Wednesday, November 27, 2013
1. Deborah Raffin and Barry Bostwick starred in this 1981 "comedy-adventure" series based on a hit 1978 feature film which paired a an Oscar-winning blonde with a smirking TV performer-turned-movie actor enduring a series of misadventures over an assassination plot. The TV incarnation sank after only 6 episodes.
2. This 1957 show actually ran for two seasons, though not too many people recall it. It was based on a highly-popular and memorable 1953 comedy romance. The show centered on Merry Anders, Lori Nelson and a young Barbara Eden. (Lisa Gaye later costarred when Nelson left the series feeling it was beneath her.)
3. This 1973 show focused on two couples, one of which was Robert Urich & Anne Archer while the other was David Spielberg & Anita Gillette. It included a young Jodie Foster as the latter couple's daughter. Attempting to cash in on the success of a hit 1969 movie, it paled mightily by comparison and was gone after a dozen episodes.
4. This 1977 sci-fi series sought to utilize some of the costumes left over from its 1976 big-screen namesake. Like many film-to-TV adaptations, the leads bore no relation looks-wise to their counterparts and the storyline had to be tweaked in order to make continued stories possible.
5. Based upon a huge 1980 comedy hit, this 1982 show actually ran for 85 episodes until 1988, though there was a break in between 1983 and 1986. The show was plagued by behind-the-scenes squabbles as well as conceptual and casting changes making it hard for audiences to continue tuning in to the series.
6. This 1986 show ran 22 episodes and was based on a 1984 sleeper hit that had gleaned an Oscar nomination for its leading man and title character. Aiplane!'s Robert Hays was not exactly on the same plane as the originator of the part (who ultimately did win an Oscar for another movie.)
7. A popular 1950 western involving the tenuous relations between an Indian agent and a Chiricahua Apache chief led to a series in 1956 that ran for two seasons and 73 episodes. Imposing Michael Ansara was the star, taking over for the movie actor who was Oscar-nominated for his interpretation and popular enough to play the role more than once.
8. A gargantuan 1962 movie, filled with stars, was later adapted into a miniseries in 1977, followed by a series that aired in 1978 and 1979. Having first been handled as a pilot in 1976, it kept going through various permutations and key casting shifts, which made it confusing at times for viewers, though the chief star, a western TV icon, was with it throughout.
9. A 1978 Walter Matthau comedy-romance led to the creation of a 1979 series that was rather successful. In fact, its ratings improved the second season until the leading lady was abruptly fired in a controversial dispute. A recast led to dismal viewership and resulted in cancellation in 1982 after 57 episodes.
10. Although it inspiration came from a series of wildly popular sci-fi movies from 1968 on, the 1974 TV show version couldn't gain a foothold and was toast after just 14 episodes. The concept had been fiddled with somewhat from the movie version and even the presence of one of the movies' key stars couldn't save it.
11. A massive sci-fi hit in 1973 and it's moderately successful sequel in 1976 led to this 1980 show that starred Jim McMullan and relative newcomer Connie Sellecca (who'd already experienced the failed sitcom Flying High in 1978-1979.) It was cancelled after only 3 episodes had aired, though its makeup and art direction were Emmy nominated.
12. A hit film of Al Pacino's from 1973 (one which landed him an Oscar nomination) gave birth to an action drama in 1976 that only ran for 14 episodes before being cancelled. TV star David Birney was scarcely an actor of the same level of fame or acclaim as Pacino (or even type!), which may be why it didn't take with the public.
13. Barely lasting a season was this 1990-1991 sitcom based on a popular John Candy film that came out in 1989. Not only did the show not have Candy, but it starred a stand-up comic who little known today outside fans of that arena. TV Veteran Audrey Meadows was brought in a few times as an antagonist, but the series was met without enthusiasm from critics or viewers.
14. One of the cinema's most acclaimed romances ever, one that frequently appears in Top 10 lists, was reworked into a series in 1983, but without the benefit of a regular leading lady! Instead, the leading male character (played by a former popular TV cop) was present along with some supporting parts from the movie. The tremendously bad idea sank like a stone after 5 episodes.
15. One of 1988's most successful comedies, both critically and commercially, was brought to the small screen in a forgettable sitcom format in 1990. The initial leading lady (The Facts of Life's Nancy McKeon) wound up exiting the program before it was shot, giving another fledgling actress a shot. That actress would go on to cop an Oscar, but not for close to two decades later.
