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.”
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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.