Where in many of her pictures Parker simply had to look elegant and gorgeous, the fact remains that when physical action was required, she eagerly stepped up to the plate and spared nothing.
Case in point, in many films, if the services of a stunt woman were used, and I do know of some instances in which this happened, the audience would be amissed to tell the difference between the stunt person and Eleanor Parker.
One such stuntwoman was Martha Crawford Cantarini who did work for Parker in several films including "Interrupted Melody," 1955, " The Man With The Golden Arm," 1955, "The King and Four Queens," 1956 and "The Seventh Sin," 1957. It was with Martha that Eleanor forged a friendship, and it's interesting to read from Cantarini's own words her thoughts on Eleanor.
Eleanor Parker's Mobility
While knowing of her superlative mobile attributes as an actress of rank, this writer never imagined the range of her physical capabilities nor the extent to which she was willing to subject herself in the interest of giving a performance. Having enclosed myself for approximately three and a half months watching nothing but Eleanor Parker movies of every genre possible, I came to the conclusion that no inconvenience was too great for this lady.
Eleanor and Martha "Interrupted Melody" 1955
In "Many Rivers To Cross, " she not only out fought Indians, oh excuse me, First Nations people, but she out swam Robert Taylor as well in swimming across a river stream. Maybe not as wonderfully as let's say, Esther Williams, but she swam it without any double or stunt woman. Moreover, she showed her dexterity with a bullwhip and rifle as well. She also got shoved in the face several times. Not since Mae Clarke got smashed in the face with half a grapefruit by James Cagney in "Public Enemy," 1931, has such a lovely face been hit so hard and right on target.
In "Valley of the Kings," again with Robert Taylor, she not only got on and off camels without any help, she knew how to manage and drive them expertly too! That, dear reader, is a bigger feat than handling a horse. In many movies and television programs, she rode horses, got off and on them and galloped at full speed without any help. Some of our more notable "great" actresses wouldn't get near a horse, much less ride on one full speed.
"Many Rivers To Cross"
Her romantic comedies especially showed a flair for the physical. Have you ever tried catching a train while it's running? I have and it's way too much excitement for me personally. However, Eleanor did it twice: successfully jumping on a departing train at full trot with one hand holding on to packages in "Interrupted Melody" and in "A Millionaire For Christy" years earlier.
However, in "The Voice of the Turtle," a classic light romantic comedy if there ever was one, her perfectly timed and executed 'business" as she attempts to fold a blanket for Ronald Reagan's day bed, was not repeated with such éclat until years later that the routine was recreated for television by the brilliant Lucille Ball. As Ms. Ball very accurately stated at one time, "With comedy, timing is everything." Both Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper made mention that the timing that came forth from Eleanor Parker was both superb and uncanny.
Her bloodied knees from dragging herself across the floor and falling out of a wheelchair in "Interrupted Melody" and scrubbing floors in "Caged," earned her the almost reverent respect of both fellow actors and film crew as well. In "Caged," the other actors who were all outstanding actresses in their own right, frequently spoke in hushed tones when one of her scenes was about to be enacted.
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Kristen Rae Johnson