Answers coming up!
1. Foul Play was based on Foul Play, which starred Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
I've remarked many times about how in the early days of The Underworld, my posts and tributes were so brief that even though my favorite people were being highlighted, by comparison to the later, more detailed posts, they wound up being slighted in the long run. Such was the case with Eleanor Parker, my second favorite pre-1970 actress. By current Underword standards, her “tribute” is shockingly brief. So today we're going to do a photo-laden recap of some of her roles and expand on them more than before.
I should add that my life is completely, totally swamped at the moment, which has prevented me from posting as much as I would like to. When I started this blog, my job was extraordinarily undemanding and contained hours and hours of downtime. Now it is close to high-pressure in the amount of work I am given! When you factor in my other activities and duties such as being a single homeowner, rehearsing and performing in local theatre (my next show opens in a week!), adjudicating local theatre and still finding time to socialize and actually watch TV and movies, it's a real challenge to get things done around here! So I just have to do what I can, when I can and hope that you'll stick with me.
Eleanor Jean Parker was born in the decidedly un-Hollywood town of Cedarville, Ohio on June 26th, 1922 to a math professor and his wife. The youngest of their three children, she developed a passion for performing and began to take part in school plays. Once the family moved to East Cleveland, she began to think of an acting career in earnest and soon started attending Rice Summer Theatre in Martha's Vineyard during the summer. There, she was approached by a 20th Century Fox talent scout and invited to come to Hollywood for a screen test. However, still feeling that she lacked experience – not to mention maturity, she chose to work on the professional Cleveland stage for a time.
After further building up her resume of parts, though still a teen, she ventured to California and began studying at the Pasadena Playhouse. There, while simply watching another group of actors performing, she was approached by a Warner Brothers scout about taking a screen test. Clearly very determined about how and when she would turn to screen acting versus the stage, she turned the offer down in order to complete her instruction at the Playhouse. When the year of study was up, she contacted the people at Warners to see if their offer of a test still stood and it did.
Within two days of the test, she was officially a contracted member of the Warner Brothers acting stable. Right off the bat she was placed into a small role in Errol Flynn's They Died with Their Boots On (1941), the story of General George Custer, but her scene was cut before release. She then worked in a variety of short films and the screen tests of other actors in order to gain confidence and presence before the camera.
Finally, she was placed in a real movie, 1942's WWII Busses Roar, all about a group of passengers on a commercial bus that has been fitted with a bomb in order for it to sabotage an oil field alongside its route. Parker is a pert ticket agent, not on the bus, but star Julie Bishop has to drive it at one point in order to save the day. Take that, Speed (1994)!
This and other B-pictures were the order of the day as she continued to learn and grow as an actress. She next did The Mysterious Doctor (1943) with John Loder, Mission to Moscow (1943) an A-picture with Walter Huston and Ann Harding, the memorable Between Two Worlds (1944) with John Garfield and Paul Henreid (shown here), Crime By Night (1944) starring Jane Wyman and The Last Ride (1944) which, believe it or not, concerned tire bootleggers. (Rubber was in short supply during WWII.)
The Very Thought of You (1944) seemed to mark a positive turn in her career, taking its name from the popular song written in 1934, and offering up considerable chemistry between Parker and her leading man Dennis Morgan. After this, Parker began to win bigger and better roles in the studio's more important movies. She had also eloped early in 1943 to a dentist, but that marriage would be finished by the end of 1944.
Back in 1934, Bette Davis had soared to fame in Of Human Bondage and now a decade later, Parker sought to do the same. Filmed in 1944, it was shelved and not released until 1946, diminishing its success. The studio felt that it was too grim and cut several of Parker's best moments. (She had studied her cockney accent so closely that several of her British costars didn't realize she was American!) While the remake didn't come close to the impact of Davis' earlier rendition, Davis was remarkably accepting of Parker being chosen to do the role and even sent her a good luck gift.
The director of The Very Thought of You, Delmer Daves, had employed Parker's voice in Destination Tokyo (1943) and utilized her among the many stars in Hollywood Canteen (1944) and so was happy to promote her to leading lady opposite John Garfield in Pride of the Marines in 1945. She played the concerned fiancee to his blinded veteran character.
