Julie Parrish

Model turned actress who played opposite Elvis Presley
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The Independent Online

Ruby Joyce Wilbar (Julie Parrish), actress: born Middlesboro, Kentucky 21 October 1940; died Beverly Hills, California 1 October 2003.

Julie Parrish, the dark-haired Swinging Sixties model turned actress, became one of the drive-in era's most exotic pin-ups, appearing on screen opposite Elvis Presley in Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966). Parrish began modelling in the late Fifties and, as the winner of a national "Model of the Year" contest, arrived in Hollywood, hooked up with Jerry Lewis and featured with the comedian in It's Only Money (1962), followed by the popular teenage flicks Winter A-Go-Go (1965) and Fireball 500 (1966).

However, it was for her appearance on screen with Elvis Presley, which Parrish will always be remembered. "I wasn't the confident type really," Parrish said in April 2002:

Which is odd really because I was a model. I think I was more nervous of meeting Elvis than I'd been scouting for modelling work in the seedy photographic underground world of LA . . . On the first scene I had on Paradise, Hawaiian Style I got to embrace Elvis. He said very little - he didn't need to, just a look from him made me simply melt. He had a magnetism, an aura that was so warm, so comforting and sexual that if he'd asked me to go to bed with him I'd have jumped!

Paradise, Hawaiian Style was one of Elvis Presley's weaker films. He detested the script and in particular the scene where he blithely sang the dim-witted "A Dog's Life" to Julie Parrish while she struggles gamely with recalcitrant pooches.

Born in 1940, five years Presley's junior, Parrish spent a nomadic childhood, with her parents and five siblings moving from state to state. Her father worked for the secret service. It was her ambition to become a commercial artist. She studied at the University of Toledo, modelling in the evenings to pay her way, and then had a job drawing maps for an insurance company. She also dabbled in amateur dramatics and in 1961 took the lead in a production of The Diary of Ann Frank.

It was in Michigan that she entered and won the Miss Cinerama beauty contest, and then won a "Young Model of the Year" contest - the prize was a cameo in a Jerry Lewis picture (she played a sales clerk in a bridal-wear store). In her next picture opposite the comedian, The Nutty Professor (1963), she played a college student.

"I was a small cog in the Hollywood meal machine," she said:

Hollywood powerbrokers at that time sent out messengers to beauty pageants in order to locate the next Monroe or Mansfield. I set myself a task to prepare me not for roles as the dumb-nut but as a serious actress. I subordinated my social life to work on getting good acting jobs. Included in my six-day-a-week programme were two days of metaphysical lessons and study, two days of voice study and practice, one day of dance study and practice, one day at a comedy workshop and one day of piano study and practice. The result, after all the training, was a mediocre career.

She was constantly in demand, however, both for film roles and by male suitors. Adam West wanted her for his girlfriend as well as the role of "Batgirl" in the cult 1960s television series; but the role went to Yvonne Craig. Hal B. Wallis and William Shatner were also admirers but she rejected them for the actor James Caan. Later, she entered into an abusive relationship with the actor Ted Bessell. After that ended Parrish became an elected member of the LA Commission on Assaults Against Women. She later served as its director.

Although her career was brief, Parrish is noted for her roles not only opposite Presley but other popular teen idols including James Stacy in Winter A-Go-Go and Frankie Avalon and Fabian in Fireball 500. She was also busy on television with roles in My Three Sons, Gunsmoke, Gidget with Sally Field, Good Morning World with Goldie Hawn and the Menagerie episodes of Star Trek.

In the 1970s, she became an accomplished stage actress, working steadily across California. On screen she played Betty Anderson Harrington in Return to Peyton Place (1972), a Salem Quaker in The Time Machine (1973) and a nurse in When She was Bad . . . (1979). She also wrote screenplays.

Parrish, who never married, turned to Buddhism in the 1990s, became a vegan and spent the remainder of her life as a charity activist, including work as a counsellor at Haven Hills Shelter for Battered Women. She continued to speak to audiences about domestic violence, also visiting schools to discuss dating violence and the so-called "date rape" drug.

She maintained her relationship with Elvis Presley's former leading ladies Sandra Giles, Francine York and Yvonne Lime. In 2000, she launched her own website and a year later contributed to the book Worth Exposing Hollywood, reminiscing about Elvis. "He was dedicated to his bride Priscilla," she said. "And although he was something of a flirt I'd be surprised if he strayed."

Howard Mutti-Mewse