Eleanor Parker, a star of film, television and the Broadway stage died on December 9, 2013 of complications from pneumonia. Born on June 26, 1922, she was ninety one years old. Ms. Parker had appeared in roughly 80 films, TV shows and plays. To some extent a female Robert Taylor, she was hard working, professional, liked by her colleagues and the public and extremely versatile. In 2003 author Doug McClelland published a book called Woman of a Thousand Faces, Scarecrow Press, the name reflecting the wide range of roles she could play.
January 22, 1954. Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker at the Golden Globe Awards. Mr. Taylor won the award for World Film Favorite–Male (with Alan Ladd). Mamie van Doren gave out the statuettes.
Another similarity with Mr. Taylor is her lack of recognition from critics, although her peers regarded her highly enough to nominate her for a best actress Oscar three times. Ms. Parker did not, however, win an Oscar. It seems sad that nearly every obituary I’ve seen mentions her Sound of Music role but nothing else. She did so much more.
Eleanor Parker was married 4 times, divorcing three husbands and being widowed by the fourth. She had three children with her second husband, Bert Friedlob.
Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker co-starred in three successful movies: Above and Beyond, 1951; Valley of the Kings, 1954; Many Rivers To Cross, 1955. Their on-screen chemistry was explosive in three very different scenarios.
Above and Beyond
“Above and Beyond ……is a powerful, true drama as well as one of its leading lady’s most controversial films……In Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker, MGM has the perfect players to drum dramatic life into Paul Tibbets–laconic, dedicated leader of this horrific secret mission–and his wife Lucey, loving but baffled, and, for a while, alienated by her husband’s furtiveness…..Above and Beyond belongs to Taylor and Parker in the first of three teamings for the extremely compatible actors soon rumored to be a romantic twosome off-screen as well.” (McClelland, Doug. Woman of a Thousand Faces, Scarecrow Press, 2003, pages 74-75, 81).
Valley of the Kings
Valley of the Kings is an action-adventure story set in Egypt in the early 1900s. Mark Brandon (Robert Taylor) is an archaeologist and playboy running an excavation near the Step Pyramid of Saqqara. Ann Barclay Mercedes (Eleanor Parker) is the daughter of a recently deceased archaeologist. She wants Brandon to help her finish her father’s mission to prove the existence of the Biblical Joseph. Brandon and Mercedes engage in sexual wordplay from the time they first meet. A worker tells Brandon that a lady is looking for him. He orders her sent to his room. The worker responds that she’s “not that kind of lady.” Minutes later they enter his room where he comments that this is “the first time a woman has come here to talk.”
Above: on the set. Mr. Taylor had injured his knee jumping off of a camel and probably needed help with his boots. Director Robert Pirosh and actors Carlos Thompson and Kurt Kasznar also appear.
Later on Brandon says: “you know what they say–Egypt is like a man without a woman.” Mercedes replies: “Why do they say that?” He answers, “hot by day, cold by night.” She remarks that you could say the same for a woman without a man. Brandon: “I wouldn’t know about that.”
It is all complicated by her recently acquired husband, Philip Mercedes (Carlos Thompson). In one scene the three of them lie in tents a few feet apart, the Mercedes sleeping and Taylor lying awake watching Parker.
Of their experiences on the film, Taylor commented in a letter to his assistant Ivy Mooring, “Actually I’ve missed Ursula [Thiess] more on this trip than I ever have before. And that’s not because I’ve not been ‘taken care of’ in the romantic way while I’ve been gone. A little ‘location romance’ has developed which will end the minute I get home.” (Alexander, Linda J. Reluctant Witness; Robert Taylor, Hollywood and Communism, Tease Publishing, 2008, pages 284-284).
Parker said: There isn’t one of my leading men I haven’t gotten a kick out of, but Bob’s my favorite! Such a completely nice, sweet guy. To use a quaint old term, –such a gentleman. I felt real good working with him……Bob and I both expected there would be romance talk–Egypt is supposed to be a romance background—and we were only surprised it didn’t start sooner. But this time the old bromide is true–I assure you we’re just good friends. We don’t date at all. Bob dates Ursula Thiess and I go out with several different friends. (McClelland, page 14). Personally, I think they were both telling the truth. They were friends “with benefits,” as we say today but not serious about each other.
Above: one of the better movie kisses.
Many Rivers To Cross
Their last film together, Many Rivers To Cross, is a farce that started out as a drama. Ms. Parker is Mary Stuart Cherne, a Kentucky frontierswoman looking for a man. Robert Taylor is a trapper who is constantly pursued by women. When Ms Parker rescues Mr. Taylor from an Indian attack, she announces that “I found this’un and it’s mine.” (McClelland, page 82). After a shotgun (literally) wedding, Bushrod Gentry (Taylor) takes off and Cherne pursues him. Ms. Parker’s role is extremely physical and she carries it off with zest and vigor. “Parker was Taylor’s favorite leading lady and she complemented him on the screen more than any other actress.” (Wayne, Jane Ellen. Gable’s Women, 1978).
Above: scenes from the film. The man in the red coat is Victor McLaglen.
To complicate matters, on May 24, 1954 Robert Taylor married Ursula Thiess and she accompanied him to the set of Many Rivers To Cross. Despite the fact that no one, including Ms. Parker, had known about the marriage, there were no dramatics and filming proceeded without incident. This reinforces my opinion that Ms. Parker commitment to Robert Taylor has been exaggerated.
