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« Rita Moreno turns 82 | Main | SAG Nominations Are In! »

Goodbye, Eleanor Parker

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.

Parker in Caged

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.

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Reader Comments (13)

RIP Beautiful and talented Eleonore...and yes, she was outstanding in CAGED!

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

A wonderful actress who when she'd had enough withdrew from public view with dignity intact. I've seen almost all of her films excepting the elusive Three Secrets with Patricia Neal and Ruth Roman. She was star of the month a few months ago on TCM which afford a chance to see many of her films, more obscure as well as the famous. So many great films aside from Sound of Music I've always loved Between Two Worlds, Voice of the Turtle, Home from the Hill, and The Seventh Sin. Sad another legend gone.

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Ah. I loved her in Scaramouche and was pissed when Stewart Granger chose Janet Leigh over her (oops, spoiler alert!) She was always enjoyable and under-employed, kind of a fiesty Barbara Stanwyck-type. I remember her in a weird soapy flick with Robert Mitchum: Texas (or somewhere in the south), illegitimate kids, and George Hamilton.

"And somewhere out there is a young lady, whom, I'm afraid, will never be a nun."

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Great actress, who shall be missed and never forgotten. R.I.P.

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWill

Rest in peace, Eleanor Parker. I have only seen her performance in 'Caged,' which was brilliant. Definitely worthy of competing alongside Bette Davis's Margo Channing and Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond in 1950.

She will be missed.

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike M.

Highlights from her "Caged" performance. (Spoilers!)

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

What a great actress she was and what a beauty! Loved her in Caged and Detective Story. I think she should have won the Oscar for the latter. I'd choose her for the former but the 1950 Best Actress race was stacked as we all know. Sad that she'll be remembered for a thankless supporting turn when she had plenty of great starring roles in the '50s, but at least she's remembered somehow.

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

An underrated actress that always seemed to be better than the given material. Wylers Detective Story is her finest moment.
Thank You for posting this article. It seems other web sites have shined her on.

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterrobertL

I love her shout out from Beautiful Thing.....! (Jamie's mum asks him who plays The Baroness from the other room.)

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermr. salty

The feeling in her eyes in The Sound of Music, in the scene with Maria during the ball and with Georg on the balcony before "Something Good," makes the two strongest acting moments in that entire movie, in my opinion. The Baroness is so elegantly sympathetic, it's a performance that defines "gracious."

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

She was quite special but sadly forgotten by most. She left a classy legacy.

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Hayden W: YES....I'm glad you said it...she should have had the nomination in place of Peggy Wood. Her performance made you feel the stakes involved in that triangle. Very well (under) played.

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrob

Watched "Caged," last night. In addition to Parker's fine work, there are 5 other Oscar-nominated actresses in the cast: Agnes Moorehead, Ellen Corby, Jan Sterling, Jane Darwell, and from this film, the maniacal matron Hope Emerson.

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

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