Hildy Parks

Actress turned writer and television producer
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The Independent Online

Hildy Parks first became known to London audiences when she played the only female role in the West End production of Mr Roberts (1950), starring Tyrone Power and featuring the former child actor Jackie Cooper, who was Parks's first husband. Later, after marrying the prolific theatre producer Alexander Cohen, she became better known as a writer and television producer.

Hildy Parks, actress, writer and television producer: born Washington, DC 12 March 1926; married 1950 Jackie Cooper (marriage dissolved 1951), 1956 Alexander Cohen (died 2000; two sons); died Englewood, New Jersey 7 October 2004.

Hildy Parks first became known to London audiences when she played the only female role in the West End production of Mr Roberts (1950), starring Tyrone Power and featuring the former child actor Jackie Cooper, who was Parks's first husband. Later, after marrying the prolific theatre producer Alexander Cohen, she became better known as a writer and television producer.

She wrote the first 20 Tony Award telecasts in America, and won two Emmy Awards as a producer, one for the 34th Tony show in 1980 and the second for Night of 100 Stars (1982). From 1967 to 1986 Cohen usually produced the Tony shows, and his wife wrote them. She was a shrewd and tough businesswoman, who initially persuaded television networks to transmit the awards ceremonies by signing names known to television viewers. A lifelong Democrat and liberal, she often managed to spice her scripts with political elements. Her son Christopher Cohen said, "Mother was the intellect and dad the bravado."

Born in Washington in 1926, she was educated at the University of Virginia. After graduation she headed for New York, where she made her stage début at the New School playing the wife of Curly in Of Mice and Men. She made her Broadway début in Jacques Duval's biblical drama Bathsheba (1947), which also marked the Broadway bow of the actor James Mason who starred, as King David, opposite his wife Pamela Kellino in the title role. Described by Brooks Atkinson in The New York Times as "tasteless and tedious", the play lasted only 29 performances.

Parks then had a small role in Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke (1948), which was unfavourably compared to the playwright's previous play, the still-running A Streetcar Named Desire, and ran for 102 performances.

She next appeared with Jackie Cooper in a racy comedy, Magnolia Alley (1949), the cast of which included Jessie Royce Landis, Julie Harris and Anne Jackson. Called "witless and tasteless" by Variety, it closed after eight performances.

Parks had a hit, though, and a great personal success, when she journeyed to London to play in Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan's classic comedy Mr Roberts. She had the play's only female role as the WAC nurse whose bathroom is spied on with binoculars by the servicemen stationed on a cargo ship. It was only one scene, but one of the funniest in the play - Marlon Brando's sister Jocelyn had performed the role on Broadway.

Hildy Parks and Jackie Cooper were married in 1950, but they divorced the following year. It seemed she might at last be in a Broadway hit when she was cast in Roger MacDougall's comedy To Dorothy a Son (1951). The play had been a big success in London, with Yolande Donlan in Parks's role, but it was ignominiously dismissed from Broadway after eight performances.

Parks met Alexander Cohen when she was appearing on Broadway in a play he produced, Be Your Age (1953). It was a three-day flop, but Parks was to marry Cohen in 1956. They had two sons, and the union lasted for 44 years until Cohen's death in 2000.

For several years, Parks continued to act, appearing in the films Seven Days in May (1964), Fail Safe (1964) and The Group (1966), and making frequent appearances on television dramas, including several plays in the anthology series Studio One. From 1951 to 1955 she played a recurring role in the daytime soap opera Love of Life, and her bright intellect and quick wit made her a popular panellist on such shows as Down You Go! and To Tell the Truth.

The Cohens started their run of Tony Award shows in 1967, injecting them with wit, pace and topicality that had them frequently cited as an example of what other awards shows should be. (Parks did all the research for the show herself at the Lincoln Public Library.) She received multiple Emmy nominations as well as winning the award twice. Night of 100 Stars, produced by the Cohens in 1982 to benefit the Actors' Fund of America, brought out an unprecedented number of superstars to appear on the stage of the Radio City Music Hall.

Parks also wrote the special Placido Domingo: Steppin' Out with the Ladies (1985) and NBC's 60th anniversary show (1986). More recently, she wrote William, a television special starring Lynn Redgrave, which set out to introduce the work of Shakespeare to children.

She produced many shows on Broadway, usually in partnership with her husband, and in 1984 they presented Dario Fo's acclaimed play Accidental Death of an Anarchist. They had a strong affiliation with English theatre, and among the British hits they presented on Broadway were A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine (1980), 84 Charing Cross Road (1982), Taking Sides (1996) and The Herbal Bed (1998).

Parks's enviromental views were so strong that she gave up limousines for a bicycle, and would wave to her husband as he passed her in his large car. She contributed to such causes as housing for the homeless, Greenpeace, the Actors' Fund and animal rights. She was also a vigorous campaigner to get "landmark" status for all Broadway theatres.

Tom Vallance

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