Parker in The Fighting Guardsman (1946)
Worcester Van Eps|
February 5, 1912
New York City, New York, U.S.
December 4, 1996 (aged 84)|
Rancho Mirage, Riverside County
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Cathedral City)|
Marion Pierce (1939–1951, divorced)|
Virginia Field (1951–1992, her death)
Willard Parker (born Worster Van Eps, February 5, 1912 – December 4, 1996) was an American film and television actor. He was a leading man under contract to Columbia Pictures in the 1940s and starred in the TV series Tales of the Texas Rangers (1955–58).
Parker was born in New York City. He was a meter reader and a tennis pro. While working as the latter in Hollywood he was spotted by Zeppo Marx, then working as an agent. Marx arranged a screen test and he signed a contract with Warner Bros. He changed his name to "Willard Parker".
Parker signed to Warner Bros in the late 1930s. He made his debut with an uncredited bit in the Dick Foran Western, The Devil's Saddle Legion (1937). He had small parts in That Certain Woman (1937) with Bette Davis; Back in Circulation (1937) with Pat O'Brien; The Radio Murder Mystery (1937) with Ronald Reagan; Alcatraz Island (1937) with John Litel; Over the Goal (1937) with June Travis; The Adventurous Blonde (1937) with Glenda Farrell; Missing Witness (1937) with Litel; and The Invisible Menace (1938) with Boris Karloff.
Parker decided to go to the stage to learn how to act. He worked for a stock company then tried Broadway, where he had a role in a hit play Johnny Belinda (1940) by Elmer Rice. He then replaced Victor Mature in the cast of the musical Lady in the Dark (1941) opposite Gertrude Lawrence. He went with the show when it toured on the road in 1943. This brought him to the attention of executives at Columbia Pictures who signed him to a long-term contract.
His career was interrupted by service with the US Marines. Then when he returned Columbia promoted him to leading man status in the swashbuckler The Fighting Guardsman (1945). Then they starred him in a comedy One Way to Love (1946); and a Western, Renegades (1946).
These films were not particularly successful and Parker went back to being the third lead in Relentless (1948), a Western, and in The Mating of Millie (1948), he was billed after Glenn Ford, Evelyn Keyes and Ron Randell. Columbia tried him in the lead of a drama, The Wreck of the Hesperus (1948).
Universal borrowed him for a support role in You Gotta Stay Happy (1948) with Joan Fontaine and James Stewart. Back at Columbia he supported Don Ameche and Dorothy Lamour in the musical Slightly French (1949). Universal borrowed him for another support part, this time in the Yvonne de Carlo Western Calamity Jane and Sam Bass (1949).
Columbia gave him the lead in some "B"s, Bodyhold (1949), as a wrestler, with Lola Albright; and David Harding, Counterspy (1950), playing the title role. He played the third lead in the comedy Emergency Wedding (1950), supporting Larry Parks and Barbara Hale.
Universal used Parker as the third lead in the Western Apache Drums (1951). He had support roles in three films for Pine-Thomas Productions, Caribbean Gold (1952), Sangaree (1953) and The Vanquished (1953). He guest starred on TV in The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1952).
Parker and his wife Virginia Field appeared in "Mr. And Mrs. Trubble" for Schlitz Playhouse (1952). That show invited him back for "Twenty-two Sycamore Road" (1953, with Nancy Reagan), "Little War at San Dede" (1954), and "Visitor in the Night" (1955).
He also guest starred on Fireside Theatre in "A Mother's Duty" (1954) and "No Time for Susan" (1955, with his wife), and The Ford Television Theatre in "Kiss and Forget" (1953, with his wife), and "The Mumbys" (1955, with his wife).
Parker was cast as Ranger Jace Pearson in the 52-episode CBS television series, Tales of the Texas Rangers, which aired from 1955 to 1958. His co-star was Harry Lauter as Ranger Clay Morgan. The series was rerun thereafter on ABC.
Parker starred in a low budget Western for Fox, Naked Gun (1956), and Lure of the Swamp (1957). He guest starred in Lee Marvin's NBC crime drama, M Squad (1958) then starred in some low budget Westerns, Lone Texan (1959), Young Jesse James (1960) and Walk Tall (1960). He did "Dr Kate" for Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (1960). Walk Tall was directed by Maury Dexter who used Parker in The High Powered Rifle (1961) andAir Patrol (1962).
He guest starred in ABC's religion drama series, Going My Way, starring Gene Kelly and Leo G. Carroll as Roman Catholic priests in New York City. Parker was cast as Msgr. Joe Giblin in the 1962 episode, "The Crooked Angel."
His last film role was in The Great Waltz (1972).
- A Slight Case of Murder (1938)
- The Zero Hour (1939)
- What a Woman! (1943)
- The Fighting Guardsman (1946)
- One Way to Love (1946)
- The Wreck of the Hesperus (1948)
- The Mating of Millie (1948)
- You Gotta Stay Happy (1948)
- Relentless (1948)
- Slightly French (1949)
- Bodyhold (1949)
- Emergency Wedding (1950)
- Hunt the Man Down (1950)
- Caribbean (1952)
- Sangaree (1953)
- The Great Jesse James Raid (1953)
- Kiss Me Kate (1953)
- Naked Gun (1956)
- Lure of the Swamp (1957)
- Lone Texan (1959)
- Walk Tall (1960)
- The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)
- Waco (1966)
- Willard Parker; Stage, Film Actor Was in 'Texas Rangers' Series: Home Edition Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]18 Dec 1996: 28.
- The LIFE STORY of Willard PARKER Picture Show; London50.1299 (Oct 5, 1946): 12.
- LADY IN THE DARK' BACK ON BROADWAY: Play With Gertrude Lawrence Reopens Tonight After a Successful Road Tour BLONDE BOMBER' LISTED Comedy Due for Showing Here Around May 15 -- Gambol Is Canceled by Lambs New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]27 Feb 1943: 11
- Hunk of Man' Parker Cast as Swashbuckler: Metro Captures Warners' Find, Plans Build-up; Robert Duke Lead in 'Faces' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]11 Dec 1944: 11.
- DRAMA AND FILM: Parker 'Hesperus' Star; Coleen Gray in 'Jericho' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]14 Aug 1947: A3.
- Halliwell's Who's Who in the Movies, published by Harper-Collins, ISBN 0-06-093507-3
- The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz, published by Collins, ISBN 0-06-074214-3