”, she sings “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” in her brief turn. She was also a bathing beauty in Atlantic City (1944), another of her early features.
Most of the movies Parker went on to appear in, in both starring and supporting roles, are of the type that are well known to devoted classic movie buffs, but have not managed to live on in the memory of the general public. They include the 1946 remake of Of Human Bondage (in the Bette Davis role), the 1948 adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, the women-in-prison classic Caged (1950), the bio-pic Valentino (1951), William Wyler’s 1951 adaptation of Sydney Kingsley’s Detective Story, Scaramouche (1952), Escape from Fort Bravo (1952), Valley of the Kings (1954), The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), Lizzie (1957), Frank Capra’s A Hole in the Head (1959), Return to Peyton Place (1961, in the Lana Turner role), Panic Button (1964), The Sound of Music (1965), The Oscar (1966), Hans Brinker (1969), and the horror film Eye of the Cat (1969).
A lot of Parker’s later work was in television. She was a regular on Bracken’s World (1969), and was in the 1971 TV movie Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring with Sally Field and Jackie Cooper, the mini-series The Bastard (1978), the 1981 remake of Madame X, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Murder She Wrote, and much else. Though only in her 60s, she was mostly retired by the mid ’80s but she did return to appear in the TV movie Dead on the Money with Kevin McCarthy and others.
Why is vaudeville mentioned so prominently in this post about Eleanor Parker? Please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,