Obituary: Cecilia Parker
Thursday 05 August 1993
FOR FIVE years Cecilia Parker's was one of the best-known faces in the world. As Mickey Rooney's older sister Marian, she appeared in most of MGM's hugely popular 'Hardy Family' films, a series said to have grossed more than dollars 73m. In 1942 the series received a special Oscar for 'furthering the American way of life'. Curiously, only one of the three female Hardys was American: Mom (Fay Holden) hailed from England, and the daughter, Marian, from Canada.
Cecilia Parker was born in Fort William, Ontario, the daughter of a British army officer. The family lived in England during the First World War, afterwards moving to Los Angeles, where Cecilia attended the Convent of the Immaculate Heart. After graduation, she worked as an extra in Fox's Women of All Nations (1931), a rowdy comedy that also gave employment to Victor McLaglen, Edmund Lowe, Bela Lugosi and Humphrey Bogart. The petite Parker's blonde beauty registered well on the screen, and she was cast in the Will Rogers vehicle Young as You Feel (1931). During filming she attracted the attention of Sol Wurtzel, general superintendent of Fox Films, and was signed to a contract.
Fox only put her in two movies (both westerns starring George O'Brien), but loaned her out to half a dozen studios, where she made yet more westerns, opposite such sagebrush heroes as Buck Jones, Rex Bell, Ken Maynard and John Wayne. The Wayne film was the unintentionally hilarious Riders of Destiny (1933), in which 'the Duke' played 'Singin' Sandy Saunders', a gunman who always sang (with a dubbed voice) before pulling the trigger.
An even lower point in the Parker career came in 1934, when she appeared in The Lost Jungle, a serial. That same year MGM came to the rescue by offering her the role of Garbo's sister Olga in The Painted Veil. This led to a plum role in the same studio's Ah, Wilderness] (1935). In 1937 MGM put most of the Ah, Wilderness] cast into a B 'programmer' called A Family Affair. A wholesome little film about Judge Hardy (Lionel Barrymore), his loving wife (Spring Byington), her spinster sister Milly (Sara Haden), and the kids Andy and Marian, it proved so popular that the studio ordered a sequel, for which the Hardy parents were recast with Lewis Stone and Fay Holden. Called You're Only Young Once (1938), the sequel involves Marian in the kind of romantic complication that would feature often in the series: during a summer vacation, she falls in love with a handsome young lifeguard who turns out to be married. In Out West with the Hardys (1938) she falls in love with a handsome young ranch foreman who turns out to have a daughter from a dissolved marriage. As the New York Times critic summarised it: 'You couldn't call him really eligible, but Mom and Dad Hardy, being understanding parents, must of course leave Marian to find that out for herself. And Marian being Cecilia Parker, and wanting the Hardy series to be continued, like any other practical member of the cast, eventually comes to her senses.'
Actually, the actress in question was more interested in her home life than her career; that same year she had married the young actor Dick Baldwin, and was content to retire from the screen after Andy Hardy's Double Life (1942). In 1958, along with Rooney, Holden and Haden (Lewis Stone had by then died), she made Andy Hardy Comes Home, an attempt to revive the series. 'I'm so entrenched in domesticity,' she told an interviewer, 'I thought it was a practical joke when the call came about playing Marian again.' Although the film ended with the confident words 'To Be Continued', it was the last of the Hardy saga, and Mrs Dick Baldwin happily returned to domesticity.
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