Parker's next two movies (Never Say Goodbye, 1946, and Escape Me Never, 1947) placed her in the arms of Warner Brothers' chief action star Errol Flynn, though both of these movies were departures from him from the westerns and swashbucklers he was known for. Goodbye had them as ex-spouses whose daughter wants them back together while Escape concerned a love quadrangle set in 1900. She married for a second time in 1946 to a producer named Bert Friedlob.
A reasonably high-profile role came in 1947's The Voice of the Turtle, based on a hit Broadway play (a three-character piece that starred Margaret Sullavan), but the author John Van Druten publicly drubbed the casting of Ronald Reagan and Ms. Parker in the lead roles. Despite this (and a truly impenetrable hairdo), Parker excelled in the role of a struggling actress offering a spare bed to a soldier during a housing crisis.
1948's The Woman in White is one of my favorite films starring Parker (alongside Alexis Smith.) Later made into a Broadway musical (what hasn't?), it tells the Gothic story of a young heiress (Parker) who's being targeted by a variety of selfish individuals who don't have her best interests at heart. The title figure is a frightened, timid thing (also played by Parker) who is seen flitting around the estate grounds from time to time. A superlative supporting cast that includes Sydney Greenstreet, Gig Young, Agnes Moorehead and John Abbott helps give a boost to the proceedings.
Starring along with the hugely popular Humphrey Bogart in 1950's Chain Lightning was a sign that she'd fully arrived as an actress of some consideration. She'd managed to fit two children into the picture by this time as well, a daughter Susan born in 1948 and another one, Sharon, in 1950, though her marriage to Friedlob was tempestuous throughout, with joyous highs and fierce lows.
Headstrong from the very start about when and how she would commence her film career, she also set a Warner Brothers record for the number and length of suspensions she went on rather that report to a movie or a role she didn't believe would be appropriate. This doesn't mean that she didn't want to injure her image, just the opposite as a matter of fact. She sought parts that would stretch the perimeters of her persona, wanting to play every sort of character imaginable from docile, "Plain Jane" types to elegant, sophisticated ones (where she particularly excelled.) This propensity for changing her acting style and appearance from part to part would earn her the nickname “Woman of a Thousand Faces,” though it also prevented her from establishing a star identity that audiences could come to rely on.
In any case, from 1950 on, her career began to really take hold. Three Secrets was a hit with audiences as a trio of ladies (Ruth Roman, Patricia Neal and Parker) sweated it out over which one of them was the mother of a young boy involved in a plane crash. Note the similar jawlines and the basic makeup schemes applied to these ladies as they wended their way through the cookie-cutter machinations of a 1950s film studio. (Parker had been set to star in The Hasty Heart in 1949 before it went to Neal.)
The real showcase for Parker of 1950, however, was Caged, all about a rather fragile girl who is sent to prison as an accomplice to armed robbery (as committed by her now-deceased husband.) The horror involves not only a passel of hardened, trouble-making fellow inmates but also a leering, cruel matron played by the unforgettable Hope Emerson. Agnes Moorehead, as a caring warden, lead a cast of colorful character actresses who filled out the plethora of supporting roles.
Emerson was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Josephine Hull in Harvey. Parker scored her first best Actress nomination, but was in the considerable company of Anne Baxter and Bette Davis of All About Eve, Gloria Swanson of Sunset Boulevard and the surprise winner, Judy Holliday of Born Yesterday.
The following year, Parker did the light comedy A Millionaire for Christy with Fred MacMurray and was one of the various female love interests for newcomer Anthony Dexter as Valentino, a highly-fictionalized take on the silent screen legend. She and her daughters (one and three at the time) narrowly escaped death that year when she woke in the night to the smell of smoke to find that their house was on fire!
Professionally, though, the highlight of 1951 was her role in Detective Story with Kirk Douglas. The film, based on an acclaimed Broadway play, traced one eventful day in the life of a busy police precinct. Directed by William Wyler, one of Hollywood's all-time best helmsmen, she played the loving wife of driven police detective Douglas who winds up figuring into one of his current (and controversial) cases. The then-touchy subject matter of the part had her (and costar Lee Grant) up for an Oscar again as Best Actress (this time the statuette going to Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire.)
