Jean Parker, 90; Actress Had More Than 70 Film Credits, Including 'Little Women,' 'The Gunfighter'

Times Staff Writer

Jean Parker, who appeared in at least 70 movies in her career and had supporting roles in such popular films as "Little Women," starring Katharine Hepburn, and "The Gunfighter," starring Gregory Peck, died Nov. 30. She was 90.

Parker died of complications from a stroke at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital, her son, Robert Hanks, said Friday. She had been a resident of the retirement home since 1998.

Parker had leading roles in a number of B movies in the 1930s and '40s, including "Detective Kitty O'Day" in 1944. That year she also played opposite Lon Cheney Jr. in a whodunit, "Dead Man's Eyes."

Later, Parker made guest appearances in several TV series, including "Private Secretary," "Suspense" and "Starlight Theater" in the 1950s.

"Acting is truly a glorious and noble profession," Parker said in an interview for "Who's Who in Hollywood," (1992), edited by David Ragan. "When anyone can give other people a few hours of escape or enchantment away from the ills of the world and their own personal lives, that's a very worthwhile occupation."

Some biographical sources say she was born Luis (or Luise) Stephanie Zelinska in Butte, Mont., in 1912, but Hanks said she was born Lois May Green in Deer Lodge, Mont., in 1915.

She came to California in the early 1930s with her father, who took a job as a chef at the Green Hotel in Pasadena. Her mother and Parker's sister, Levona, joined the family soon afterward; her parents later divorced.

Parker began her career as a contract actress at MGM studio in the early 1930s. Pretty and vivacious, she gained a reputation for working quickly and well. She made seven films in 1933, including Frank Capra's "Lady for a Day." Perhaps the most enduring film she appeared in that year is "Little Women"; she played Beth, one of the four March sisters.

Throughout her career, she often had small roles in movies that featured major stars. In 1934 she appeared in "Operator 13," set during the Civil War, with Marion Davies and Gary Cooper in the leading roles.

She also made an appearance in "The Flying Deuces," a Laurel and Hardy classic of 1939 in which she played the daughter of an innkeeper. In the film, Ollie Hardy falls in love with her, but things don't work out and, to forget her, he joins the Foreign Legion.

In 1950, Parker had a supporting role in "The Gunfighter" with Peck in the lead as a gunman who wants to retire and settle down. The film remains a strong example of the psychological dramas set in the American West that were popular in the 1950s.

Parker also appeared on stage in Broadway shows and in touring productions. In 1946, she had a small role in "Burlesque," starring Bert Lahr. She replaced Judy Holliday in a leading role in "Born Yesterday" in 1949 when Holliday left to make a movie. The play ran for about a year with Parker in the lead.

She also had roles in the West Coast productions of several plays, including "Born Yesterday," in the 1950s.

In the 1960s and '70s she worked as an acting coach.

Married four times, Parker had one child, Hanks, with her fourth husband, actor Robert Lowery. She later separated from Lowery, who died in 1971, Hanks said.

Along with her son, Parker is survived by two granddaughters, Katie and Nora Hanks -- all three of Redondo Beach.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Wednesday December 14, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction Parker obituary -- The obituary of actress Jean Parker in Saturday's California section misspelled the last name of actor Lon Chaney Jr. as Cheney.
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