Sum Up | Eleanor Parker: Oscar Nominee

Eleanor Parker did not win any Academy Awards, which is simultaneously obvious and inexplicable. The latter because she obviously deserved one (or six), the former because if she had won any, she’d have been better known in the eighties and nineties, when home video and basic cable drove classic film viewership. The first half of Parker’s filmography, up to the point when she was nominated for 1955’s Interrupted Melody, is full of great roles (once you get through some of the Warner contract stuff), while the second half has some sporadically potentially great roles. With the occasional role Parker made great (Home from the Hill, Seventh Sin). But in many ways, Interrupted Melody, which got Parker her third and final Best Actress nomination, was the pinnacle of her stardom. At least as an A-list actress who might get Best Actress nominations.

A print ad for Caged

Melody also culminated Parker’s fifties rise. She’d started at Warner Bros. In 1942 and worked her way from supporting in B movies, to supporting in A movies, to leading B movies, to leading A movies. But never Oscar bait. Though Parker should’ve been nominated for Of Human Bondage and Woman in White, even if it were a supporting nod for White. It wasn’t until 1950’s Caged, where Parker got to be the whole show, did she get a nomination for a Warner part. Parker plays a naive young woman sent to prison as an accessory to robbery. Her husband died in attempting said robbery. It’s a phenomenal performance in an excellent film, one forgotten to history until it was resurrected thanks to DVD in the mid-2000s. The film’s legacy suffered not just due to lack of home video release, but also because somehow it was pop-culturally misremembered as a camp classic. But DVD, eventually, corrected that mistake (and introduced a whole new generation of viewers to Parker).

Detective Story print ad

If there was any question Warner hadn’t been giving Parker the right roles—or supporting her in the right roles—it was resolved as Parker, fresh out of her contract, got nominated again the next year. No more Warner contract—her departure was in the cards before Caged—so she was free to star in Paramount’s Detective Story. She plays brutal and honest New York cop Kirk Douglas’s wife; the only one who can soothe the savage beast. Until one day things her past comes back to haunt her. It’s a fantastic part, performance, film. Parker’s not starting from naivety, which makes her character arc rather different than Caged (or, really, anything she’d had a chance to do before—even in Three Secrets, which has some similarities to the Story role).

Interrupted Melody print ad

Parker had two films the next year—Scaramouche and Above and Beyond, both for MGM. Both were big hits, though Scaramouche was bigger, and both were well-received. There were Oscar rumblings for Parker in Above and Beyond but when it came time for nominations, she didn’t get one. Above and Beyond was Parker’s last drama for a few years—the adventure and adventure comedies she made for the next couple years seemed unlikely to get an Oscar nomination. So when Parker returned to drama—on a large scale—with Interrupted Melody, playing a contemporary figure (opera star Marjorie Lawrence, who had a triumphant return after polio), it certainly seemed like a good time for her to get an Oscar.

Only she didn’t.

And she didn’t get a nomination for Man with the Golden Arm, which came out the same year as Melody (it would have been a supporting nod), even though the part and performance were perfect for such recognition.

Parker not getting an award for either role is pretty much the tipping point as far as Oscar is concerned. The Academy either needed to acknowledge Parker or ignore her. They went with the latter. Because reality disappoints.

Parker tried with a couple more Oscar-friendly roles in the late fifties. She did Lizzie, a multiple personality drama. Joanne Woodward won Best Actress the same year for Three Faces of Eve, which was a similar part but a much better production. Then Seventh Sin, with Parker as a Somerset Maugham “heroine.” A little bit more production value and a lot better leading man (only because the existing one, Bill Travers, sucks the life out of the film) and it should’ve gotten Parker some attention. Home from the Hill, Parker’s only potboiler—albeit a phenomenal one—seems both a natural and unlikely nomination.

After a brief stint at Fox in the early sixties, Parker wandered from studio to studio, part to part. Her most high profile sixties role—The Baroness in The Sound of Music—would also be her most indelible. Even though the part’s not great. Sound of Music was a mega-hit, leading to most people who knew Parker remembering her from that film, nothing else. Though as time went on, it was less and less likely they’d seen her in anything else.

An American Dream poster

Parker’s last Oscar possibility was probably 1966’s An American Dream, but done in thanks to the movie being godawful. But it was definitely the type of role the Academy would soon be recognizing (just the next year, actually, with Anne Bancroft in The Graduate). But, again, Dream was godawful so it didn’t work out.

