OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: 'Sound of Music' actress Eleanor Parker dead at 91

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-12-15T00:00:00Z 2014-01-06T21:14:48Z OFFBEAT: 'Sound of Music' actress Eleanor Parker dead at 91By Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Jessica Herndon, film writer for the Associated Press, summed up the career of legendary actress Eleanor Parker perfectly in the lead to her wire obituary tribute: "Eleanor Parker, who was nominated for Academy Awards three times for her portrayals of strong-willed women and played a scheming baroness in 'The Sound of Music,' has died at 91."

Although, I'm not so sure Parker would be all so happy to have "The Sound of Music" used in her final tribute headlines, as you'll see when you read further along in today's column.

According to the wire report, family friend Richard Gale said Parker died Monday morning due to complications from pneumonia.

"She passed away peacefully, surrounded by her children at a medical facility near her home in Palm Springs," Gale said.

Parker was nominated for Oscars in 1950, 1951 and 1955, but saw her career begin to wane in the early 1960s. Her last memorable role came in 1965's "The Sound of Music," in which she played the chilly baroness who loses Christopher Plummer to Julie Andrews.

"Eleanor Parker was and is one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever known," said Plummer, who just turned 84 on Friday, in a statement following news of Parker's passing

"Both as a person and as a beauty. I hardly believe the sad news for I was sure she was enchanted and would live forever."

It's true, as the wire report written by Herndon also alluded, Parker's death comes at a time when "The Sound of Music" is back in the spotlight following NBC's live restaging of the classic musical this month, seen as a ratings smash (although Julie Andrews admitted last week she hadn't watched it). ABC just announced it will air the four-hour original film next Sunday at 6 p.m. Dec. 22.

"I'm primarily a character actress," she said in a 1988 interview, explaining why she never achieved the stardom of so many of her co-stars. "I've portrayed so many diverse individuals on the screen that my own personality never emerged."

She was signed to a contract at Warner Bros., where she played only minor roles until the studio recognized her dramatic depth and cast her as Mildred Rogers in the 1946 remake of "Of Human Bondage."

The Somerset Maugham story had made Bette Davis a star 12 years before. On Parker's first day of filming, she said Davis sent her flowers and a note proclaiming, "I hope Mildred does as much for your career as she did for mine."

Her breakthrough performance came as an inmate in a brutal prison in the 1950 film "Caged." The role brought Parker her first Oscar nomination, for best actress.

Growing up in Cedarville, Ohio, Parker had yearned to be an actress, and when the family moved to Cleveland, she began taking acting lessons and waiting tables to support herself.

Parker's first three marriages ended in divorce: to Navy dentist Fred L. Losse; producer Bert Friedlob, which resulted in three children, Susan, Sharon and Richard; and painter Paul Clemens, with whom she had a son, actor Paul Clemens. Her 1966 marriage to Shubert Theater manager Raymond Hirsch ended with his death in 2001.

The fame accompanying Parker's "Sound of Music" role was "something she came to make peace with" after many years, her son Paul said in his statement to the wire services.

"It was a lovely role, and she was terrific in it," Clemens said. "But it was hardly her greatest role. It was only in the last 10 years of her life that she became glad she had done the film. People of all ages know it."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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