Larry Parks

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Larry Parks
Larry Parks 1950.jpg
Parks in 1950
Born Samuel Klausman Lawrence Parks
(1914-12-13)December 13, 1914
Olathe, Kansas, U.S.
Died April 13, 1975(1975-04-13) (aged 60)
Studio City, California, U.S.
Cause of death Heart attack
Occupation Actor, Singer
Years active 1941–62
Spouse(s) Betty Garrett
(1944–75 (his death)); 2 children
Children Garrett Parks (b. 1950)
Andrew Parks

Larry Parks (December 13, 1914 – April 13, 1975) was an American stage and movie actor.[1] His career arced from bit player and supporting roles to top billing, before his career was virtually ended when he admitted to having once been a member of a Communist party cell, which led to his blacklisting by all Hollywood studios.[2] His best known role was Al Jolson, whom he portrayed in two films: The Jolson Story (1946) and Jolson Sings Again (1949).

Life and career[edit]

Parks was born Samuel Klausman Lawrence Parks in Olathe, Kansas, the son of Nellie (Klausman) and Frank H. Parks.[3] He was raised in Joliet, Illinois, and graduated from Joliet Township High School in 1932. He attended the University of Illinois as a pre-med student,[4] and played in stock companies for a few years before signing a movie contract with Columbia Pictures in 1941.

Supporting player[edit]

As did most Columbia contract players, he played supporting roles in higher-budgeted films, and larger roles in B pictures, such as 1942's Atlantic Convoy.[5]

When Columbia was preparing a screen biography of Al Jolson, many big-name stars were considered for the title role, including James Cagney and Danny Thomas (both of whom turned it down), but resident contractee Larry Parks was reportedly the first actor to be interviewed. Parks impressed the producers and won the role. At the age of 31, his performance in The Jolson Story (1946) earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.[6][7]


Parks with Teresa Wright in "The Happiest Day", a 1954 Ford Theatre presentation.

Now that Parks was a full-fledged star, Columbia kept him busy in elaborate productions (including a couple of costume epics) until he appeared in the sequel, Jolson Sings Again (1949), which was another huge box office hit.[8] His co-star in the film, Barbara Hale, teamed with him again in the comedy feature Emergency Wedding.

Parks tried to break his contract with Columbia in 1948, but was unsuccessful.[9]


In 1951, Parks was summoned to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, under threat of being blacklisted in the movie industry, but he begged not to be forced to testify. He eventually did so in tears, only to be blacklisted anyway. Larry Parks eventually gave up the names of his former colleagues and submitted to the HUAC.[10] Following his admission before the committee, Columbia Pictures dropped him, and a romantic comedy he made for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was shelved for three years. Parks made only a few more films, but continued to squeeze out a living acting on the stage and doing occasional television programs.[11] He last appeared in a major role in a John Huston film, Freud: The Secret Passion (1962).[12]

Later career[edit]

Parks eventually left the film industry and formed a successful construction business, and eventually he and his wife Betty Garrett owned many apartment buildings scattered throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Rather than sell them upon completion, Parks decided to retain ownership and collect rents as a landlord, a decision that proved to be extremely profitable. During this period, the couple occasionally performed in Las Vegas showrooms, summer stock productions, and touring companies of Broadway shows.[13][14]


Parks died of a heart attack at the age of 60. He was married to actress Betty Garrett in 1944. Garrett starred in Hollywood films such as On the Town and on television as Archie Bunker's neighbor Irene Lorenzo on All in the Family and as landlady Edna Babish on Laverne and Shirley. Her career also faced turmoil as a result of her marriage to Parks, and the two spent much of the 1950s doing theatre and musical variety shows. Together they had two sons, actor Andrew Parks and composer Garrett Parks. He was also the godfather to actor Jeff Bridges.[15][16][17]


Parks in 1947
Supporting roles and B movies
A-list stardom


  1. ^ Died: 13 April 1975 (1975-04-13). "Larry Parks | BFI | BFI". Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  2. ^ "Blackface to Blacklist: Al Jolson, Larry Parks, and "the Jolson Story" (9780810819658): Doug McClelland: Books". Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Illinois Alumni Magazine | UIAA | Illinois Alumni". UIAA. 1951-03-21. Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  5. ^ "A Star is Born: Larry Parks as Al Jolson | A Tribute to Al Jolson". 2011-02-13. Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (1968-08-25). "Interview with Larry Parks | Interviews". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  7. ^ "The Jolson Story". Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  8. ^ T. M. P. (1949-08-18). "Movie Review - Jolson Sings Again - THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; ' Jolson Sings Again,' in Opening at Loew's State, Calls for Some Lusty Cheering". Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Silverman, Stephen M. Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and his Movies. Alfred A. Knopf. 1996. p. 140.
  11. ^ Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in America - Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman, Donald McNeilly - Google Books. Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  12. ^ "Freud | BFI | BFI". Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  13. ^ Garrett, pp. 125-152.
  14. ^ Garrett, pp. 169-171.
  15. ^ "Biography for Larry Parks". Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  16. ^ "Betty Garrett". Telegraph. Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  17. ^ Rampell, Ed (2011-04-18). "Bridges brothers honor Hollywood "Red" Betty Garrett". peoplesworld. Retrieved 2014-04-13. 

External links[edit]