Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #2: The classy Miss Eleanor Parker & "Bracken's World"

 Today we applaud the vivacious, talented and lovely actress Eleanor Parker who was born on this date in 1922; she passed away only this past December 9, 2013 at the age of 91.  Signed to a movie contract right out of high school by the illustrious Warner Brothers studio in 1941, Eleanor Parker went on to become one of Hollywood's most respected and versatile actresses and earning three Academy Award nominations in the process -- for Caged in 1950, Detective Story the next year and Interrupted Melody in 1955.  Along the way she delighted fans in immensely entertaining films such as The Naked Jungle opposite Charlton Heston and the marabunta ants and the swashbuckling Scaramouche with Stewart Granger, and also in solid dramas such as The Man with the Golden Arm.  Many will perhaps best recall her in 1965's The Sound of Music as the well-to-do Baroness who nearly steals Christopher Plummer's Baron von Trapp from Julie Andrews' innocent but smitten Maria.

After her long and lauded big screen career Eleanor Parker was open to appearing on the small screen, leading to guest-starring roles in many of the top series of the time including The Eleventh Hour (Emmy nomination), Breaking Point, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Circle of Fear and many more.  What we at The Flaming Nose most love in Parker's TV oeuvre is the Hollywood-set drama from 1969 called Bracken's World, a behind-the-scenes, star-filled and completely fascinating melodrama about the goings-on at fictitious Century Pictures.

Filmed on the actual 20th Century-Fox studio lot and featuring cameos by real movie stars of the time and guest-starring many up-and-coming television actors and actresses, Bracken's World was a rare glimpse at a glamorous profession which while maintaining the glamour also managed to at least appear like a peek into the actual working life of a movie production studio.  Worked for me! Co-starring with Parker were Peter Haskell as a hip director, Dennis Cole as a stuntman, actresses Linda Harrison (who had starred as Nova in the original Planet of the Apes), Laraine Stephens, Karen Jensen and Madlyn Rhue as a neurotic show biz wife.

The casting of Eleanor Parker as the executive secretary to (unseen) studio head Bracken was a coup for the series, though her role ultimately didn't grow into the fully-realized character Parker had hoped.  She left after half a season but that doesn't diminish the allure of Bracken's World.  It's a series which continues to exert a very real appeal and was in fact mentioned in this past season of Mad Men (Don's wife Megan was up for a role in it.)

Here is a long preview promo introducing the series to potential 10pm Friday night NBC viewers (it replaced the cancelled Star Trek in that time slot):

Fortunately for us, though there has been no official DVD release of this iconic series so far, there is a selection of Bracken's World videos on YouTube at the moment; check them out if you are intrigued by late 1960s-era Hollywood -- and who isn't?  When I was at Turner I specifically hounded one of our Fox sales reps to get me a couple of BW episodes on tape to see if we could run then on TCM (and we should have); if the Fox movie channel had some sense they'd feature them now.  Let's get this great show out there!

In terms of Parker's other tremendous work, we offer up the trailer to her women's prison movie Caged, the gold standard to which all women's prison movies and TV shows must be compared.  I'm sure many of recall the oh-so-memorable Charlie's Angels episode "Angels in Chains" -- that series' homage of the genre -- in which the angels opened their towels and were sprayed for lice while the lady guards looked on.  We owe it all to Eleanor Parker and Caged!

You'll also really enjoy Steve Hayes as The Tired Old Queen at the Movies with his hilarious and well-reasoned appreciation of The Naked Jungle:

Like all of TCM's memorial salutes this short tribute to Eleanor Parker is a real downer, but worth looking at for her vast screen work:

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