Jean Parker Dies at 90; Acted in Dozens of Films
Monday, December 12, 2005
Jean Parker, 90, an actress who appeared in at least 70 movies and had supporting roles in such popular films as "Little Women" with Katharine Hepburn and "The Gunfighter" with Gregory Peck, died Nov. 30 at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Los Angeles. She had complications from a stroke.
Some biographical sources say she was born Luis (or Luise) Stephanie Zelinska in Butte, Mont., in 1912, but her son from her fourth marriage said she was born Lois May Green in Deer Lodge, Mont., in 1915.
She came to California in the early 1930s with her father, who took a job as a chef at the Green Hotel in Pasadena. Her mother and sister, Levona, joined the family soon afterward; her parents later divorced.
Ms. Parker began her career as a contract actress at MGM in the early 1930s and gained a reputation for working quickly and well.
Her most prestigious films were made by other studios: Frank Capra's "Lady for a Day" in 1933, Rene Clair's "The Ghost Goes West" with Robert Donat in 1935 and notably "Little Women" in 1933, in which she played the role of Beth opposite Hepburn, Joan Bennett and Frances Dee as the other sisters in the heralded film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's literary classic.
Some critics considered "Sequoia" in 1934 Parker's finest accomplishment. As the star of the film, she played a girl living near a national park who raises an unlikely pair, an orphaned fawn and mountain lion who grow up as friends.
Also in 1934 she appeared in "Operator 13," set during the Civil War, with Marion Davies and Gary Cooper in the leading roles.
Ms. Parker made an appearance in "The Flying Deuces," a Laurel and Hardy classic of 1939 in which she played the daughter of an innkeeper. In the film, Ollie Hardy falls in love with her, but things don't work out, and to forget her he joins the Foreign Legion.
In 1950, Ms. Parker had a supporting role in "The Gunfighter" with Peck in the lead as a gunman who wants to retire and settle down.
Her career waned in the 1950s as the roles became smaller and less frequent. In "Those Redheads From Seattle" in 1953, she played a bartender in a Klondike saloon. Her only 1960s film was "Apache Uprising," in which she had one scene.
During the lulls in movie work, Ms. Parker appeared on the stage. She replaced Judy Holliday on Broadway in "Born Yesterday" and played in regional theater, often with her fourth husband, actor Robert Lowery. She and Lowery also formed a nightclub act and toured the United States and Australia.
She coached young actors for a time in the 1970s but eventually became known in Hollywood as a recluse.
All of her marriages ended in divorce. Her husbands were New York newsman George MacDonald, radio commentator Douglas Dawson, insurance broker Curtis Grotter and Lowery, most noted as the hero in the 1949 serial "Batman and Robin."
He and Parker had a son, Robert Lowery Hanks, named for his father, whose real last name was Hanks. Besides her son, survivors include two granddaughters.