Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I Remember Eleanor Parker

"Hello, Mr. Bawden-- this is Eleanor Parker calling. You know, the recluse."
It was 1988 and I was at my desk as TV critic of the Toronto star when I took the long distance call.
Naturally I jumped when I got it.
Then I shared a laugh with "the recluse" who had just read a recent Star piece I'd written on a CBC-TV tribute that included 10 of her best movies. I'd written that she never gave interviews so she phoned up to prove I was wrong.
We talked for over an hour as Parker provided insights on why her 40-year movie career had produced so many memorable performances.
"I've never been on a talk show," she whispered."And I never will be. Not even Password. My private life is private."
"Let's talk about your movies then "I ventured.
"Fire away!" she laughed.
BAWDEN: "You came to Warners in 1941 as a shy 19-year old. Weren't you originally going to be one of the stars of  the big hit of that year Kings Row?"
PARKER: "How did you know that? I was cast as the terrified Cassie who eventually turns out to be mentally ill and is killed by her father-- played by Claude Rains. I tested with Jeffrey Lynn as Paris. Then he was replaced by Robert Cummings who was hot at the time. Eventually the director Sam Wood told me I didn't have the experience and he went for Betty Field. I cried for days."
BAWDEN: "Your first movie was Busses Roar (1942). What do you remember about that one?"
PARKER "Only that it was a very bad B. But I photographed OK and then in 1943 I had my first real part as Ambassador Davies' daughter Emlen in Mission To Moscow (1943). And the next year I had a big part in Between Two Worlds (1944). Jack Warner said he would promote me because he needed some big new female stars."
BAWDEN: "How did you feel about co-starring with John Garfield in Pride Of The Marines (1954)?"
PARKER: "A wonderfully talented actor but mixed up emotionally. Then I got too big for my britches and was in the remake of Of Human Bondage (1946) --I had the Bette David part and she sent me a sweet note. But it truly bombed and I just wasn't at all good."
BAWDEN: "Then you were opposite Ronnie Reagan in Voice Of The Turtle (1947)?"
PARKER: It had been a great Broadway hit with Margaret Sullavan but she balked at signing a long term Warners contract. They plopped me in and I even was made to look like her right down to the bangs. Ronnie couldn't do comedy. I was lucky to escape alive!"
BAWDEN: "You got your first Oscar nod for Caged (1950)?"
PARKER: "It was written for Joan Crawford as the female convict and Bette Davis as the warden. But Bette left the studio and Jack said Joan was getting too leathery. I put my all into it but the opposition Oscar night was Anne Baxter and Bette Davis for All About Eve, Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday and Gloria Swanson for Sunset Boulevard. I never expected to win and I didn't."
BAWDEN: "A year later you got another nod for Detective Story (1951)."
PARKER:" That threw me as Kirk Douglas had the bigger part as my husband and didn't get one. But I did! I could never figure that out except that Kirk was not popular among his fellow actors. It was my sole film for Willie Wyler and he put me through the emotional ringer and it really worked."
BAWDEN: "The third was for Interrupted Melody in 1955."
PARKER: "It was the story for Marjorie Lawrence who survived polio to become a great opera star. I took the records up to Lake Arrowhead and for three  weeks I just lip synched all day long. MGM had bought it for Greer Garson but hey I'll take mark downs if they come my way."
BAWDEN: "Why leave Warners for MGM?"
PARKER "Better scripts, more choices. My MGM deal meant I could do one for them and then one for freelance. I got to work with Bob Taylor (Above And Beyond), Stew Granger (Scaramouche), Bill Holden( Escape From Fort Bravo) at MGM and outside there was Chuck Heston (Naked Jungle), Frankie Sinatea (The Man with the Golden Gun), Dana Andrews (Madison Avenue)."
BAWDEN" Watching al, those red ants coming at you in Naked Jungle scared me as a kid."
PARKER: "Well, the assistant director actually did say 'Cue the ants!' I was scared and very itchy afterwards.'"
BAWDEN: "Why take the secondary position in The Sound Of Music(1965)?"
PARKER: "Did that one for my children. Something I could take them to without flinching. And it just goes on and on. I still get letters about that one."
BAWDEN: "Now it's TV."
PARKER: "Thank God for The Love Boat, Fantasy Island. Aaron Spelling gives all us old girlies a break or two. And maybe just maybe another great movie role will come up."
An hour later she rang off saying "Goodbye from the recluse."
Eleanor Parker died December 9 2013 aged 92 at a hospital near her home in Palm Springs.


Alison <> said...

I'm so glad to have come across this article. There is not a great deal written about Eleanor Parker and it's neat to read about someone who talked to her. She was a great character actress and I enjoy her work. What an honor it is that she called you. Thank you for posting her words here. :)


A wonderful article and interview!

Nothing I have read about Eleanor Parker has had such wonderful, private musings as those in your article. It reads like she is sitting close by. I have found a picture of her in her 80s; she was such a fantastic actress, and the most beautiful of them all in that era..or any era!

No one today could equal her beauty, talent, and charm. Mildred