1952 brought major changes to her career as she was signed as an MGM contract player, that studio being the crème de la crème of moviemakers. Up first was the colorful romp Scaramouche, starring Stewart Granger as a wanted man who disguises himself as a clown in a theatrical troupe in order to exact revenge on his enemy Mel Ferrer. Parker played a beautiful fellow performer in the troupe. Janet Leigh also costarred in this colorful, expensive swashbuckler, one which contains what is believed to be the longest fencing duel in cinema history.
Her other film this year was Above and Beyond, about the man who piloted the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, effectively ending WWII. Robert Taylor was the star and Parker played his agonized wife, from whom he must keep many details of the operation secret. This was the first teaming of Taylor and Parker and they would develop a strong chemistry together (with Parker reportedly in love with him.)
In October of '52, she gave birth to son Richard, though her marriage to Friedlob would be over before another year had passed. Her next film was 1953's Escape from Fort Bravo, an attractive Civil War-era western in which she portrayed a gorgeous Confederate spy opposite William Holden and John Forsythe as battling officers on either side.
One of my favorite films of hers (and the first one I ever saw after beginning to delve into her career prior to The Sound of Music) is 1954's The Naked Jungle. In it (looking strikingly beautiful throughout), she played the mail-order bride of surly South American plantation owner Charlton Heston. He gets far more than he bargained for when she arrives with a personality and a set of opinions instead of just the warm, decorative body he'd had in mind.
One scene, improvised by Heston (yes, it happened!) had him splashing perfume on her during a scuffle, highlighting the well-matched chemistry they'd developed on screen. Just as their romantic squabbles are reaching a head, the land is beset with Marabunta! (cue the threatening, overly-dramatic music!) Army ants descend on them, devouring everything in their path. (This and Elizabeth Taylor's Elephant Walk, released the same year, share similar plot-lines.)
Her next two films placed her in the arms of Robert Taylor again, Valley of the Kings (1954), set in Eqypt and concerning the search for a tomb, and Many Rivers to Cross (1955), a rural tale involving tomboy Parker's pursuit of Taylor. Parker and Taylor entertained the notion of a permanent relationship during this period, though he had already met and would soon marry his second wife, Ursula Theiss, and she proceeded to marry artist Paul Clemens at the end of 1954.
She put forth two more strong performances in 1955, one of which was in Otto Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm. The provocative drug-addiction drama had Frank Sinatra as a drummer with a heroin addiction who's riddled with guilt over his wheelchair-bound wife's condition. Parker, as the wife, clings to him mercilessly, which ends up sending him into the calming arms of Kim Novak.
Then there was Interrupted Melody, which was the big-budget story of opera singer Marjorie Lawrence who was stricken with polio at the height of her career. Parker studied laboriously to achieve the correct phrasing and breathing in order to convincingly match the vocals provided by Eileen Farrell during the many song performances, requiring only one take on each to get the desired result. Rather than move her lips to Farrell's singing, she actually sang along an octave lower to provide more realism in the sequences.
Beyond that, she was done up in a wildly varying array of stage costumes, wigs and makeup as she portrayed the life of an opera diva. This sequence at left always puts me in the mind of Joan Collins! Ha!
Sadly, she also had to contend with the selfish, devious tactics of costar Glenn Ford who not only insisted on top-billing for what was not his story, but also stopped at nothing to diminish Parker's effectiveness while trying to upstage her and draw focus to himself. In spite of this, she was nominated a third time for the Best Actress Oscar for her work. This time, Anna Magnani won for The Rose Tattoo.
She next costarred with Clark Gable in the western romance The King and Four Queens, about Gable's efforts to draw the location of a buried fortune out of the four young ladies who live there with their feisty mother-in-law. Having endured Glenn Ford's “techniques” during Melody, she had no such trouble with Gable, but did see him use his clout to have the editors take the guts out of Jo Van Fleet's performance of the old lady as she was deemed to be good enough to walk off with all the praise in the movie otherwise.
In 1957, Parker enjoyed two more challenging parts. Lizzie was by far the more dynamic as she enacted the role of a woman with split personalities. She was the shy and inhibited Elizabeth, the wild and brash Lizzie and the well-rounded, confident Beth. A similar movie, released several months later, called The Three Faces of Eve wound up getting far more attention and won its star Joanne Woodward the Oscar.
