Eleanor Jean Parker was born in Cedarville, Ohio. At an early age, her family moved to East Cleveland, Ohio, and she attended public schools. She is a graduate of Shaw High School. After high school, at the age of 18, she was signed by Warner Brothers in 1941. She would have made her debut that year in the film They Died with Their Boots On, but her scenes were cut. Her actual film debut was as nurse Ryan in Soldiers in White in 1942.
By 1946, Parker had starred in Between Two Worlds, Hollywood Canteen, Pride of the Marines, Never Say Goodbye, and played Mildred in the remake of Of Human Bondage. She broke the champagne bottle on the nose of the California Zephyr train, to mark its inaugural journey from San Francisco on March 19, 1949.
In 1950, she received the first of three nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress for Caged, in which she played a prison inmate. For this role, she won the 1950 Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. She was also nominated for the Oscar in 1951 for her performance asKirk Douglas's wife in Detective Story and again in 1955 for her portrayal of opera singer Marjorie Lawrence in the Oscar-winning biopic Interrupted Melody. She followed Detective Story by playing a fiery actress in love with Stewart Granger's swashbuckling nobleman in Scaramouche. Parker then starred with Charlton Heston as a 1900s mail-order bride in George Pal's The Naked Jungle.
That same year, Parker appeared in Otto Preminger's film adaptation of the National Book Award-winner The Man with the Golden Arm, playing Zosh, the supposedly invalid wife of heroin-addicted, would-be jazz drummer Frankie Machine (Frank Sinatra). In 1956, she was billed above the title withClark Gable for the Raoul Walsh-directed Western comedy The King and Four Queens. A year later, she starred in another W. Somerset Maughamnovel, a remake of The Painted Veil in the role originated by Greta Garbo, released as The Seventh Sin. She also appeared in Home from the Hill, A Hole in the Head with Frank Sinatra, andReturn to Peyton Place.
She was also an adept comedienne. In 1951's Millionaire for Christy, opposite Fred MacMurray, she played a secretary sent to notify a man that he has inherited $2 million.
Parker's most famous screen role is probably that of Baroness Elsa Schraeder, the second female lead in the 1965 Oscar-winning global success The Sound Of Music.
In 1966, she played an alcoholic widow in Warning Shot, a love-starved talent scout in the all-star but unsuccessful The Oscar and a rich, alcoholic, estranged wife in An American Dream. From then on, her big screen roles were fewer, and television would occupy more of her energies.
In 1963, Parker appeared in the NBC medical drama about psychiatry The Eleventh Hour in the episode "Why Am I Grown So Cold?" for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award as Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. In 1964, she appeared in the episode "A Land More Cruel" on the ABC drama about psychiatry, Breaking Point. In 1968, she portrayed a sultry spy in How to Steal the World—a film originally shown as a two-part episode on NBC's The Man from U.N.C.L.E..
In 1969-70, Parker starred in the television series Bracken's World, for which she was nominated for a 1970 Golden Globe Award as Best TV Actress - Drama. She also appeared in the Ghost Story episode "Half a Death" (1973), a suspense-thriller about a wealthy matron reconciling the lives of her two daughters.
Parker has also starred in a number of theatrical productions, including the Lauren Bacall role in musical Applause. In 1976, she played Maxine in theAhmanson Theater revival of The Night of the Iguana, but quit the Circle in the Square Theatre revival of Pal Joey during previews. She wrote the preface to the book How Your Mind Can Keep You Well, a meditation technique developed by Roy Masters. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6340 Hollywood Boulevard.
Parker has been married four times. She first wed Fred Losee in 1943, but the union was brief, ending in 1944. She then married Bert E Friedlob in 1946, divorcing him in 1953. They had three children together. She had a son, Paul, with her third husband, American portrait painter Paul Clemens; she and Clemens married in 1954 and divorced in 1965.
The following year, she married Raymond Hirsch and was widowed on September 14, 2001 when he succumbed to esophogeal cancer. Parker was raised a Protestant and later converted to Judaism, telling New York Daily News columnist Kay Gardella in August 1969: "I think we're all Jews at heart... I wanted to convert for a long time.