World War II films are my favorite genre. This doesn’t just include films about battle—I love looking at life on the home front, the Army Nurse Corps, and how actors were involved in the war effort in real life.
Then there are the World War II romance films, which often can involve a quick love affair that leads to marriage. A girl and a soldier meet while he’s on leave, and they marry, hardly knowing each other. They often marry so they will have someone to write home to or the girl falls in love with the uniform (we see this in Best Years of Our Lives).
One of the best in this genre is “The Very Thought of You” (1944). Directed by Delmer Daves and starring Dennis Morgan and Eleanor Parker, “The Very Thought of You” looks at whirlwind wartime marriages, and the disapproval a girl might meet from her family. War era films often show families happily welcoming soldiers into their homes and feeding them sandwiches and milk. But not in “The Very Thought of You”—we see the opposite.
It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals. In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
Eleanor Parker, Glenn Ford, Roger Moore, Cecil Kellaway, Ann Codee
Biographical film on Australian opera singer Marjorie Lawrence, whose rising fame comes to a halt when she becamesf ill with polio. Paralyzed from the waist down, Marjorie isn’t sure if she will ever be able to perform or have the will to.
Eleanor Parker as the Baroness in “Sound of Music” (1965).
Today’s audiences know her as the Baroness; the mean blond who was Julie Andrews’ romantic rival in “The Sound of Music” (1965).
Though her role in the 1965 musical is memorable, the talents of Eleanor Parker are so much more than that.
Parker started out at Warner Brothers studios in the early 1940s. She was fresh faced, pretty and red-headed.
Born in Ohio, Parker moved to Hollywood in 1942 and was discovered while sitting in the audience at the Pasadena Community Playhouse by a Warner Brothers talent scout, according to Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen.
Parker’s first role was in 1941, a deleted scene in the Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland film “They Died With Their Boots On.” This role was followed by short films, bit parts and B-movies. One of these early jobs included a voice on a record to a soldier husband in the Cary Grant war film, “Destination Tokyo” (1943).
Eleanor Parker in the 1940s
But her first major role with Warner Brothers was alongside John Garfield, Sydney Greenstreet and Paul Henried in “Between Two Worlds” (1944). The all-star cast is on a boat in the afterlife; waiting to see if they will go to heaven or hell.
Her next major role came in the romantic World War II drama, “The Very Thought Of You” (1944) with Dennis Morgan as her romantic co-star. Beulah Bondi and Henry Travers as Parker’s parents, who vehemently disapprove of her romance and eventual marriage to a soldier.
Parker showed her versatility as an actress from films like “Pride of the Marines” (1945), a drama about disabled war veterans co-starring John Garfield, to “Never Say Goodbye” (1946), a comedic romp set around Christmas with Errol Flynn.
She displays her acting abilities best in one of her top, and possibly most disturbing, roles in the prison drama “Caged!” (1950). Parker goes into jail as a naïve and innocent young woman and leaves hardened and cold. One horrifying scene includes Parker’s head getting shaved as a punishment. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in “Caged” but lost to Judy Holliday for “Born Yesterday.”
A year later she was getting drunk on tequila and flirting with Fred MacMurray in the comedy “Millionaire For Christy” (1951).
It’s no wonder that Eleanor Parker has been dubbed “Woman of a Thousand Faces.”
John Garfield, Clark Gable, Stewart Granger, Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart are just a few of the top leading men she acted with.
“You didn’t go to her films to see Miss Parker being Miss Parker in a different dress and locale,” wrote Doug McClelland in his book “Eleanor Parker: Woman of a Thousand Faces.” “You went to see what person she had created on film.”
Parker helps husband John Garfield adjust to living life without sight in “Pride of the Marines” (1945). (LIFE)
Parker was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress two other times:
-“Detective Story” (1951) –Parker plays the wife of Kirk Douglas who was involved with and got pregnant from a racketeer before their marriage.
-“Interrupted Melody” (1956) –the biographical film about Australian opera singer Marjorie Lawrence who becomes paralyzed due to polio.
She also played a woman with multiple personality disorder in “Lizzie” (1957), the same year Joanne Woodward played a similar role in “The Three Faces Of Eve.” It was Woodward who won the Oscar that year.
In a 1988 interview, she said she was a character actress. That her roles were too diverse that her own personality never “emerged on screen,” according to an article from USA Today.
In her private life, she was shy and collected classical records, according to an April 30, 1945, LIFE article, “Eleanor Parker: Actress plays ‘Of Human Bondage,’ role that made Bette Davis famous.”
McClelland’s book suggests one reason Parker is forgotten today is because of her quiet, private life.
“I’ve prided myself on not dreaming up tales to see my name in print,” McClelland quotes her as saying in an interview.
Parker plays a fiesty female in “Scaramouche” (1952)
Eleanor Parker is one of those actresses that lights up the screen and makes the movie. The only films I remember not enjoying of Parker’s were the Rudolph Valentino biopic “Valentino” (1951) and “The Oscar” (1966). Neither of the films were bad because of Parker, but bad script writing.
Parker passed away today at the age of 91 due to complications from pneumonia, according to the Associated Press.
“Eleanor Parker was and is one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever known,” said “Sound of Music” co-star Christopher Plummer in Parker’s USA Today obituary. “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.”
Goodbye to one of Warner Brothers’ brightest and most talented stars. “The Very Thought of You” will always make your fans smile.
