Actress Eleanor Parker, the Baroness in ‘The Sound of Music,’ Dies at 91

sound-of-music Eleanor-Parker-dead

Oscar-nominated actress Eleanor Parker, best known today for her role as the Baroness, the lady friend of Captain Von Trapp who loses out to Julie Andrews’ Maria in 1965 film “The Sound of Music,” died Monday morning due to complications from pneumonia at a medical facility near Palm Springs, Calif. She was 91.

In the 1950s, however, Parker earned three Oscar nominations for best actress: in 1951, for “Caged,” in which she played a naive young widow made cynical by her experiences in prison; in 1952, for William Wyler’s “Detective Story,” in which she portrayed the wife of a ruthless police detective (Kirk Douglas) who ultimately reveals that she has availed herself of the services of the abortionist he’s intent on imprisoning; and in 1956 for biopic “Interrupted Melody,” in which she portrayed Australian-born opera star Marjorie Lawrence, who battled back from polio.

Parker showed impressive range, which was clearly her intention. She once said, “When I am spotted somewhere it means that my characterizations haven’t covered up Eleanor Parker the person. I prefer it the other way around.”

Parker was born in Cedarville, Ohio, but headed off to the Rice Summer Theater on Martha’s Vineyard at 15. After high school in Cleveland, she moved to California, where she studied at the Pasadena Playhouse. Parker declined offers of screen tests from 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., then contacted the latter a year later; she was signed two days after the test.

She was to make her screen debut in “They Died With Their Boots On,” but Parker’s scenes were cut; her bigscreen bow came in 1942’s “Busses Roar.”

By the next year she was assigned to a high-profile project at the studio, the very pro-Soviet “Mission to Moscow,” in which she played the daughter of Walter Huston, who portrayed the American ambassador to the U.S.S.R.

She was still making some B movies but starred with John Garfield in 1944 supernatural romancer “Between Two Worlds” and in 1945’s “Pride of the Marines.”

Parker failed, however, to live up to the memory of Bette Davis’ performance more than a decade earlier when she starred in a remake of “Of Human Bondage” in 1946.

The actress next appeared with Errol Flynn in two light-hearted charmers, “Never Say Goodbye” and “Escape Me Never,” and starred in a highly atmospheric adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ gothic mystery “The Woman in White.”

In 1950 she starred in one of Humphrey Bogart’s lesser efforts, test pilot “Chain Lightning.”

In addition to the films for which she Oscar nominated, Parker made a number of high-profile pics during the 1950s, including the period actioner “Scaramouche,” with Stewart Granger; Western “Escape From Fort Bravo,” with William Holden; epic, effects-laden adventure film “The Naked Jungle,” with Charlton Heston; Egyptian adventure “Valley of the Kings,” with Robert Taylor; and Otto Preminger’s boundary-crossing addict tale “The Man With the Golden Arm,” with Frank Sinatra.

Parker gave an impressive performance in the little-seen B movie “Lizzie” (1957), which, like “The Three Faces of Eve,” released the same year, focused on a woman with multiple personality disorder.

She made fewer films in the 1960s. Aside from “The Sound of Music,” she appeared in movies including “The Oscar” and Italian film “The Tiger and the Pussycat.”

The actress did a considerable amount of TV work beginning in the late 60s. She was a series regular on the 1969-70 series “Bracken’s World”; appeared on episodes of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and “Hawaii Five-O”; and did the obligatory guest turns on “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island” and “Murder, She Wrote.”

Earlier, however, she was nominated for an Emmy in 1963 for her appearance on NBC psychologist drama “The Eleventh Hour.”

Parker also appeared in a considerable number of made-for-television movies, including “Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring,” starring with Sally Field; “Vanished”; “Home for the Holidays”; a 1975 version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” in which she played the Katharine Hepburn role; and “Madame X.”

She made her last screen appearance in the 1991 telepic “Dead on the Money.”

