Sunday, February 14, 2010
Underrated Performer of the Week - Eleanor Parker
Eleanor Parker?? Although one of the great beauties and among the finest actresses of the 40s and 50s she is among the forgotten performers who have faded into near obscurity. I watched her in two films back to back, Pride of the Marines with John Garfield, and Above And Beyond with Robert Taylor. I'm still impressed by her exquisite loveliness, even in black-and-white, and her ability to become the characters she portrayed. She was called the "women of a thousand faces" because she imbued every character she played with a distinct personality that was not her own. She was nominated for three Academy Awards and her acting abilities were equal to those of her better-known contemporaries Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. And yet today she remains an afterthought in discussions about Hollywood's best actresses. Although part of this status can be blamed on Warner Bros. for not giving her the solid roles she deserved, Parker probably contributed by her refusal to go along with the Hollywood game. She was not interested in doing interviews or posing for cheesecake photos. She also refused to attend night clubs and parties where she could be photographed for publicity purposes or gossip column scoops. She preferred to spend as much time as possible at home with her family. Her decision to avoid the studio protocol for grooming its contract players like Ann Sheridan, helped to deny her a prominent place in Hollywood's collective memory.
Although choice film roles were scarce, she did appear in the lively swashbuckler Scaramouche and played opposite Frank Sinatra as his duplicitous wife in the Man with the Golden Arm. Robert Taylor was her costar in three films, Above and Beyond, Many Rivers to Cross, and Valley of the Kings, none of which were spectacularly successful. In Escape from Fort Bravo, an entertaining action filled western, she and her costar William Holden created just enough sexual tension to keep things interesting. Impressive supporting roles included performances opposite Frank Sinatra in A Hole in the Head and with Robert Mitchum in Home from the Hill. In the early 60s she began a career in television, appearing in many series and was nominated for an Emmy for her guest role on The 11th Hour. She also was one of the major characters in the short-lived Hollywood behind-the-scenes drama Bracken's World, but departed the show in midseason due to the poor quality of scripts. She continued to work in television on such shows as Murder, She Wrote, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. She also garnered glowing reviews as Corbin Bernsen's mother in the made for television drama Dead on the Money in 1991.
For those of us familiar with her work it is a mystery why she is not considered to be among the hierarchy of film actresses. But as explained above, it probably doesn't matter to her as much as it does to her legion of fans whose appreciation she has earned for her many memorable performances in a career that spans almost 60 years.