Eleanor Parker turns 91 today. The three-time Oscar nominee (Caged, 1950; Detective Story, 1951; Interrupted Melody, 1955) and Palm Springs resident is Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Month of June 2013. Earlier this month, TCM showed a few dozen Eleanor Parker movies, from her days at Warner Bros. in the '40s to her later career as a top Hollywood supporting player. (Photo: Publicity shot of Eleanor Parker in An American Dream.)
Missing from TCM's movie series, however, was not only Eleanor Parker's biggest box office it -- The Sound of Music, in which she steals the show from both Julie Andrews and the Alps -- but also what according to several sources is her very first movie role: a bit part in Raoul Walsh's They Died with Their Boots On, a 1941 Western starring Errol Flynn as a dashingly handsome and all-around-good-guy-ish General George Armstrong Custer. Olivia de Havilland is Flynn's leading lady -- for the last time in their careers -- while the Indians are there just to cause trouble.
Well, thanks to Turner Classic Movies' guest programmer, menswear designer and author Joseph Abboud, TCM is showing They Died with Their Boots On this evening. But Eleanor Parker fans, don't get your hopes up: according to those same sources, Parker's bit role was cut from the final release print of the Warner brothers' paean to historical nonsense. (See also: "Eleanor Parker Now on TCM," "Eleanor Parker Movies," and "Eleanor Parker June 2013 Star.")
They Died with Their Boots On
But who cares about history? It's rewritten every day, anyways. Is They Died with Their Boots On fun? Well ... I'd say you have to be a major Errol Flynn fan to enjoy the film's longwinded inanity. Abboud apparently is one of those, calling Flynn "a noble, gallant and very handsome actor. As a kid I wanted to be him!"
Surely some other kids wanted to be Olivia de Havilland, but probably as Bette Davis' good sister in In This Our Life or her evil one in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte. For in They Died with Their Boots On the future two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner has precious little to do but look pretty and coy in period costumes. No wonder de Havilland -- who apparently in real life was pretty, but not coy -- turned down her next pairing with Flynn, Gentleman Jim (1942), a pretty-in-black-and-white role that eventually went to the more acquiescent Alexis Smith.
Claude Rains and Madame Konstantin walk away with Notorious
Also on TCM this evening, two Alfred Hitchcock efforts: The David O. Selznick production Rebecca, winner of the 1940 Best Picture Academy Award and starring nominees Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine (instead of Margaret Sullavan, Loretta Young, Vivien Leigh, and others), and Notorious (1946), starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.
Abboud calls Cary Grant "the epitome of men's style -- his masculinity, his confidence, the way he wears clothes." Yet, whether well- or shabbily dressed (or, literally, invisible), Claude Rains is the one who steals just about every movie he's in. That includes Notorious. Other Notorious notables are Ted Tetzlaff's black-and-white cinematography, and a superbly conniving Madame Leopoldine Konstantin, as Rains', huh, much-too-doting Mom.
Following Notorious, TCM will show two Humphrey Bogart star vehicles: Michael Curtiz's Best Picture Oscar winner Casablanca (1942), which in my humble opinion isn't nearly as romantic as that year's Random Harvest (though it's certainly much better remembered), and All Through the Night (1942), chiefly of interest because of the presence of veteran Conrad Veidt (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) in a supporting role. Needless to say, Claude Rains walks away with Casablanca as well. (Rains would have had a tougher time had he been cast in Random Harvest, what with Ronald Colman, Greer Garson, and Susan Peters in top form.) (See also: Eleanor Parker, Jean Arthur, Patricia Neal in 'Forgotten Actresses' montage.)
Marilyn Monroe strikes a pose
And finally, TCM is currently showing John Huston's 1950 crime drama The Asphalt Jungle, which earned Huston Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay (with Ben Maddow), in addition to nominations for Best Supporting Actor Sam Jaffe and Harold Rosson for Best Cinematography (Black and White). The Asphalt Jungle also marks the first notable screen appearance of Marilyn Monroe, in a small but memorably sultry supporting role.
Marilyn Monroe, Claude Rains, and Errol Flynn (but no Eleanor Parker) movie schedule
6:00 PM THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950). A gang plots an elaborate jewel heist. Director: John Huston. Cast: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, Marilyn Monroe, James Whitmore, Anthony Caruso, John McIntire, Marc Lawrence, Teresa Celli, Dorothy Tree, Brad Dexter. BW-112 mins.
8:00 PM THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (1941). Biopic of General Custer. Director: Raoul Walsh. Cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Arthur Kennedy, Charley Grapewin, Gene Lockhart, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Ridges, John Litel, Sydney Greenstreet, Regis Toomey, Hattie McDaniel, Walter Hampden, Minor Watson (Eleanor Parker bit role cut from movie). BW-140 mins.
10:30 PM REBECCA (1940). A young woman vs. her husband's dead first wife. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Nigel Bruce, Gladys Cooper, C. Aubrey Smith, Reginald Denny, Melville Cooper, Florence Bates, Leo G. Carroll, Lumsden Hare, Edward Fielding, Forrester Harvey. BW-130 mins.
1:00 AM NOTORIOUS (1946). A German expatriate infiltrates a Nazi spy ring in Rio de Janeiro. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Madame Leopoldine Konstantin, Louis Calhern, Moroni Olsen, Reinhold Schünzel, Alexis Minotis, Ivan Triesault, Charles Mendl. BW-101 mins.
3:00 AM CASABLANCA (1942). Fate brings an American saloon owner in Casablanca face to face with the love of his life. Director: Michael Curtiz. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S.Z. Sakall, Madeleine Lebeau, Dooley Wilson, Joy Page, John Qualen, Leonid Kinskey, Curt Bois, Monte Blue, Marcel Dalio. BW-103 mins.
5:00 AM ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT (1941). A bunch of crooks track down a Nazi spy ring. Director: Vincent Sherman. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Conrad Veidt, Kaaren Verne, Jane Darwell, Frank McHugh, Peter Lorre, Judith Anderson, William Demarest, Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers, Wallace Ford, Barton MacLane, Edward Brophy. BW-107 mins.
"Marilyn Monroe, Claude Rains, and Errol Flynn (but no Eleanor Parker)" movie schedule (ET) via the TCM website. Publicity shot of Eleanor Parker in An American Dream: Warner Bros.