Monday, August 7, 2017

Whatever Happened to Darlene Parks?

I love watching old movies and television shows and every now and then I see an actor or actress that is such a standout I wonder what other roles they did and where their career went.

Actress Darlene Parks
This happened last night as I was watching a two-part episode of the old Barney Miller series titled "Wojo's Girl," with Darlene Parks in the title role. Parks was a willowy blonde who was pretty bordering on gorgeous. She had great comic timing (you can see a touch of Judy Holliday) and her chemistry with Max Gail (who is still acting at 74) was perfect. (Watch her face in Part 2 when Gail asks her why she "started hooking.") Most important, she had a face that had that special something that makes a star; she was not interchangeable, she was memorable.

But Darlene Parks, after this wonderful episode, had just one more role, and then she disappeared. What happened? Did she die tragically? Did she get discouraged and quit? Did she change her name and continue acting as someone else? Did she opt for marriage to some wealthy producer and live the good life, if only for a time?

Searching the Internet, I found I'm not the only one to have asked.

Fate takes odd turns in this business. Some have long careers but never get a single iconic role. Virginia Gregg, a phenomenal voice actress on radio, went on to appear in more than 200 character roles on television (virtually every narrative series from the late 1950s through the early 1970s), but said, "I work steadily, but I have no identity." And she was right. Although people recognize her when they see her in a role, they don't know her name. (But think of her residuals!)

Some actors seem to get one iconic role after another: Humphrey Bogart as Richard Blaine in Casablanca, Charlie Allnutt in The African Queen; Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. (I'd add Harry Morgan in To Have and Have Not, but that was really Bacall's picture.)

Other actors get an iconic role - Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles, for example - but then their career doesn't seem to take off as you would expect. Little had finally landed a role in the 1990-1991 series Baghdad Cafe and had appeared in 12 episodes when he passed away.

Bogart in Doctor X
Whatever fate throws at you, the important thing as an actor is not to quit. Remember that just two years before High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, and three years before Casablanca, Bogart's big film was The Return of Doctor X. You never know what's just around the corner.

So Darlene Parks, wherever you are, God bless you. I'm sorry you didn't have a bigger career, but you had one role that was wonderful. And when you think about it, that's a kind of immortality.

See Darlene Parks on YouTube here:

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