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Eleanor Parker Biography: Actress Brilliant in Abortion Drama DETECTIVE STORY

Eleanor Parker actress biographyEleanor Parker: Actress Wasted in 'Valentino,' brilliant in abortion-themed crime drama 'Detective Story' (image: Eleanor Parker ca. 1955)

(See previous post: “Eleanor Parker Dead at 91: 'The Sound of Music' Actress.”) Eleanor Parker's three 1950 releases were her last ones for Warner Bros. The following year, she starred in Columbia's critical and box office flop Valentino, with Anthony Dexter as silent film idol Rudolph Valentino and Parker as a mix of Alice Terry (Valentino's leading lady in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Conquering Power), Agnes Ayres (Valentino's leading lady in The Sheik), and Hollywood bullshit.

As an aside: Alice Terry wasn't at all pleased with Valentino. Eleanor Parker wasn't the problem; Terry was angry because Parker's character, “Joan Carlisle” a.k.a. “Sarah Gray,” is shown becoming involved with Valentino both before and after Terry's marriage to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse director Rex Ingram, who had died the previous year. She sued Columbia for $750,000, eventually winning an undisclosed, but reportedly hefty, settlement from the studio.

Also in 1951, Eleanor Parker starred in two movies at Paramount: George Marshall's screwball-ish romantic comedy A Millionaire for Christy, co-starring Fred MacMurray, and William Wyler's well-received mix of crime mystery thriller and psychological drama, Detective Story, co-starring Kirk Douglas – who, coincidentally, turned 97 today (Dec. 9, 2013).

In Detective Story, Parker's role is subordinate to that of Douglas', a self-righteous, law-and-order police detective intent on getting the goods on a suspected abortionist. Yet, hers is the strongest performance in the film; with her quiet playing as the detective's Wife with a Past, she easily overshadows Douglas' actorish boisterousness.

Curiously, considering that his is the showier role, Kirk Douglas was bypassed for the 1951 Academy Awards; Parker, however, received her second consecutive Best Actress Oscar nomination. She lost to Vivien Leigh for Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire. (Lee Grant, deservedly nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category shortly before her film career was derailed by the Red Scare hysteria, turned 88 last October 31.)

Eleanor Parker: Third and final Best Actress Oscar nomination

Eleanor Parker's third and final Academy Award nomination was for the highly successful biopic Interrupted Melody (1955). She lost the Oscar to Anna Magnani for Daniel Mann's The Rose Tattoo. Surprisingly, Parker was bypassed for her classy, appropriately acerbic Baroness (“I should have brought my harmonica”) in the otherwise diabetes-inducing The Sound of Music, one of the biggest blockbusters ever – in my view, she is, along with Peggy Wood (however dubbed) and the Alps, the best thing about that Best Picture Oscar winner starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

In June 2013, on the occasion of her 91st birthday, Eleanor Parker was Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Month. I wrote extensively about her and her films at the time. Please check out “Eleanor Parker Now on TCM” and the follow-up articles: “Eleanor Parker Movies,” “Eleanor Parker Today,” “Eleanor Parker: Actress Turns 91.” Also worth checking out: “Eleanor Parker, Jean Peters, Jean Arthur, Patricia Neal, and others in 'Forgotten Actresses Montage.' “

This article is being updated. “Eleanor Parker at MGM” is next. Please check back shortly.

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3 Comments to Eleanor Parker Biography: Actress Brilliant in Abortion Drama DETECTIVE STORY

  1. Bill Roddick

    Eleanor Parker: What a beautiful lady! One of the film's greats. To be remembered. Such grace and charm. Always appreciated her fans.


    I discovered Eleanor Parker in “Above and Beyond” in 1953 and remained a fan thereafter all her life.
    Three other guys and I saw her in Indianapolis in a production of “Applause” in the 70s. It was the thrill of my life. We talked to her and she gave us her autograph in the parking lot. My friend reminded me that she got in a car and drove herself away. We travelled as a group and saw her in a downtown Cincinnati, Ohio theater in “An American Dream” an underrated performance by the critics. Another friend saw her at a performance of “Hello Dolly” in a Chicago Schubert theater lobby, her husband was an associate of the Schubert, and she kindly signed a restaurant napkin for him. I would love to hear from people who saw her in person and their memories of her.

  3. robin