Applause, Dear Eleanor, Applause

9 Dec
eleanorparker2

^ Eleanor Parker as the unlucky baroness in The Sound of Music. Her frosty beauty is no match for the unabashed enthusiasm of governess Maria though she still looks like a million bucks in her champagne colored evening gown, one of the classic to-die-for creations in all of moviedom.

It’s probably just a coincidence that three-time Oscar nominee Eleanor Parker, who also portrayed the hardluck baroness in 1965’s Oscar winning smash The Sound of Music, has passed away at the age of 91, less than a week after the widely panned televised adaptation of Roger & Hammerstein’s beloved musical, but there it is. (What? Too soon?) Technically, she passed away due to complications from pneumonia so say the official reports. Alas.

Parker was never A-list Hollywood royalty. She wasn’t a great star like that. Like that meaning, say, on the magnitude of Lana Turner, Deborah Kerr, or Susan Hayward, all of whom were at the top of their games in the 1950s, the decade in which Parker enjoyed her most notable successes. Crawford, Davis, and Stanwyck had already peaked at that point though they continued to work steadily; Katharine Hepburn was still on the path to becoming a legend, but I digress. Instead of commanding exquisite, tailor-made vehicles, Parker was a reliable character actress who took chances playing gritty, gutsy roles.

parker-caged

^ Parker in Caged, the first of her three Oscar nominated performances: the then hardhitting drama helped Parker score acting honors at the 1950 Venice Film Festival.

Parker’s three Oscar nominations are worth noting even if the films themselves are not remembered as classics. Like 1948’s The Snake Pit, starring Olivia de Havilland in a for-the-times frank depiction of a mental patient, Parker’s women-in-prison Caged (1950) has not aged well to the degree that it can’t play as anything but camp these days–to the point that its depiction of butch inmates is mocked in the influential documentary The Celluloid Closet (1996).  That noted, Parker, as the naive young widow coarsened by prison life (a role Ida Lupino might have killed for), wasn’t the only Oscar nominee in the Caged bunch as the Academy also recognized supporting player Hope Emerson (an evil matron) and screenwriters Virginia Kellog and Bernard Schoenfeld. None took home a trophy. Parker lost in her category to Judy Holliday recreating her Born Yesterday  stage triumph though Parker was in good company with fellow also-rans Bette Davis and Anne Baxter (All About Eve) and Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard). The next year, Parker was back in the race for Detective Story starring Kirk Douglas and Best Supporting Actress nominee Lee Grant.  In that go-round, the Best Actress statuette went to Vivien Leigh as Tennessee Williams’s faded belle Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Playing second-fiddle to manly man Douglas just wasn’t enough to snatch victory from Leigh in such a celebrated role. Parker’s most typically Oscar caliber feature was 1955’s Interrupted Melody (in color as opposed to the previous B & W entries), in which she portrayed real-life Australian opera star Marjorie Lawrence who successfully battled polio and even enjoyed a solid comeback. No opera singer, Parker was dubbed in the film, but members of the Academy liked what they saw and nominated her accordingly. She lost that year to Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo, another Williams adaptation.

frankiecomeshome_themanwiththegoldenarm

^ Parker as the literally clingy wife in The Man with the Golden Arm starring Frank Sinatra

One of Parker’s most famous roles, released the same year as Interrupted Melody, is in The Man with the Golden Arm, Otto Preminger’s blistering depiction of a–barely–recovering heroin addict with Frank Sinatra giving his all, and reaping plenty of acclaim, as a drummer trying to beat the odds of recidivism once released from prison. It’s Sinatra’s vehicle, no doubt, though Parker is effective in the role of his brittle, manipulative wife. Even so, she’s no match for the sensuous beauty of Kim Novak.

Per the IMDb, Parker has not acted in ages, and her last few decades of work were mostly on TV though it only seems like she was in every other episode of Murder, She Wrote; however, she frequently guest-starred on Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Her TV accolades include a Golden Globe nomination for the short-lived series Bracken’s World and an Emmy nod for The Eleventh Hour.  I’m also proud to say that I saw her at the Dallas Summer Musicals in the early-to-mid 1970s, cast as Broadway dynamo Margo Channing in Applause (a Tony winner for Lauren Bacall), adapted from 1950’s Oscar winning All About Eve starring the aforementioned Davis and Baxter with the former magnificent as Margo and the latter slipping into the role of the duplicitous title character.  I saw a lot of DSM shows back in the day, and Applause was definitely a highlight thanks  mostly to Parker’s incredible verve and talent.

Applause, dear Eleanor, applause.  Indeed.

Thanks for your consideration….

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4 Responses to “Applause, Dear Eleanor, Applause”

  1. Stacy Davies 13 July 2016 at 10:21 am #

    You don’t happen to know of any recordings of Parker in Applause, do you? Film or audio. I’d love to hear her sing — was she good?

    • listen2uraunt 18 July 2016 at 8:53 pm #

      Hi. Thanks for reading. Alas, I am fairly certain that there are no recordings of the great Eleanor Parker in Applause. This was either a production produced exclusively for Dallas Summer Musicals OR a touring production. By the time Parker took to the stage as Margo Channing. Lauren Bacall had already earned a Tony AND aired as a special TV event for CBS, and even that, apparently, is not available for repeat viewing. I don’t remember much about Parker’s singing. I was , say, 12 or 13 at the time. My guess would be, following on the heels of Bacall, that a lot of talk-singing was involved. Her two big numbers are “But Alive” and another song based on the “Fasten your seatbelts line.” Certainly, she was glamorous and her overall her performance was certainly powerful. I hope this helps.

      • Stacy Davies 20 July 2016 at 4:13 pm #

        Thank you for taking the time to respond so thoroughly! Yes, it’s so difficult to find images and media on Parker. I screen Caged in one of my lecture series and am always looking for more biographical information. I bough Woman of 1000 Faces, but still not much there.

        If you ever run across any of her hard to find work, especially TV movies, I’d appreciate a head’s up. I’m specifically looking for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, Vanished, Circle of Fear: Half a Death, Dead on the Money, Murder She Wrote: Stagestruck, Fantasy Island: Nurse’s Night Out/Yesterday’s Love, Hotel: The Offer, and all of the TV Playhouse stuff from Chrysler and Buick, etc.

        Sorry for the list — I don’t expect you to hunt them down for me. Just putting it out there in case you ever stumble across anything!

        Great blog, btw — glad I found you!

        Cheers!

  2. Paul Clemens 07 May 2017 at 7:24 am #

    First, thanks for that lovely blog, Melanie! I appreciate your appreciation of my talented mother. (Yep, my mom was Eleanor parker) Secondly, Stacy, I have a pretty comprehensive collection of my Mom’s work — even less-than-sterling-quality audio tapes of both ‘Applause’ and ‘Pal Joey’ — and, to answer a couple of your questions, the Circle Of Fear ‘Half A Death’ is actually an episode of William Castle’s Ghost Story (which became ‘Circle Of fear’ later in its run) and is now commercially available on DVD. Which is also the case with my mom’s Murder She Wrote episode. I believe that was Season Three and, in the same season, is an episode called ‘Murder In A Minor Key’ guest starring, among other actors (including George Grizzard, Renais Auberjenois, Sean Cassidy, Dinah Manoff and Herb Edelman), Yours Truly as the accused murderer!

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