Parker was married four times. Her second husband was film producer Bert E. Friedlob, her third, American portrait painter Paul Clemens. Fourth husband Raymond Hirsch, whom she married in 1966, died in 2001. Survivors include sons Paul, an actor, and Richard; and daughters Susan and Sharon.

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  1. Helen rehbein says:

    I liked watching elenor Parker. I didn’t realise how many things she has been in. It’s often the most talented, that remain the most modest.
    A asset to the theatre productions she’s been in. Rip.

  2. MILDRED LEVINE says:

    Technicolor was invented for Eleanor Parker…”The Naked Jungle” and “Scaramouche” are prime examples. When asked about her role in “The Sound of Music” she was asked why she accepted that rather small role, and she answered she wanted a real legacy left for her children and grandchildren; lo and behold this film is being honored after 50 years, and being compared to “Gone With The Wind” in its timeless popularity…move over Scarlett O’Hara!

  3. Aspi J. Wadia says:

    I feel that she was not only a stunning beauty but more than that she was a brilliant performer. Its sad that we did not much appreciate her talents.

  4. Error in above article:
    SOUND OF MUSIC was released 1965 … not 1966.

    Eleanor Parker was a beautiful and versatile actress. That rare high combo of beauty and talent perhaps only seen before in Vivien Leigh. Too bad she never became a bigger star!

  5. hazelogic says:

    One of the most underappreciated stars of old Hollywood. Although I don’t think that mattered to her.
    And so beautiful!

  6. lemacd says:

    may she rest in peace… beautiful wonderful actress. auf weidersehen, darling.

  7. Robb Feinstein says:

    Sad. She was a wonderful actress.

  8. Penn kae Rowe says:

    sincere condolences to the family of a very successful lady and actress

  9. AC Robinson says:

    Phenomenal as Zosch in Man With The Golden Arm. So many AA nods. Another golden-era leading lady lost.

  10. Ken from Toronto says:

    What an astonishingly beautiful woman she was – a face and figure made for Technicolor! I recently ran the highly entertaining action flick “The Naked Jungle” – she’s breath-taking…so much so, she didn’t allow Charlton Heston to chew up all their scenes together…she more than held her own against Mr. Ham and all those ants! In that old b&w women’s prison chestnut “Caged”, Eleanor believably transitioned from frightened little mouse to hardened inmate; it’s a great performance in a still-potent drama. She will of course always be best remembered as The Baroness in “Sound Of Music”; I distinctly remember seeing her on the huge 70 mm screen…she may have been one of the most beautiful things I’d seen; she gave the Alps a run for their money. “…and somewhere out there is a young woman who, I think, will never become a nun. Auf weidersehen, darling.”

    Auf weidersehen to you, Miss Parker. Thank you for your work; thank you for that divine face.

  11. I saw the Sound of Music when I was eight. When she came on the screen I thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Her eyes said as much as her words. Not many women in Hollywood were ever that pretty on film.

  12. Mer says:

    A lovely woman. She was my grandmother’s best friend in high school, and served as my grandmother’s maid of honor at in 1942 when she was just beginning her film career. I have some beautiful old pictures of her from her high school sorority days, long before she was famous!

  13. Eric Spilker says:

    There is an error in the Variety obit. Parker appeared in the 1967 Italian film “The Tiger and the Pussycat,” not “The Owl and the Pussycat.”

  14. Filbert says:

    classy and beautiful — I was rooting for the Baroness all along

  15. John Shea says:

    She scored well in ‘THE NAKED JUNGLE’ with Charlton Heston against a cast of billions (of ants).

  16. And let the Carrie Underwood killed Eleanor Parker comments begin…

  17. John Earl Burnett says:

    RIP Ms. Parker…From one of your biggest fans.

    • The scene in The Naked Jungle when she has C. Heston apply the bug juice, is simply priceless! And then she clues us in on the fact that it’s just a matter of time before he is hers. Superb. Even a not so good film was elevated by her presence! Thank you Ms. Parker for many hrs of enjoyment! RIP

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