Oscar Actors: Parks, Larry–Background, Career, Awards

December 1, 2020
Larry Parks Career Summary:

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Race/Ethnicity/Religion: Jewish

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Radio Debut:

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Stage Debut:

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Breakthrough Role:

Oscar Role: The Al Jolson Story, 1946; aged 33

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Screen Image: character actor

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Marriage: Actress Betty Garrett

Politics: Democrat; Blacklisted

Death: 60

Samuel Lawrence “Larry” Klausman Parks (December 13, 1914 – April 13, 1975) was an American stage and movie actor. His career arced from bit player and supporting roles to top billing, before it was virtually ended when he admitted to having once been a member of a Communist Party cell, which led to his blacklisting by all Hollywood studios.

His best known role was Al Jolson, whom he portrayed in two films: The Jolson Story (1946) and Jolson Sings Again (1949).

Parks was born in Olathe, Kansas, the son of Nellie (Klausman) and Frank H. Parks.  He was raised in Joliet, Illinois, and graduated from Joliet Township High School in 1932.

He attended the University of Illinois as a pre-med student,[4] and played in stock companies for a few years. He went to Hollywood at the suggestion of John Garfield, who said a part in a Warner Bros. film called Mama Ravioli was being held for him. The movie was cancelled, but Parks wound up signing a movie contract with Columbia Pictures in 1941.

As did most Columbia contract players, he played supporting roles in higher-budgeted films, and larger roles in B pictures.

Parks could be seen in Mystery Ship (1941) and Harmon of Michigan (1941).[8] He could be seen in the “A” films You Belong to Me (1941) and Three Girls About Town (1941). He could also be seen in Sing for Your Supper (1941), Harvard, Here I Come (1942), Blondie Goes to College (1942), Canal Zone (1942), Alias Boston Blackie (1942), North of the Rockies (1942), Hello, Annapolis (1942), and Submarine Raider (1942).

Parks was also in an A-movie, They All Kissed the Bride (1942) with Joan Crawford. Then he was in war films such as Flight Lieutenant (1942) and Atlantic Convoy (1942). Parks was in A Man’s World (1942) and had a bigger part in The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942) with Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre.

Parks had a tiny part in You Were Never Lovelier (1942). He was in Power of the Press (1943), Reveille with Beverly (1943), Redhead from Manhattan (1943) with Lupe Vélez, First Comes Courage (1943) directed by Dorothy Arzner, and Destroyer (1943) with Glenn Ford.

Parks had bigger parts in Is Everybody Happy? (1943), Deerslayer (1943), The Racket Man (1944), Hey, Rookie (1944), and Jam Session (1944).

He graduated to leads with The Black Parachute (1944), Stars on Parade (1944), Sergeant Mike (1944), and She’s a Sweetheart (1944).

He supported Paul Muni in Counter-Attack (1945). He was in a Western Renegades (1946), with Evelyn Keyes.[9]

When Columbia was preparing a screen biography of Al Jolson, many big-name stars were considered for the title role, including James Cagney and Danny Thomas (both of whom turned it down), but resident contractee Larry Parks was reportedly the first actor to be interviewed. Parks impressed the producers and won the role.

At the age of 31, his performance in The Jolson Story (1946) earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

Now that Parks was a fully-fledged star, Columbia kept him busy in elaborate productions. He appeared opposite the studio’s biggest star, Rita Hayworth, in Down to Earth (1947). That year, exhibitors voted him the 15th-biggest star in the US.

Then, he made some swashbucklers, The Swordsman (1948) and The Gallant Blade (1948). Parks tried to break his contract with Columbia in 1948, but was unsuccessful. That year he criticised HUAC.

He made Jolson Sings Again (1949), which was another huge box-office hit.[15] His co-star in the film, Barbara Hale, teamed with him again in the comedy feature Emergency Wedding (1950). In 1950 he and his wife announced plans to make their own film Stakeout.[16] British exhibitors voted him the 9th-most popular star in the UK.

In 1951, Parks was summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee, under threat of being blacklisted in the movie industry, but he begged not to be forced to testify. He eventually did so in tears,[17] only to be blacklisted anyway. Larry Parks eventually gave up the names of his former colleagues to the committee.[18]

Following his admission before the committee, Columbia Pictures dropped him from his contract, although it had four years to run, and Parks had been set to star in the film Small Wonder (which later became The First Time); Parks’ fee was then $75,000 a film.

