Eleanor Parker dies aged 91

Eleanor Parker, who has died aged 91, was an American screen and stage actress, best-remembered for her role as the Baroness Elsa Schraeder, co-star to Julie Andrews in the Oscar-winning 1965 film, The Sound of Music.

Clad in beaded gowns and ash-blonde wigs (she was naturally brunette), Eleanor Parker cut a mature, icily elegant figure next to Julie Andrews, who was then a newcomer. Charmian Carr, playing the eldest Von Trapp daughter, remembered her as “the bona fide movie star in the cast” .

Above – A Very famous scene from The Sound Of Music 1965

In a statement, Christopher Plummer said: ‘Eleanor Parker was and is one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever known.

‘Both as a person and as a beauty. I hardly believe the sad news for I was sure she was enchanted and would live forever.’

Parker’s death comes at a time when The Sound Of Music is back in the spotlight.

With her rich, husky voice and striking good looks, she had proven herself equally adept in both dramatic and lighter roles.  At the Venice Film Festival in 1950 she had won an international award for Caged, as a first-time offender who is brutally mistreated by the prison matron.

Her performance in Scaramouche (1952), as the strong-willed theatre player Lenore, had showed her at her most alluring and entertaining. Yet, though nominated for an Oscar three times, she never triumphed at the award ceremony. At Warner Brothers, however, her versatility won her great acclaim, and saw her publicised to cinema audiences as “The Woman of a Thousand Faces”.

Eleanor Jean Parker was born on June 26 1922 in Cedarville, Ohio, the youngest of three children. Her father, Lester Parker, was a mathematics teacher . She aspired to be an actress from a young age and eventually she headed in 1940 for the Pasadena Playhouse, where she caught the attention of a Warner Bros talent scout. She was signed on to the company just three days after her nineteenth birthday.

Her career though diod not get off to a flying start.  . Her scenes cut entirely from They Died With Their Boots On (1941) which starred Errol Flynn, and her next films (both 1942) were ignored.

Below:  She seems to be enjoying herself with Errol Flynn.

Gradually she was acquiring the reputation of a serious actress . In 1945,  director Edmund Goulding approached her for the role of Mildred, the conniving Cockney waitress of Somerset Maugham’s novel Of Human Bondage but the film was not a success.

Above – Never Say Goodbye 1946 a romantic comedy film about a divorcing couple and the daughter who works to bring them back together with Errol Flynn.

Her fortunes revived with the wartime comedy The Voice of the Turtle (1947), and by the 1950s her career had hit its first peak. Caged provided her with the kind of complex role that most appealed; at 27, she played a 19 year-old widowed during – and subsequently imprisoned for – an attempted robbery.  The part won her a Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards.

In 1951 she left Warner Bros and had her next big commercial success with Scaramouche, a swashbuckling MGM adventure set in 18th-century France which gave Stewart Granger a very good role – and featured – as the climax to the film – one of the best sword fights ever put on screen.. Detective Story (1951) won her another Oscar nomination. Her third and last came three years later, for Interrupted Melody (1955). The film also starred Glenn Ford.  Based on a bestselling biography, the film told the story of the Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence, who overcame poliomyelitis to take audiences by storm. Eleanor’s singing was dubbed by Eileen Farrell, a leading American soprano, who was deeply impressed by the actress’s commitment to the part. “In a lot of old Hollywood movies, the lip-synching was pretty sloppy,” she wrote in her memoirs, Can’t Help Singing. “Eleanor wanted hers to be completely convincing.”

From the early 1960s Eleanor Parker began to appear on television . Her performance in The Eleventh Hour (1963), a medical drama for NBC, received an Emmy nomination. From 1969-70 she was the principal star of Bracken’s World, but walked out after 16 episodes citing a “lack of creative satisfaction”.

She continued in regular big-screen appearances throughout this period, of which her best-known was The Sound of Music – though it was an unflattering role. “I was the so-called ‘heavy’,” she recalled, while emphasising that she was “very proud to have been in the film. If anyone asks me what I’ve done, I look to see how young they are and say: ‘There’s one film you will know…’”

At 42, however, the best of her career was behind her. Her last big-screen appearance, Sunburn, (1979), was a box-office failure. She continued to make infrequent television appearances up until 1991, but otherwise lived quietly in Palm Springs, California.

Eleanor Parker married, in 1943, Lieutenant Fred Losee, a Navy dentist. The marriage was dissolved the following year. She married, secondly, Bert Friedlob, with whom she had three children. Her third marriage, in 1954, was to the American portrait painter Paul Clemens; they divorced in 1965. In 1966 she married Raymond Hirsch, a Chicago theatre executive. He predeceased her in 2001.

Above – She christens The California Zephyr train in 1949


So the curtain comes down once more on one of the  Film Stars of the Fifties even though probably her best remembered film was made in 1965.  We have made reference to her before in The Naked Jungle with Charlton Heston – and a cast of millions of ants !!!  Maybe she will not be remembered as one of the screens greatest but she certainly has her place in film history.

I will print again the tribute from Christopher Plummer, which I found wonderful and very touching. He said of Eleanor Parker

‘Eleanor Parker was and is one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever known.

‘Both as a person and as a beauty. I hardly believe the sad news for I was sure she was enchanted and would live forever.’




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