Palm Springs resident Eleanor Parker is Turner Classic Movies’ Star of the Month of June 2013. Thus, eight more Eleanor Parker movies will be shown this evening on TCM. Parker turns 91 on Wednesday, June 26. (See also: “Eleanor Parker Today.”)
Eleanor Parker received her second Best Actress Academy Award nomination for William Wyler’s crime drama Detective Story (1951). The movie itself feels dated, partly because of several melodramatic plot developments, and partly because of Kirk Douglas’ excessive theatricality as the detective whose story is told. Parker, however, is excellent as Douglas’ wife, though her role is subordinate to his.
Just about as good is Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Lee Grant, whose career would be derailed by the anti-Red hysteria of the ’50s. Grant would make her comeback in the ’70s, eventually winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance opposite Warren Beatty in Hal Ashby’s Shampoo (1975). For the record, 1951’s winners were Vivien Leigh as Best Actress and Kim Hunter as Best Supporting Actress, both for Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire.
I’ve never watched the rarely shown A Millionaire for Christy (1951). This 20th Century Fox production was directed by George Marshall (Destry Rides Again) and co-stars Fred MacMurray (Double Indemnity), by then on his way to becoming a (mostly) minor Western star — before coming back in the ’60s as one of those insufferable Disney Dads.
Eleanor Parker as Alice Terry, Mae Murray, June Mathis, etc.
Lewis Allen’s Valentino (1951) is a must-see disaster, a laughably absurd biopic of Rudolph Valentino, the star of The Sheik and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Eleanor Parker plays a fictitious character that’s part Mae Murray, part Alice Terry, part-June Mathis, part-Natacha Rambova, part-Jean Acker, part you-name-it.
Whether or not "partly" depicted in the film, Alice Terry, Valentino’s co-star in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Conquering Power, and the widow of the director of those two films, Rex Ingram, sued Columbia Pictures for $750,000. She received a six-figure out-of-court settlement, as the film portrays Eleanor Parker’s character having an affair with Valentino both before and after Terry’s marriage to Ingram. Of note, Valentino star Anthony Dexter looks quite a bit like the original.
Another must-see disaster is Russell Rouse’s The Oscar (1966), a Hollywood-set cautionary tale based on Richard Sale’s novel about the pitfalls of fame and the dangers of golden statuettes of naked men holding long swords between their legs. Eleanor Parker plays the agent who discovers ambitious actor Stephen Boyd, who falls for beauty Elke Sommer.
Among those glimpsed in The Oscar’s cameos and supporting roles are Merle Oberon, Milton Berle, Joseph Cotten, Jill St. John, Tony Bennett, Peter Lawford, Hedda Hopper, Nancy Sinatra, Bob Hope, and Oscar winners Ernest Borgnine, Ed Begley, Walter Brennan, Broderick Crawford, Frank Sinatra, James Dunn, and Edith Head. The film’s last scene was clearly based on the Frank Capra / Frank Lloyd Oscar tale that, according to Capra’s biographer Joseph McBride, never happened — or at least not the way the director described it in his autobiography.
Note: The IMDb lists Joan Crawford as one of The Oscar’s guest stars. I don’t recall seeing her in the movie.
A latter-day Frank Capra and a drug-addicted Frank Sinatra
Speaking of Frank Capra, he’s the director of the 1959 comedy A Hole in the Head, his next-to-last movie. (Released in 1961, A Pocketful of Miracles was the last one.) Frank Sinatra is Eleanor Parker’s leading man.
Sinatra is also Parker’s leading man in Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), a melodrama about drug addiction that left censors apoplectic and audiences wondering how it would feel to shoot up heroin. The Man with the Golden Arm was a huge box office hit, earning Frank Sinatra his one Best Actor Oscar nomination. Eleanor Parker, unfortunately, is way over the top as Sinatra’s harridan-from-hell wife, while Kim Novak is the angelic side of the film’s dysfunctional triangle.
A curiosity: An American Dream (1966) features former Star Trek actor and current Facebook celebrity George Takei.
Eleanor Parker movie schedule
8:00 PM DETECTIVE STORY (1951). A cop accidentally uncovers his wife’s unlawful past. Director: William Wyler. Cast: Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix, Cathy O’Donnell, Gladys George, George Macready, Lee Grant, Joseph Wiseman, Gerald Mohr, Frank Faylen. BW-103 mins.
10:00 PM A MILLIONAIRE FOR CHRISTY (1951). A woman is after a man who has inherited a million dollars. Director: George Marshall. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Eleanor Parker, Richard Carlson, Una Merkel, Chris-Pin Martin, Douglas Dumbrille, Nestor Paiva. BW-91 mins.
11:45 PM VALENTINO (1951). Rudolph Valentino is torn between love and career. Director: Lewis Allen. Cast: Anthony Dexter, Eleanor Parker, Richard Carlson, Patricia Medina, Dona Drake, Lloyd Gough, Otto Kruger, Joseph Calleia. BW-104 mins.
1:45 AM THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955). A junkie tries to kick his drug addiction. Director: Otto Preminger. Cast: Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Arnold Stang, Darren McGavin, Robert Strauss, George E. Stone. BW-119 mins. Letterbox Format.
4:00 AM THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS (1956). A con man tries to win the confidence of a handful of widows. Director: Raoul Walsh. Cast: Clark Gable, Eleanor Parker, Jean Willes, Barbara Nichols, Sara Shane, Roy Roberts, Jay C. Flippen, Jo Van Fleet, Arthur Shields. C-84 mins. Letterbox Format.
5:30 AM A HOLE IN THE HEAD (1959). A man’s lifestyle could cost him custody of his son. Director: Arthur S. Black Jr. Cast: Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Eleanor Parker, Carolyn Jones, Thelma Ritter, Joi Lansing, Keenan Wynn, Dub Taylor. C-120 mins. Letterbox Format.
7:45 AM AN AMERICAN DREAM (1966). A man suspected of murdering his wife has to elude the police and a gang of hoodlums. Director: Robert Gist. Cast: Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Eleanor Parker, Barry Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan, J.D. Cannon, Murray Hamilton, Warren Stevens, Harold Gould, George Takei, Richard Derr. C-103 mins.
9:45 AM THE OSCAR (1966). An unscrupulous actor fights his way to the top. Director: Russell Rouse. Cast: Stephen Boyd, Elke Sommer, Eleanor Parker, Merle Oberon, Milton Berle, Joseph Cotten, Jill St. John, Edie Adams, Ed Begley, Bob Hope, Tony Bennett, Peter Lawford, Hedda Hopper, Ernest Borgnine, Walter Brennan, Broderick Crawford, Frank Sinatra, James Dunn, Edith Head. C-119 mins.
Eleanor Parker movie schedule via the TCM website. Eleanor Parker Detective Story photo: Paramount Pictures.