Her other film of that year was The Seventh Sin, a remake of Greta Garbo's 1934 drama The Painted Veil. I'm using these fun Asian-flavored wardrobe tests in order to illustrate this one.
She played the adulterous wife of a downbeat doctor who takes her to cholera-ridden China with him as punishment. There she slowly grows as a person and begins to renew her interest in the husband (Bill Travers.) (By the way, get a load of the flowery description of this dress as shown below in the copy provided by the studio publicity people for this black and white movie!)
Though it was a meaty part and she did an excellent job (getting to rub elbows with screen scoundrel George Sanders in the process), the film certainly didn't erase anyone's memories of the earlier version. (And, in fact, was remade again in 2006 with Naomi Watts and Edward Norton.)
Pregnancy and motherhood for a fourth time was a factor in keeping her off the screen in 1958 as her son Paul was born in January of that year. Late in the year, she began filming what would be a 1959 release, A Hole in the Head with her Golden Arm costar Frank Sinatra. She portrayed a pretty widow who's being set up as marriage material with the down on his luck motel owner played by Sinatra.
This was followed in 1960 by Home from the Hill, a family drama in which she played the wounded, emotionally remote wife of Robert Mitchum, who has one son with her (George Hamilton) and one with another woman (George Peppard.) Directed by Vincente Minnelli, the movie was attractive to look at, but lacked enough spark to make it a memorable classic.
A sequel to the smash 1957 hit Peyton Place was being planned and when virtually none of the original stars could be retained for it, Parker claimed the Lana Turner role in Return to Peyton Place (1961.) She played the once-repressed, now happily-married mother of a burgeoning novelist played by Carol Lynley. This movie cannot wipe the shoes of the original, but does offer up a few charms, not the least of which is the staggering Mary Astor as the town villainess.
When Lynley's book hits the streets, it causes a whole tidal wave of offense, causing Parker to hit the roof and send her daughter packing. Then, as in the prior movie, a climactic courtroom hearing allows characters to have his or her say, including Parker. It was not in the end a prestigious movie (and was riddled from the start with casting issues followed by script and editing problems), but she was one of the few folks who was at home with the material.
Madison Avenue (1962) with Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain marked the last time that Parker was one of the chief stars of a Hollywood feature film. The advertising arena was the setting for this ultimately rather unremarkable movie. A slowdown in order to be part of her four children's lives, marital squabbles and a fair amount of stalled, cancelled or recast projects wound up relegating her to limited work in the cinema. At forty-two, she was beyond that age for an actress to be a go-to person except those who were still top-tier (Hepburn, Davis, etc...)
She began working on television anthologies such as The Eleventh Hour (in a performance that scored her an Emmy nomination – the statue went to Kim Stanley for an episode of Ben Casey), Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre and Kraft Suspense Theatre, as well as series like Checkmate and Breaking Point. She then wound up in the Italian-made conglomeration Panic Button with Maurice Chevalier, Mike Connors and Jayne Mansfield, of all people! Just around the corner from this not-in-any-way-prestigious assignment was, oddly enough, the role that would assure her a place in the annals of classic cinema, more so even than the three Oscar-nominated roles that she'd done previously.
Her Three Secrets director Robert Wise was about to mount a lavishly appointed film rendition of a hit Broadway musical. The Sound of Music (1965) was to star a proven stage actress named Julie Andrews who had yet to be seen by the public in a movie. As her first film, Mary Poppins (1964) was nearly ready to be released and he'd seen parts of it, Wise knew that she was terrific, but there was no guarantee that audiences would take to her for certain. Knowing that the male lead, Christopher Plummer, was also not yet a box office draw, he sought to put a familiar successful actress into the role of Baroness Schraeder, the potential spoiler for the movie's couple (a retired Austrian sea captain and his novice nun nanny!)
Parker was given prestige billing (that large font billing that comes at or near the end of others in the cast and denotes who they are playing in the movie) that first came into play when Joan Crawford nestled in with the cast of secretaries in 1959's The Best of Everything (“Joan Crawford as Amanda Farrow.”)
The character was polarizing in that she was depicted as the artificial, shallow villainess who schemes to get the love-struck nun out of the way and is clearly the wrong choice for the emotionally-wounded Plummer. However, the potentially one-dimensional role was given delicious life by Parker (and the masterful screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who injected sarcastic wit throughout the dangerously gooey storyline.)