Parker herself was somewhat infamously known for not caring about the Hollywood game. As she told a reporter in April 1955, “I’d like to win an Academy Award, of course—who wouldn’t? But it will never become an obsession with me.”

Still, history suffers for her never having won one, not just for how it might have changed the trajectory of her career—leading to even more great performances—but also gotten people interested in her work before the DVD boom indirectly helped Parker, her talent, and her skill get their due.

I didn’t talk about the performances who won against Parker in the three Academy Award ceremonies for a couple reasons. First, I’m not just not interested in arm-chairing those wins, I’m not even informed enough on the performances to do so. Second, given Parker wasn’t ever an Oscar-chaser, it seems inappropriate to get too worked up about her not winning. Especially since, frankly, it was bullshit when she didn’t get a nomination for Of Human Bondage back in 1947.

There are a lot of ways to talk about Eleanor Parker and the Oscars, even without getting into the contemporary newspaper and magazine articles. The trivia alone about Parker and her co-nominees could go on forever. But fixating on the subject seems a waste of time—just like Parker thought—one’s time is much better spent seeing some Eleanor Parker movies.



THIS POST IS PART OF THE 31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON HOSTED BY AURORA OF ONCE UPON A SCREEN, KELLEE OF OUTSPOKEN & FRECKLED, and PAULA OF PAULA’S CINEMA CLUB.


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12 thoughts on “Sum Up | Eleanor Parker: Oscar Nominee”

  1. I am 100% in agreement! Parker deserved two for sure, but could have easily won six, as you mention. She’s a well-deserved, but underreported actor with fantastic screen presence and serious acting chops. Terrific tribute to her. Thank you!

    Aurora

  2. My father was a great fan of Ms. Parker’s so we grew up watching Caged, Detective Story and Interrupted Melody whenever they came on television. In my young eyes (so long ago) she was so beautiful and talented that I had no doubt she was a “big star”. The clique of the Academy does seem rather myopic. There is so much they could have done to promote their product and their personalities.

    1. That’s awesome! I discovered her right after TCM stopping doing birthday tributes (though I think they picked it up again) :/

      As far as the Academy is considered… I guess it’s comforting to know it’s always had some major problems. It’s definitely interesting.

  3. Thanks for your article. I totally agree, especially about Travers, who was sooooooooooooooooooooooooo dull. Parker and Sanders had great chemistry, though. I’ve always admired Parker for having a successful “real” life alongside her decades of film/TV work. The list of non-Oscar winners is just as impressive as Oscar winners: Irene Dunne, Deborah Kerr (minus the special Oscar), etc…..

  4. I’m a big fan of Eleanor’s work so I really appreciate you picking her for this spotlight. In all honesty, it was a slow path for me in discovering her. When I saw started spotting her, I recognised her because she had “one of those” faces. It was only until I saw more of her starring roles that I was truly able to distinguish her from others. Why she was never acknowledged by the Academy is beyond me but sadly not surprising considering the entity’s track record.
    She was still lovely in ‘The Sound of Music’ though her character was not very nice.

    1. Thank you 🙂 It was a rough post in a lot of ways. I had trouble conceptualizing how to talk about it given she didn’t just not win, her career also got bumpy as far as roles went after she didn’t win the last time.

      1. That’s very true. She’s one of those actresses who should have done so much more, at least her talent made it so that she deserved it. I am utterly perplexed when careers just fizzle out like that.

      2. I’ve always seen the 1956 Oscars as the make or break point–she played the Hollywood game 100% with INTERRUPTED MELODY, then sort of didn’t with MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM the same year. She pretty obviously should’ve been nominated for supporting too that year. I haven’t seen ROSE TATTOO so I can’t speak to Magnani’s performance, but as much as I love Jo Van Fleet, Eleanor was better in GOLDEN ARM than Van Fleet was in EDEN.

  5. I’ve only really discovered Eleanor Parker in the last couple of years and really made an effort to watch as many of her films as I can. It’s amazing how despite her beauty, she is able to just disappear into her roles. She never seemed like she was acting, she just became those parts.

    1. Yeah, I can’t remember what the first Eleanor Parker movie I saw after reading about her–I’d seen SOUND OF MUSIC but didn’t remember her (or the film really)–but whatever it was, I was hooked immediately. Especially once I realized she’d be completely different in every movie.

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