Turner Classic Movies will be honoring Eleanor Parker on Tuesday, Dec. 17 (ET):
6 a.m. – The Very Thought of You (1944)
7:45 a.m. – Of Human Bondage (1946)
9:45 a.m – The Woman in White (1948)
11:45 p.m. – Caged (1950)
1:30 p.m. – Scaramouche (1952)
3:30 p.m. – Interrupted Melody (1955)
5:15 p.m. – Home from the Hill (1960)
A couple of days ago, I enlightened you with some Christmas movies you may have forgotten. With a couple of days left to spare before the 25th (Where did the season go?) here are a few Christmas movies I even forgot in my last post.
I hope you have time to fit them in before the holiday season ends-Christmas officially ends on January 5 with the 12 days of Christmas- or remember the films for next year. Enjoy!
•All Mine to Give (1957): This is a Christmas movie, but it’s a real downer. Jo (Glynis Johns) and Robert (Cameron Mitchell) raise a large family, and then they both tragically die. The kids (including Patty McCormack of “The Bad Seed”) try to continue living together, but the town threatens to split them up. However, they somehow are able to fight the greedy townsfolk and stay together. To review: This isn’t a particularly happy Christmas movie, and I only really thought it was okay. But it reminds us that family is important and shouldn’t be seperated.
•Never Say Goodbye(1946): Not your typical Christmas film, but you see Errol Flynn dressed up like Santa Claus! Phil (Errol) and Ellen (Eleanor Parker) Gayley are divorced. Their daughter Flip (Patti Brady) and Phil aren’t very happy about the divorce and hope to win Ellen back from her new boyfriend, Rex (Donald Woods). All of this takes place during Christmas as Phil and Rex both dress up like Santa and a comedic mix-up occurs. To review: A cute movie that really takes place during Christmas by chance, but still shows the importance of family. This is actually one of my favorite Errol Flynn movies, because we get to see him in a comedic, husband type role in New York, rather than a swashbuckling role in Spain.
Doris Day, Gordon McCrea, Rosemary DeCamp and Leon Ames in “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”
I put these two films together since they are similar and the second is the sequel to the first. In a nutshell: tomboy Margie Winfield (Doris Day) falls in love with idealistic Bill Sherman (Gordon McCrea) and her parents -mostly her father-disapprove. In the midst of both of these movies, there is Christmas. Margie breaks her leg and can’t go to the Christmas dance with Bill in “On Moonlight Bay“. Margie still manages to limp out on the porch and sing “Merry Christmas to All” with carolers. In “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” Bill meets the family at a skating pond and surprises Margie and finally decides to marry her after bickering throughout the movie. To review: These are both similar to “Meet Me in St. Louis”: it takes you through a year of a family during the turn of the century and manages to fit in Christmas. Like the others, this is a really fun, happy family film. “On Moonlight Bay” and “Silvery Moon” are probably my favorite Doris films. I have always enjoyed her and Gordon MacRea in films together.
•Susan Slept Here (1954): Juvinile delinquent Susan Landis (Debbie Reynolds) is sent to spend the holidays with screenwriter Mark Christopher (Dick Powell) so he can study a delinquent for a script he’s writing. Lots of comedic events ensue, and the much older Christopher falls in love with the very young Landis. To review: This is a pretty well known Christmas movie, but I feel like it gets over looked as we grab for “Holiday Inn” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Though Powell is 28 years older than Reynolds, its a very cute movie and worth looking into. Also keep an eye out for a much older Glenda Farrel. She is still as beautiful and funny as she was in the 1930s.
•Swiss Family Robinson (1960): The Robinson family shipwrecks on a tropical island on their way to New Guinea. Mom (Dorothy McGuire), Dad (John Mills), Fritz (James MacArthur), Ernst (Tommy Kirk) and Frances (Kevin “Moochie” Corcoran) learn how to live life on an island away from civilized Switzerland. This includes catching baby elephants, fighting off pirates (played by Sessue Hayakawa) and even celebrating Christmas. Surprisingly, yes, this movie does have Christmas in it. Fritz and Ernst return on Christmas to the treehouse after exploring the island for several months. They bring back Roberta (Janet Munro), a girl they rescued from pirates, and fight over who gets to dance with her during the Christmas celebration. To review: Sure they are in the tropics, but they find time to celebrate Christmas. Even if they didn’t, it’s still a really nice family film, and my roommate, Sybil, and her family watch it every Christmas.
Margaret O’Brien crying in Tenth Avenue Angel (1948)
If you have ever had an urge to see Margaret O’Brien cry, here is your chance. Flavia (O’Brien) feels like everyone is lying to her. Her mother (Phyllis Thaxter) has told her old wives tales that aren’t true. Some of these are that mice turn into money, so that Flavia wouldn’t be afraid of mice (I have never heard, this have you?) and that cows kneel at midnight on Christmas Eve for Jesus. Flavia also finds out that her friend Steve (George Murphey) really didn’t travel around the world, but was in jail. After having a temper tantrum and potentially risking her pregnant mother’s life, Flavia realizes Christmas miracles do come true when she sees a cow kneeling for the Savior and her mother lives. To review: Parts of this movie are fine, but when Margaret starts shedding those tears start getting a bucket to bail out the water. I really like George Murphy, Phyllis Thaxter and Angela Lansbury in this movie, but O’Brien was also getting a little too old to play a six year old girl, when she was really 11.
Happy holidays! Be sure to check back from one more special holiday post on Christmas day!