She made one believe that under different circumstances (such as with no kids around!) she and Plummer could have been a couple. She also came to terms with the fact that she wasn't going to sway the tide of love and when the time came, nudged her fiance in the direction of the other woman and gracefully exited the scene.
In addition, she was staggeringly elegant and glamorous at all times! Parker was forty-three (is that all?!?!?) and a real-life mother of four who maintained a svelte, linear figure that showed off Dorothy Jeakins costumes to a tee. Doubtless her habit of smoking helped curb her appetite, too, it must be noted.
Now Parker has her detractors, both regarding this film and others before and after, but in The Underworld, I say what's good or bad and, to me, she is nothing short of sensational throughout! Everything she says is either playfully flirtatious, sarcastically funny or haughtily wicked and I doubt that there is a line of dialogue of hers that I don't know by heart. (One critic asked just who she thought she was, “Anne Baxter playing Joan Crawford in blonde wig?” to which I answer, “so what if she was!”)
Parker, who really could sing in real life, had her two songs with the Uncle Max character removed from the picture as the tone of her role was shifted somewhat, but in return was granted several more scenes, all of which are wondrously glamorous and amusing, sometimes even touching. Few of us can forget her, smothered in lipstick, asking costar Richard Haydn why he didn't tell her to bring her harmonica to the tune-filled Von Trapp estate!
For reasons completely unknown, she is and always has been just this side of ignored when it comes to reunions, retrospectives, reflections and so on, though she is and always will be my very favorite character in the film! This is especially surprising when you know that she was completely on board with the cast and crew, cutting up with her adult costars and playing with the young ones between takes (though some of them were a bit awe-struck by her effortless aura of star power.)
Now divorced from Clemens after a series of failed reconciliations, Parker determined that it was time for an image change. She would now resist the tightly-wound, cool types and the long-suffering wives and opt for more spice in her roles. Part one of this effort was the howlingly over-the-top (and thank God for it!) The Oscar (1966.)
She played a stylish and confident talent agent who is enraptured by the brash up-and-coming actor Stephen Boyd and lives to regret it.
I love, love, love the look she is sporting here (in a scene - and costume - that never made it into the final cut.) After regally sashaying through The Sound of Music and having remained dignified in most of her previous roles, she filmed a post-coital bedroom scene in The Oscar that had her desperately railing at Boyd for using her and then leaving in a rush.
Her other 1966 film took things even further. An American Dream was a disjointed movie starring Stuart Whitman and Parker's old Scaramouche costar Janet Leigh with Parker playing Whitman's outrageously venomous wife.
The near-deranged, drunken Parker is shown cavorting in bed with a pick-up (played by Jerry Douglas, who would later spend years on The Young and the Restless as patriarch John Abbott.)
As she cackles and crows at the TV set on which Whitman's character is appearing, she tugs at and devours little bits of the scenery.
She slithers around on the bed like a she-serpent...
...and even briefly shows a bare nipple for those in 1966 who had razor sharp eyes!
Later in a scene with Whitman, she goes all-out to practically rip the set to pieces with her virulent, feral performance!
Nevertheless, as seen here, she was still very lovely in close-up. In 1966, she flew to Las Vegas and married Raymond Hirsch, the man she would finally find lasting marital success with until his death in 2001.
Next came a made for TV movie called Warning Shot starring David Janssen that wound up being released to movie theaters instead of aired. The tantalizing cast included JoanCollins, Lillian Gish, Stefanie Powers and Parker as a boozy, not-exactly-grieving widow.
This type of harridan role was quickly becoming the norm for her instead of the departure that it was intended to be when she stepped away from all the restrained parts. She went to Italy to play Vittorio Gassman's wife in The Tiger and the Pussycat (1967), donning a long, dark wig in order to (unsuccessfully) appear Italian. Ann-Margret costarred as an art student who threatens to steal Gassman away.
She filmed a two-part episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that had her dressed in mod clothing and portraying an enemy of the spies. The episodes were cobbled into an ersatz feature film called How to Steal the World, which was released overseas and in some parts of the U.S.
