Anne Marie here with some sad news. Hollywood beauty Eleanor Parker passed away early this week at age 91. Though Parker is best known for her iconic turn as the Countess in The Sound Of Music, she actually had a long and diverse career that included war films, B movies, swashbucklers, film noir, and three Best Actress nominations.
Eleanor Parker started as a bit player at Warner Brothers in the 1940s. At first, she bumped around in B movies and film noir, such as Between Two Worlds. But from the start she was willing to take risks. In 1946, she starred in a remake of the infamous Bette Davis vehicle Of Human Bondage opposite Paul Henreid. Both the film and her performance continue to garner mixed reviews, but no one could accuse her of taking the easy road.
The 1950s saw Eleanor Parker's star rise rapidly. In 1952, she starred in the large Technicolor swashbuckler Scaramouche opposite Stewart Granger (my personal favorite). Her three Oscar nominations were from this period: first Caged in 1951, then Detective Story in 1952, and finally Interrupted Melody in 1956. In addition to these, she also played Frank Sinatra's crippled wife in The Man With The Golden Arm. From the 1960s onward, Parker took more supporting roles in films such as The Sound Of Music and An American Dream. She retired in 1991.
Of all of Eleanor Parker's diverse performances, the stand out is Caged. Now a cult classic, Caged tells the story of a young lady (Parker) whose experiences in a woman's prison quickly turn her from naive innocent to cynical con. It could easily be lumped in with other Prison Women movies, but the fact is that for its time Caged was a shocking movie. Topics usually considered verboten by the Hays Code censorship--pregnancy, women's crime, homosexuality, and corrupt law enforcement--are all taboos attacked by this film. At the center of this whirlwind stands Eleanor Parker, giving one hell of a heartbreaking performance.
Eleanor Parker was an under-appreciated talent. However, in those films she where she left her mark she remains unforgettable. After all, how would Maria react without the Countess's sad and sly revelation? Where would Scaramouche get the will to fight without his fiery redhead? Finally, what actress could have raised a prison noir from genre pulp to Oscar-worthy film? Eleanor Parker was more than a pretty face, she was a pretty great actress. She will be missed.