Best known as the baroness in The Sound of Music (1965), and as prisoner Marie Allen in Caged (1950).
The Big Shot
Soldiers in White
Men of the Sky
The Mysterious Doctor
Mission to Moscow
Between Two Worlds
Crime by Night
The Last Ride
The Very Thought of You
Pride of the Marines
Of Human Bondage
Never Say Goodbye
Escape Me Never
The Voice of the Turtle
The Woman in White
It’s a Great Feeling
A Millionaire for Christy
Above and Beyond
Escape from Fort Bravo
The Naked Jungle
Valley of the Kings
The King and Four Queens
The Seventh Sin
A Hole in the Head
Home from the Hill
The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio
Return to Peyton Place
An American Dream
The Tiger and the Pussycat
Eye of the Cat
Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring
Home for the Holidays
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Once Upon a Spy
Parker was born on June 26, 1922, in Cedarville, Ohio, the daughter of Lola (Isett) and Lester Day Parker. She moved with her family to East Cleveland, Ohio, where she attended public schools and graduated from Shaw High School.
After high school graduation she went to Martha’s Vineyard to work on her acting. She got a job as a waitress and was offered a screen test by 20th Century Fox but turned it down. Wanting to focus on films, she moved to California and started appearing at the Pasadena Playhouse.
She was in the audience one night at Pasadena Playhouse when spotted by a Warner Bros talent scout, Irving Kumin. He offered her a test and she accepted; the studio signed her to a long-term contract in June 1941.
Her film debut was as Nurse Ryan in Soldiers in White in 1942. She was given some decent roles in B films, Busses Roar (1942) and The Mysterious Doctor (1943), and had a small role in an expensive production, Mission to Moscow (1943) as Emlen Davies. This impressed Warner Bros’ enough so when Joan Leslie was held up on Rhapsody in Blue, Parker replaced her in a strong role in a prestige production, Between Two Worlds (1944), playing the suicidal wife of Paul Henreid‘s character.
She stayed in support roles for Crime by Night (1944) and The Last Ride (1944), then was given the starring role opposite Dennis Morgan in The Very Thought of You (1944), replacing Ida Lupino. She was considered enough of a “name” to be given a cameo in Hollywood Canteen (1944). Warner Bros’ gave her the choice role of Mildred Rogers in a new version of Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage (1946); although director Edmund Goulding called Parker one of the five greatest actresses in America, previews were not favorable and the film sat on the shelf for two years before being released to an underwhelming reception. However in 1953, she called it her favorite role.
Parker later said the “big break” of her career was when she was cast opposite John Garfield in Pride of the Marines (1945). However two films that followed with Errol Flynn, the romantic comedy Never Say Goodbye (1946) and the drama Escape Me Never (1947), were box office disappointments.
Parker was suspended twice by Warner Bros’ for refusing parts in films – in Stallion Road, where she was replaced by Alexis Smith and Love and Learn.
She made the comedy Voice of the Turtle (1947) with Ronald Reagan and was in an adaptation of The Woman in White (1948). She refused to appear in Somewhere in the City (1948) so Warner Bros’ suspended her again; Virginia Mayo played the role.
Parker then had two years off, during which time she married and had a baby. She turned down a role in The Hasty Heart (1949) which she wanted to do, but it would have meant going to England and she did not want to leave her baby alone during its first year. She returned in Chain Lightning with Humphrey Bogart.
Parker heard about a women in prison film Warner Bros’ were making, Caged (1950), and actively lobbied the role. She got it, and was nominated for an Academy Award.
In February 1950, Parker left Warner Bros. after having been under contract there for eight years. Parker had understood that she would star in a film called Safe Harbor, but Warner Bros. apparently had no intention of making it. Because of this misunderstanding, her agents negotiated her release.
Parker’s career outside of Warner Bros’ started badly with Valentino (1951) playing a fictionalized wife of Rudolph Valentino for producer Edward Small. She tried a comedy at 20th Century Fox with Fred MacMurray, A Millionaire for Christy (1951) (originally called The Golden Goose).
In 1951, Parker signed a contract with Paramount for one film a year, with an option for outside films. This arrangement began brilliantly with Detective Story (1951) for director William Wyler, playing Mary McLeod, the woman who doesn’t understand the position of her unstable detective husband (played by Kirk Douglas); Parker was nominated for the Oscar in 1951 for her performance.
Parker followed Detective Story with her portrayal of an actress in love with a swashbuckling nobleman (played by Stewart Granger) in Scaramouche (1952), a role once intended for Ava Gardner. Parker later claimed that Granger was the only person she didn’t get along with during her entire career. However they had good chemistry and the film was a massive hit; MGM rushed her into Above and Beyond (1952), a biopic of Lt. Col. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. (Robert Taylor), the pilot of the aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It was a solid hit. While Parker was making a third film for MGM, Escape from Fort Bravo (1953), she signed a five-year contract to the studio.
Parker starred with Charlton Heston as a 1900s mail-order bride in The Naked Jungle (1954), directed by Byron Haskin and produced by George Pal.
Parker returned to MGM where she was reunited with Taylor in an Egyptian adventure film, Valley of the Kings (1954), and a Western, Many Rivers to Cross (1955).
MGM gave her one of her best roles as opera singer Marjorie Lawrence in Interrupted Melody (1955). This was a big hit and earned Parker a third Oscar nomination.
Also in 1955, Parker appeared in the film adaptation of the National Book Award-winner The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), directed by Otto Preminger and released through United Artists. She played Zosh, the supposedly wheelchair-bound wife of heroin-addicted, would-be jazz drummer Frankie Machine (Frank Sinatra). It was a major commercial and critical success.
In 1956, she was billed above the title with Clark Gable for the Raoul Walsh-directed Western comedy The King and Four Queens, also for United Artists.
It was then back at MGM for two movies, both dramas: Lizzie (1957), in the title role, as a woman with a split personality; The Seventh Sin (1957), a remake of The Painted Veil in the role originated by Greta Garbo and once intended for Ava Gardner. Both films flopped at MGM.
Parker supported Frank Sinatra in a popular comedy, A Hole in the Head (1959). She returned to MGM for Home from the Hill (1960), co-starring with Robert Mitchum, then took over Lana Turner‘s role of Constance Rossi in Return to Peyton Place, a 1961 sequel to the hit 1957 film. That was made by 20th Century Fox who also produced Madison Avenue (1961) with Parker.
In the early 1960s, she worked increasingly in television, with the occasional film role such as Panic Button (1964).
Parker’s best-known screen role was playing the Baroness Schraeder in the 1965 Oscar-winning musical The Sound of Music. The Baroness was famously and poignantly unsuccessful in keeping the affections of Georg von Trapp (played by Christopher Plummer) after he falls in love with Maria (played by Julie Andrews).
In 1966, she played an alcoholic widow in the crime drama Warning Shot, a talent scout who discovers a Hollywood star in The Oscar, and a rich alcoholic in An American Dream. From the late 1960s, television would occupy more of her energies.
In the 1970’s,Parker starred in a number of theatrical productions. She retired in the early 1980’s and died on December 9, 2013 at a medical facility in Palm Springs, California of complications of pneumonia. She was 91.