A romantic comedy he made for MGM, Love Is Better Than Ever, was shelved for a year.

He made a TV film for The Ford Television Theatre in 1953 and starred in the British film Tiger by the Tail (1955) in England.

He continued to squeeze out a living acting on the stage and doing occasional television programs.[24] His last appearance in a major role was in the John Huston film, Freud: The Secret Passion (1962).[25]

Parks eventually left the film industry and formed a successful construction business, and eventually, his wife Betty Garrett and he owned many apartment buildings scattered throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Rather than sell them upon completion, Parks decided to retain ownership and collect rents as a landlord, a decision that proved to be extremely profitable. During this period, the couple occasionally performed in Las Vegas showrooms, summer stock productions, and touring companies of Broadway shows.

Parks married actress Betty Garrett in 1944. She starred in Hollywood films such as On the Town and on television as Archie Bunker’s neighbor Irene Lorenzo on All in the Family and as landlady Edna Babish on Laverne and Shirley. Her career also faced turmoil as a result of her marriage to Parks, and the two spent much of the 1950s doing theatre and musical variety shows. Together, they had two sons, actor Andrew Parks and composer Garrett Parks. Larry Parks was also godfather to actor Jeff Bridges.

A Democrat, he supported Adlai Stevenson’s campaign in the 1952 presidential election.

Parks died of a heart attack in 1975 at the age of 60.

Filmography

Parks in 1947
Supporting roles and B movies
Mystery Ship (1941) as Tommy Baker
Harmon of Michigan (1941) as Harvey
You Belong to Me (1941) as Blemish (uncredited)
Three Girls About Town (1941) as Reporter
Sing for Your Supper (1941) as Mickey (uncredited)
Honolulu Lu (1941) as Sailor (uncredited)
Harvard, Here I Come! (1941) as Eddie Spellman
Blondie Goes to College (1942) as Rusty Bryant
Canal Zone (1942) as Recruit Kincaid
Alias Boston Blackie (1942) as Joe Trilby
North of the Rockies (1942) as Jim Bailey
Hello, Annapolis (1942) as Paul Herbert
Submarine Raider (1942) as Sparksie
They All Kissed the Bride (1942) as Joe Krim (uncredited)
Flight Lieutenant (1942) as Cadet Sandy Roth (uncredited)
Atlantic Convoy (1942) as Gregory
A Man’s World (1942) as Chick O’Driscoll
The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942) as Bill Layden
You Were Never Lovelier (1942) as Tony (uncredited)
Power of the Press (1943) as Jerry Purvis (uncredited)
Reveille with Beverly (1943) as Eddie Ross
Redhead from Manhattan (1943) as Flirt (uncredited)
First Comes Courage (1943) as Capt. Langdon (uncredited)
Destroyer (1943) as Ens. Johnson (uncredited)
Is Everybody Happy? (1943) as Jerry Stewart
The Deerslayer (1943) as Jingo-Good
The Racket Man (1944) as Larry Lake
Hey, Rookie (1944) as Jim Leighter
Jam Session (1944) as Actor at Superba Pictures (uncredited)
The Black Parachute (1944) as Michael Kaligor Lindley
Stars on Parade (1944) as Danny Davis
Sergeant Mike (1944) as Pvt. Tom Allen
She’s a Sweetheart (1944) as Rocky Hill
Counter-Attack (1945) as Kirichenko
Renegades (1946) as Ben Dembrow (Ben Taylor)
A-list stardom
The Jolson Story (1946) as Al Jolson
Down to Earth (1947) as Danny Miller
Her Husband’s Affairs (1947) as Himself (uncredited)
The Swordsman (1948) as Alexander MacArden
The Gallant Blade (1948) as Lt. David Picard
Jolson Sings Again (1949) as Al Jolson
Emergency Wedding (1950) as Peter Judson Kirk Jr.
Love Is Better Than Ever (1952) as Jud Parker
Post-Blacklist
Tiger by the Tail (1954, UK) as John Desmond
Freud: The Secret Passion (1962, UK) as Dr. Joseph Breuer (final film role)