"LINE UP you tramps!"
That was but one of the great lines snarled out by Hope Emerson in the still-sizzling 1950 women's prison picture "Caged."
Although it might border on camp, what with the wisecracking rough-and-ready presence of such hard-boiled characters as Lee Patrick ("Queen of Vice"), Jan Sterling, Agnes Moorehead (as the compassionate head of the prison), Betty Garde, Olive Deering, Ellen Corby and others, the film is held together by the brilliant, faceted performance of Eleanor Parker. She plays a basically innocent young woman who assists her husband in a petty robbery. He is killed while committing the crime and she, though pregnant, is imprisoned.
Miss Parker died the other day, at age 91. Her performance as Marie Allen, who transforms from a desperate girl, trying to stay good, to a hardened con, still stands as a performance by which to be awed. The cigarette flick at the end, as she swaggers out of prison, was award-worthy alone!
Eleanor was nominated for an Oscar that year, which also saw Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Gloria Swanson and Judy Holliday up for honors. Holliday won (and only Miss Davis was upfront enough to complain.)
Miss Parker was nominated three times in a career that began in 1941. She was a great, and I mean a great beauty. And with her undeniable acting chops, it is one of Hollywood's confounding mysteries that for all her success, she never made it bigger -- much bigger. Eleanor Parker should have been right up there with Davis, Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Elizabeth Taylor and other super-novas.
Fans will recall her in such fare as the haunting "Between Two Worlds," her excellent, underrated 1946 re-make of "Of Human Bondage," the tense "Three Secrets," "Detective Story," "Scaramouche" (never sexier than in vivid Technicolor), "Interrupted Melody," "The Man with the Golden Arm" (as Frank Sinatra's possessive wife) and even "The Naked Jungle" with Charlton Heston as a ravishing mail-order bride brought to a jungle plantation (even in the worst times -- when killer ants approached -- Eleanor had a handy supply of luscious lingerie and evening gowns on hand.)
Oddly, perhaps sadly, several generations of moviegoers know her only for her glamorous, yet compassionate, portrayal of The Baroness in 1965's "The Sound of Music." There would be other terrific performances in movies and on TV, but The Baroness was essentially Parker's big-time swan song. (Seen today, many feel she saves the movie from cinematic diabetes.)
I was asked recently who I thought was more beautiful than Elizabeth Taylor onscreen? I said: "In person, Elizabeth was astounding and unique-looking. But as an onscreen beauty, one of the most ravishing was Eleanor Parker." My questioner said, "Who?"
I'm sending him this column today, and a copy of "Caged." RIP, Miss Parker, you were one of the greats, in every way.
THE last time the infamous Harpies group met for lunch, two of them fell going up the stairs at La Grenouille restaurant and I don't think the Harpies were a big addition to the last of the grand French eateries. So I am sure my friend Charles was happy to see the end of us. A few Harpies complained about the prices, but really it was no more than any good Manhattan restaurant.
The Harpies haven't been the same since their outstanding member, Nora Ephron, was lost to us. But a Harpie (Homer mentions that they are the personification of storm winds) remains a Harpie and they are trying to pull themselves together so they can have fun again, although even Aeschylus said they were "disgusting creatures who stole food sent by the gods as punishment."
I am sworn not to write about the Harpies. Sometimes I can't resist! After all, I am the one who misnamed them. It stuck, although they are all divine creatures who know everything and are useless socially, except for gossip, rumor and complaining. (It's more fun that way.)
I am told that the Harpies are going back to their original stomping ground, Michael's. See if you can manage to be there on the special day. A lot always happens!
I SEE that I was derelict in not catching on that the thing to do these days is show photos of your dog or dogs. The network news even interrupts major news stories, when they are not writing about the weather, to show "cute" film and photos of dogs.
So here are some dogs I know. The great comedienne Kaye Ballard moved to Rancho Mirage, or somewhere near Palm Springs, so she could go crazy and now she has five dogs to prove it.
There are dogs on a blanket from the great photographer Bruce Weber -- and his Nan -- and this illustrates a small part of Bruce's new book, titled "Born Ready."
The late Mrs. Astor's dog, the dachshund "Girlsie," is still having a great retirement in Vermont, along with a number of happy doxies who live at the home of Iris Love, the archaeologist. "Girlsie" is practicing having the longest tongue extant. It resembles a party favor.
And then there is the Peke who won Westminster in 2012, Malachy, sitting in his silver bowl. He is so butch!
And also I have a picture of Kevan Kenney's dog, Banjo, who has a toy dog of his own.
And bringing up the current end is a handsome French dog, who is "got up" like Marie Antoinette and is dreaming of a white milk bone. From the Atalanta team.
THE POLICE Athletic League, the great organization for New York's kids, boasted for 25 years that I was their emcee. Now I have been demoted to mere guest, but it all happens at the Pierre today with people like the prolific Erica Jong being feted.
Erica will discuss one of her books "Sugar in My Bowl," which has famous women talking about the best sex they ever had. (The Times editorialist Gail Collins discussed how supreme the Catholic Church was in all her growing up, leaving us to think she never had sex at all. Her piece is fabulous!) And a lot of well-known writers contributed, but some of them preferred to discuss "other things." I wrote, and tried to be honest about, how foolish some kids are at age 16 and I was one of them. I will always be with PAL in spirit. It does so much for the city's kids!
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
(c)2013 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
Remembering a great -- and underrated -- star, Eleanor Parker
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