1969 developed into a busy year for Parker as she appeared in a TV-movie musical version of Hans Brinker, singing a couple of songs and then proceeded to star in the television series Bracken's World, in which she played the efficient executive secretary to an unseen movie studio head. Her work on the show led to a Golden Globe nomination as Best Actress-Drama, but the award went to Linda Cristal of The High Chapparal. Dissatisfied with the caliber of the storylines and her role, she declined to return for a second season and the series was retooled, then swiftly cancelled.
This was also the year in which Parker appeared in the colorful thriller Eye of the Cat, the “holy grail” movie of hers that I have yet to see and have on my bucket list.
Playing a crippled socialite (people loved to put her in wheelchairs for some reason!), she lives in San Francisco with an assortment of cats and is attended to by nephew Michael Sarrazin and his girlfriend Gayle Hunnicut, who wish to do her in and collect the inheritance.
Once a staple of late-night television, the movie has all but disappeared in recent years, but one of these days I'm going to get my paws on a good, uncut copy of it and savor some late-'60s Eleanor Parker in distress!
But for one “blink and you'll miss it” appearance in 1979's Sunburn (a troubled and quite awful Farrah Fawcett vehicle), this was the final feature film that Parker ever made. It wasn't the last time she worked, far from it, but it was primarily the last time she had a significant role in a movie.
During the early-1970s, she made several telefilms, from Maybe I'll Come Home in the Spring (1971), in which she played hippie Sally Field's fretful mother to the wondrously campy and hooty Home for the Holidays (1972) in which she played Sally Field's older sister (!) as well as one to Jill Haworth and Jessica Walter! They, their father and step-mother (Walter Brennan and Julie Harris!) seem to be under the threat of an axe-wielding pschopath.
There was also The Great American Beauty Contest (1973) with Bob Cummings, involving scandal at a pageant with Parker as a concerned coordinator, a TV-pilot Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1975) based on the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn film with Parker and Richard Dysart taking on those roles (!) and the 1978 miniseries The Bastard, starring Andrew Stevens. She also returned to work on stage in the musical "Applause!" and "Night of the Iguana" (as Maxine.)
As her career continued to slow down, she took part in such projects as She's Dressed to Kill (1979) as an outre fashion designer whose models are being bumped off. She gives her best Tallulah Bankhead impersonation in that one. She also guest-starred on Hawaii 5-O, Vega$, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island (below with Craig Stevens, the real-life husband of Parker's two-time costar Alexis Smith) and Hotel, along with the requisite appearance on Murder, She Wrote.
In 1981, she took on the old Constance Bennett role of the mother-in-law from hell in Madame X, a sub-par television version of the perennial tale of a woman (in this instance, Tuesday Weld) married to a prominent man and forced to give up her child and pretend to be dead because of a scandal. The film's chief misstep was in making the child a girl instead of the far more Oedipal son that it was in every previous version.
Miss Parker has not appeared on camera since the 1991 cable-film Dead on the Money, starring Corbin Bernsen and his wife Amanda Pays. Though not then seventy, she retired for good to Palm Springs, California where she has been ever since, ever shunning the limelight and all the fuss that goes with having been a movie star, though she has given the rare radio interview from time to time.
A hard-to-find (and expensive when found) 1989 biography was penned about her by prolific movie star writer Douglas McClelland called Woman of a Thousand Faces, but it revealed precious little about the private life of its subject (something she was generally guarded about from the very beginning of her career.) Always shy of the press (and never one to walk the red carpet at premieres), she has chosen to live quietly and enjoy her home and family, even though countless fans would love to hear her stories on DVD commentaries or in interviews on TCM.
As of this writing she is ninety-one and has been generally out of the public eye for two decades. Reportedly, she does respond to fan mail, though a lengthy (think about who you're dealing with here!) letter from me went unanswered back in 1986. Her reluctance to get out and sell herself the way many other stars have has helped contribute to a certain level of obscurity today, but I can tell you that it is rare to watch one of her movies from the late-'40s through the mid-'60s and not come away impressed with what she offered up.
She is a heroine in The Underworld not only for her eye-catching, at times risk-taking performances, but for the indelible rendition she delivered of Baroness Elsa Schraeder for whom every other actress who's ever been seen in the part on stage ever since (and there have been plenty!) has always failed to measure up or even come remotely close in looks or style!