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December 09, 2013

Eleanor Parker, 91, Oscar-Nominated Actress, Dies



Eleanor Parker, who was nominated three times for a best-actress Oscar but whose best-known role was a supporting one, as the marriage-minded baroness in “The Sound of Music,” died on Monday in Palm Springs, Calif. She was 91.

A family friend, Richard Gale, told The Associated Press that the cause was complications of pneumonia.

Ms. Parker was an elegant, ladylike yet sensual film actress. Still, her most recognizable role, as the Baroness who loves Christopher Plummer’s character, Captain von Trapp, in “The Sound of Music” (1965), called for an icy demeanor. Uninterested in his houseful of children, she loses him to the governess, played memorably by Julie Andrews. (Laura Benanti played the part in the recent version on NBC.)

The highest accolades of Ms. Parker’s career came a decade before.

She was nominated for an Oscar for dramatic roles as a wrongly convicted young prisoner in “Caged” (1950), a police officer’s neglected wife in “Detective Story” (1951) and an opera star with polio in “Interrupted Melody” (1955), a biography of the Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence. She also received an Emmy Award nomination in 1963 for an episode of “The Eleventh Hour,” an NBC series about psychiatric cases.

If she never became a star, admirers contended, it was because of her versatility. Sometimes a blonde, sometimes a brunette, often a redhead, Ms. Parker made indelible impressions but submerged herself in a wide range of characters, from a war hero’s noble fiancĂ©e in “Pride of the Marines” (1945) to W. Somerset Maugham’s vicious waitress-prostitute in a remake of “Of Human Bondage” (1946).

Eleanor Jean Parker was born on June 26, 1922, in Cedarville, Ohio, the daughter of a math teacher and his wife. She appeared in school plays as a child and, in her teens, headed for Massachusetts to study acting at the Rice Summer Theater in Martha’s Vineyard. Then she moved to California and studied at the Pasadena Playhouse.

According to numerous sources, she was approached by movie scouts at both schools but turned down their offers of screen tests in favor of completing her education. When she had done that, she got back to the Warner Brothers scout and was soon given a contract.

Her feature film debut, however, was delayed. It was supposed to be in the western “They Died With Their Boots On” (1941), with Errol Flynn, but her scenes were edited out. In 1942 she appeared in two war-promotion shorts and provided the voice of a telephone operator in a Humphrey Bogart gangster movie, “The Big Shot.” Finally, later that year, she appeared as a frightened bus passenger in “Busses Roar,” a black-and-white drama about wartime saboteurs.

Over the next quarter-century her career tended toward the deadly serious in films like “Between Two Worlds” (1944), about air-raid victims in the afterlife, and “The Man With the Golden Arm” (1955), the drug-addiction drama, as Frank Sinatra’s unsupportive wife. But she won favorable reviews in the occasional comedy, like “The Voice of the Turtle” (1947), opposite Ronald Reagan, and “A Hole in the Head” (1959), in which she also starred with Sinatra, and in hybrids like “The King and Four Queens” (1956), with Clark Gable.

Ms. Parker appeared in numerous television movies and as a guest on several series, mostly in the 1960s and ’70s. She won new attention as a powerful movie-industry secretary in the NBC series “Bracken’s World” (1969-70). Her last theatrical film was “Sunburn” (1979), a poorly received comedy starring Farrah Fawcett, and her final television appearance a 1991 movie, “Dead on the Money,” with Kevin McCarthy.

Ms. Parker’s first husband was Fred L. Losse, a Navy dentist whom she met on the set of the pro-Soviet drama “Mission to Moscow.” Their marriage, in 1943, lasted 21 months. In 1946 she married Bert E. Friedlob, a film producer. Before their divorce, in 1953, they had three children together.

A third marriage, to Paul Clemens, an artist, lasted from 1954 to 1965. They had a son. In 1966, she married Raymond N. Hirsch, a Chicago businessman, who died in 2001. Information on survivors was not immediately available.

In 1953, with two recent Oscar nominations to her credit, Ms. Parker talked to The New York Times about her good career luck so far. “Things have a way of working out right for me,” she said, adding a bit later, “I maintain that if you work, believe in yourself and do what is right for you without stepping all over others, the way somehow opens up.”

“I even got my three wishes granted,” she said in the same interview. “To be in pictures, to give Mother a mink coat and buy the folks a house.”

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