Eleanor Parker, who played the head strong baroness in the Julie Andrews’ version of The Sound of Music, died yesterday at her home in Palm Springs due to complications from pneumonia. She was 91. Parker leaves behind her a rich career as a movie actress for which she was known for her character acting versatility and her famous portrayals of head strong women. She was nominated for an Academy Award three times but never became a major star.
Parker’s most famous role was as the baroness Elsa Schrader, who plans to marry Christopher Plummer before being passed up for Julie Andrews. Parker’s superb acting skills are on hand in this movie after Andrews has left the Von Trapp estate and Parker’s character Shrader tries to connect with the children in a similar fashion but fails miserably. Her hopeless attempts are conveyed with convincing frustration (watch below).
Upon hearing of passing of his co-star, Christopher Plummer released a particularly moving statement which reads, “Eleanor Parker was and is one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever known… I hardly believe the sad news for I was sure she was enchanted and would live forever.”
Parker’s first major role was as the complex Mildred Rogers in a remake of Somerset Maugham’s classic novel Of Human Bondage. It was the same role which had made Betty Davis a star more than a decade earlier, but, unfortunately, did not work the same magic for Parker.
She mostly played character roles in films until 1950 when Cage landed her the lead in a story set in a tortuous prison. Parker played an inmate and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. The next year she played another strong willed woman as Kirk Douglas’s wife in Detective Story which would also bring Parker a Best Actress nomination.
Parker’s career reached its height during the early 50s when she played opposite such leading men as Charleton Heston, William Holden, and Robert Taylor and later in her career she starred opposite Frank Sinatra twice.
Parker received her last Oscar nomination in 1955 for her role in Interrupted Molly. It was a challenging role as she depicted an opera star who contracts polio and was required Burden to sing in three different languages. Her voice was lip synched but Parker worked tirelessly to make her mouth’s movements match the verse.
Although Parker had an extensive career on stage, she never felt like she was able to bring her own personality to her roles. She was mostly acclaimed for her portrayals of strong independent woman like the baroness in The Sound of Music, but also was used in different capacities in lesser roles.
“I’ve portrayed so many diverse individuals on screen that my own personality never emerged,” said Parker in an interview later in her career.
Parker was married four times during her life. The first three ended in divorce and the last ended when her husband died in 2001. She was from Cedarsville, Ohio, where she had always dreamed of becoming an actress.
Parker’s death will cause many to revisit her important role in the timeless classic The Sound of Music, but she also leaves behind an accomplished legacy as a glamorous leading lady.
By Nick Manai