To summarize, Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker were sizzling on screen, friends and probably lovers in real life. They were both hardworking, not temperamental and not fatheaded. They took their careers seriously and were reliable and totally professional. Today, neither is as widely known as many lesser actors. This is, in Mr. Taylor’s case, largely due to a sustained effort by the political left to erase his memory. Ms. Parker may just not have been good copy, which limited her publicity. She wasn’t sensational, didn’t give the tabloids anything to feed on. Both of them, however, gave decades of entertainment to viewers all over the world and they both deserve to be remembered.
Robert Taylor is my favorite actor and Above and Beyond is also my favorite movie. What a wonderful article regarding the passing of his co-star Eleanor Parker. You could tell them really enjoyed working together in all of the three movies they did together. I am so glad that two have been released on DVD. I hope that Valley of the Kings is released sometime.
Thank you for your comment. Valley of the Kings shows up on Turner Classic Movies from time to time. I recorded mine from there.
I was saddened to read of Eleanor Parker’s passing yesterday and I knew that if I waited you would post here in her honour. Her films with Robert Taylor are among my most watched, as not only were they enjoyable, but one could look for signs of a supposed “relationship”, real or not. They complimented each other with a warmth that obviously was genuine, as you so aptly described. Love your blog about her and your comments are, as usual, so informative. Thank you Judith, once again.
I think they had terrific chemistry–it worked in a very serious film, a rip-roaring action film, and a farce. They were certainly at least great friends. Your calendar is on its way–it should take about 2 weeks from last Monday.
Sad news really about Mrs Parker s death. I think she was a great actress, and maybe the best couple Bob Taylor had on screen. God Bless her, God Bless Bob Taylor and thank you very much for this site honoring the great actor Mr. Taylor still is.
Thanks so much for your comment. Eleanor Parker was a great actress and a great lady. We don’t see her like these days.
I am deeply saddened hearing of the death of Eleanor Parker. Her performances in CAGED 1950, and DETECTIVE STORY 1951 are unforgettable. She was great. I am amazed no one has so much as mentioned these two films. She was nominated for both roles. You don’t have to be old to know these films. They are shown periodically on TCM. Seems today’s generation are interested only in movies depicting cars crashing, buildings imploding, bombs exploding, guns, bullets flying, noise, violence ad nauseam. If one so much as mentions a movie made before 1960, you get that look that says: “that’s way before my time.” Always afraid they will be thought old if they acknowledge ever seeing these great films made in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Along with many other actresses of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Eleanor Parker will always be one of my favorites.
I agree with you. I haven’t been to a new movie for years–there are only so many car explosions that I want to watch. Ms. Parker was beautiful, talented and classy.
Eleanor Parker was one of the most beautiful and talented actresses of her era. No actress today could surpass her; I own all of her major films (on DVD) and never stop marveling at her beauty and charisma. When asked why she accepted the small role of “The Baroness” in “The Sound of Music” she said that she wanted to be in that film for her children and grandchildren, for she knew it would be a favorite for old and young. Now this film is 50 years old and has surpassed “Gone With the Wind” in popularity around the world.
Roger Moore, who played her brother, Ceril,, in “Interrupted Melody” said he was secretly in love with Eleanor, but she and he were married to others; Eleanor never knew about this…
She was wonderful. It’s a shame that more people don’t know about Eleanor Parker today. Shd was an accomplished dramatic actress and comedienne. I loved her in all 3 of the movies she made with Robert Taylor–“Above and Beyond,” “Valley of the Kings,” and “Many Rivers To Cross.” I didn’t know about Roger Moore but Ms. Parker and Mr. Taylor were lovers during the making of the first 2 of their films together. Thanks for writing.
I just discovered these two. I don’t know if I am in love with Robert or Eleanor!! I suppose I just love them both, they are such a beautiful pair. Thank you for this.
They were terrific together, both on screen and off. Have you seen “Many Rivers To Cross?” It’s a farce.
I just watched it for the first time the other night, I was giggling pretty much throught the entire picture. Cracking up and laughing for sure- I looked up the word farce, just to get the precise definition and you are SPOT ON. It is a complete farce and I adore it, I can’t choose my favourite Taylor film or performance but this one is definitely up there. Oh my word. The reason I love it also, is I am Sooooo much like Mary Stuart, though my last name is Stewart spelled the scottish way- not the French way 😛 😉 ahhh What a film. So many good moments.
Elea.nor Parker is wonderful in this film. You would never know that the man she had hoped to marry had shown up for work with a new wife. They were great together and the theme of her trying to marry Mr. Taylor is a bit ironic. I’m partly Scots on my mother’s side.
I am not that young (48) but Eleanor Parker is one of my favorite actresses of all time. In fact she is my motorcycle’s namesake. People ask why “Eleanor” and I always tell them it’s because she was a wonderful actress, but really it’s because I kind of fell in love with her in my 20s. My favorite movie was one that no one will remember “The Very Thought Of You” 1944 with Dennis Morgan, Faye Emerson, and Dane Clark. It’s just a heartwarming romance, and when she says “Well aren’t you going to say hello?” your heart melts. For me it was her voice. It’s are sexiest voice ever and I could listen to her read the phone book and would be perfectly content. To top it off she was a warm and friendly person who m everyone loved.
She was wonderful, wasn’t she? I think Ms. Parker had wonderful chemistry, both on screen and off. I especially like her in “Many Rivers To Cross.” Thanks for writing, Judith.