In pondering what best describes the signature style of Eleanor Parker, this writer admits that at the risk of sounding evasive, I have to say simply but accurately - she had no style. And, therein we find her acting genius.
A Side Note And A Digression:
No actress that has ever graced the silver screen has demonstrated such versatility as Eleanor Parker, with the possible exception of one: Lillian Gish, the indisputable greatest dramatic actress of the Silent Screen. Without doubt, the greatest actor in the silent era is considered to be the incomparable Lon Chaney.
Once the talkies came in, I believe the mantle fell to two Brits, Lord Lawrence Olivier
and someone who can be easily considered the greatest male actor of the Golden Age
of Hollywood, Mr. Robert Donat.
Having graduated from the mentoring of the great D.W. Griffith, Lillian Gish went on
to even meatier roles and to mega stardom at M.G.M. under young Irving Thalberg and
the M.G.M. machinery (1925-1928). Having became the first million dollar star at M.G.M.,
one day she was confronted with a most curious situation. Thalberg wanted La Gish's
involvement in some studio back-office "scandal" that would make her motion pictures
even more profitable at the box office. This was and still is Hollywood, folks.
Fastening her prestige and integrity tightly around her, she recognized that
her days at M.G.M. were numbered, especially with the prospects of Thalberg's
latest win-win strategy: "if Gish goes, then puff the new Swedish import
Garbo." If that didn't work, then he could puff his wife, actress Norma Shearer.
With the proverbial handwriting plainly on the wall, off went La Gish
back to her Sutton Place high-rise luxury dwelling and back on the New York
stage. There she appeared in critically-acclaimed productions such as Ophelia
to Sir John Gielgud's rendition of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and Anton
Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya."
Well-oiled, versatile actress that she was, she also appeared in numerous light
comedies such as "Life With Father" and "Arsenic and Old Lace" co-starring the first lady of the stage herself, and her closes friend, Ms. Helen Hayes.
From time to time, Gish appeared in television plays and in movies such as with David Janssen in "Warning Shot" (1967), a film in which Eleanor Parker also appeared; however, the two actresses never played in a scene together. [What a loss of opportunity to show what real dramatic artistry is like!]
This great lady, who almost singlehandedly with Mary Pickford, helped create the motion picture industry as we know it today, stage/film star extraordinaire, an accomplished film director and writer in her own right, never won a thank you from the industry she helped birth.
"The Whales In August" (1987), co-starring with another Hollywood icon, Ms. Bette Davis, inflamed many in the industry as Gish never even earned an Oscar nod for her performance. Gish, always the consummate professional, remarked that this slight saved her the embarassment of "losing to Cher." So, don't think it strange what happened to Eleanor Parker. It's not the first time greatestness has been ignored by Hollywood. Part II: The Signature Style of Eleanor Parker
Lillian Gish and David Janssen,
"Warning Shot"; (1967)