By Robert Simonson
10 Dec 2013
She was a prison inmate in "Caged" (1950); the needy, wheelchair-bound wife of heroin-addicted drummer Frank Sinatra in "The Man With the Golden Arm" (1952); an opera singer struck down by polio in "Interrupted Melody" (1955); and, in what is perhaps her best-known role, the classy but chilly Baroness Elsa Schraeder in the 1965 film adaptation of "The Sound of Music."
The varied nature of Parker's career, and her ability to melt into a portrayal, arguably kept her from being a better-remembered star than her contemporaries. Indeed, the name of Doug McClelland's biography of her was "Woman of a Thousand Faces." Parker admitted as much, saying in a 1988 interview, "I'm primarily a character actress. I've portrayed so many diverse individuals on the screen that my own personality never emerged."
Nonetheless, she was respected by her peers and nominated for three Academy Awards in the early '50s, for her breakthrough role in "Caged," "Detective Story" and "Interrupted Melody." She won the award for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for "Caged."
As her film career began to fade, Parker turned to television in the 1960s, doing guest appearances in "Convoy," "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." and "Kraft Suspense Theatre." She was nominated for an Emmy Award for an episode of the medical drama "The Eleventh Hour." In 1969, she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her role in the short-lived series "Bracken's World," set in a movie studio run by the unseen Bracken. By the 1980s, her guest appearances included "The Love Boat," "Fantasy Island," "Hotel" and "Murder, She Wrote." Her final acting role was in 1991.
She was born Eleanor Jean Parker in Cedarville, Ohio, on June 26, 1922. Parker began acting in plays while still in school and attended the Rice Summer Theatre on Martha's Vineyard when 15. The classically beautiful redhead was spotted by a talent scout while at Rice and offered a screen test at 20th Century Fox, but she opted to finish high school and gain some stage experience first. While at the Pasadena Playhouse, she was offered another screen test, this one by Warner Brothers. She accepted, but only after finishing her year at the Playhouse.
On Broadway, Parker played small roles in the original productions of Brigadoon and Where's Charley? She was cast as socialite Vera Simpson in a 1976 revival of Pal Joey but quit the show in previews, shortly after the departure of the production's Joey, Edward Villella.
She was married four times, to Fred Losee, Bert E. Friedlob, Paul Clemens and Raymond Hirsch. The first three ended in divorce. Hirsch predeceased her in 2001. She is survived by four children, three with Friedlob and one with Clemens. Her grandson is actor Chase Parker.