Cecilia Parker will always be best remembered as Andy Hardy's big sister, Marian, a part she played in twelve of MGM's Hardy family films. Mickey Rooney's Andy quickly developed into the focus of the series, but there was always a bit for big sis to do as well. Parker's Marian Hardy often felt restrained by small town Carvel and often tried to act more sophisticated than her down to earth family could understand. She could be petulant, bratty even, but Marian always remained a Hardy through and through. That is; she always did the right thing in the end.
With few exceptions, including a 1958 Hardy family reunion, Cecilia Parker's film career ended after Andy Hardy's Double Life in 1942. As with many younger golden age actresses who just seemed to disappear at a certain age, 28-year-old Parker left her movie career behind to raise a family. "It was very difficult to find good help then and I wanted to stay home and take care of my kids," she said ("No regrets").
But after reviewing Cecilia Parker's life and career I'm left to wonder if Marian Hardy wasn't a pigeonhole for an actress slated for much more. On the other hand the part may well have extended her career. It's a fine line with Parker's own unique career track leaving the idea open to question either way.
As a teenager Parker had toiled as an extra and worked her way up to leading lady in a series of Poverty Row westerns and serials before being discovered by MGM at age twenty, a ton of experience behind her, and sharing the screen with the likes of Greta Garbo, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, and Oscar winners such as Lionel Barrymore and Wallace Beery.
Then came the Hardys and there went the prestige, but with it the role she's best remembered for.
Cecilia Maryelizabet* Parker was born April 26, 1914 in Fort William, Ontario, Canada. Her father joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps when she was just four months old and served overseas during the First World War. The remaining Parkers, including baby Cecilia, moved to Manchester, England during this period. The Parkers returned to Fort William when Cecilia was six and her father took a job with the Canadian Pacific Railroad ("Born in Fort William").
*Maryelizabet on Death Record; Mary Elizabeth on Marriage Record.
Young Cecilia excelled at her dancing lessons and soon won a certificate to the Academy of Music in Toronto. Her family moved to Hollywood when Cecilia was nine-years-old (Another source puts the Parkers in Hollywood in 1919). Parker attended Hollywood High School for one year before entering films as an extra at age 16. She would become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1940.
Cecilia first took on extra work in order to make enough money to study music ("Born in Fort William"). She was said to have been singled out for her work as an extra in Raoul Walsh's Women of All Nations (1931) and then Young as You Feel (1931), starring Will Rogers. According to Parker herself she was discovered by Fox executive Winfield Sheehan, who "saw me walking on the lot, asked me to a do a screen test and then signed me up for six months" ("No regrets"). At Fox she appeared in two George O'Brien westerns, Mystery Ranch and the Zane Grey based The Rainbow Trail (both 1932).
After that two film commitment with Fox, Parker freelanced in a run of Westerns playing leading lady to some of the best known names in the genre. She was with Ken Maynard four times in Tombstone Canyon (1932), The Trail Drive and Gun Justice (1933), and Honor of the Range (1934); The Fugitive and Rainbow Ranch (both 1933) with Rex Bell, by that time Clara Bow's husband; another pair with Buck Jones and his horse Silver in Unknown Valley (1933) and The Man Trailer; and she was the Duke's girl in Riders of Destiny (1933), back before John Wayne had yet to become a major star.
You might think enough was enough at that point and surely Parker wanted bigger things. As she told journalist Dan Thomas in 1934, "Of course I don't want to keep on doing these outdoor pictures forever. There isn't sufficient future in them for a girl. I want to work in bigger dramatic films in which I will have a chance to make a name for myself."
But Cecilia Parker had no regrets over her career in Westerns. In the same interview she presents herself as a lover of all things outdoors and goes on to tell the reporter that, "Whenever I find any sport that I haven't tried, I immediately go out and try my hand at it ... That's why I don't mind making western pictures. I know they don't mean a great deal, but I have a lot of fun making them." Even a few years later after having found success, Parker spoke well of her early movie work citing those westerns for the "invaluable in the experience they gave me. I wouldn't trade them for anything" ("Garbo Lifted").
Parker gained notice outside of the western genre appearing alongside circus man Clyde Beatty in Mascot's The Lost Jungle (1934), an actioner filled with wild animals and Beatty's exploits at taming them. 19 year old Cecilia is especially gorgeous in this one as Beatty's love interest. In what would become an interesting bit of trivia future co-star Mickey Rooney also appears in The Lost Jungle, though he and Parker don't share a scene together. There was also quite a bit of publicity around Crane Wilbur's High School Girl (1934), which warned of the dangers a young girl faced without proper support and supervision from her family.
According to The Hollywood Reporter Parker's would be the first name submitted, by Sam Cohn, when in 1934 the Wampas board decided to extend their prestigious Baby Stars honor to actresses who were considered promising but not yet under contract to any major studio. Cecilia Parker was one of 33 actresses nominated as a Wampas Baby Star for 1934, but she didn't make the final cut to thirteen girls, none of whom achieved any greater success than Parker.
1934 was the final year for the WAMPAS Baby Stars though in late 1936 Cecilia would be named one of ten young actresses most likely to achieve screen success in a somewhat informal poll meant to give the push that Wampas formerly supplied. Cecilia was typically first named in a list that also included Joan Perry, Barbara Pepper and June Travis (Rawles).
But Cecilia Parker was being noticed in 1934 and before the year was out she would be under contract to the most major of the majors, signing with MGM on June 25, 1934 to be in the cast of The Painted Veil (1934). These early years at MGM would account for the most prestigious films on Parker's list of credits. No longer leading lady as she was in the B-westerns, Parker found herself in the supporting cast for some legendary stars.
First, she was cast as Greta Garbo's sister in The Painted Veil, an experience Parker always remembered fondly. Just a few years after release of the film Parker gushed about Garbo in the press and said that she "found out afterward that Miss Garbo praised me to producers and aided me in my climb up the cinematic ladder" ("Garbo Lifted"). Nearly fifty years later Parker still had only kind words about Garbo, whom she said "was genuine, not a phony. She didn't act like a big star" ("No regrets").
After being loaned out for a pair of films at Paramount, MGM next cast Cecilia in the first of the Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy films, Naughty Marietta (1935). Later that same year, her favorite, the prestigious adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness!. Of that film Parker said, "It was my first big one and anyone would have enjoyed working with Wallace Beery and Lionel Barrymore" ("No regrets").
And Eric Linden. Cecilia Parker played Linden's love interest in Ah, Wilderness!. MGM loved the pairing so much that they were put together in a string of five additional movies and linked together as often as possible off the screen as well. The duo reunited with Ah, Wilderness! star Wallace Beery in Old Hutch in 1936 and then shared top bill themselves in In His Steps later that year. They were expected to carry the bill twice more the following year in both Girl Loves Boy and Sweetheart of the Navy.
Prior to those final two Parker-Linden films the pair were reunited with many of the players from Ah, Wilderness! in A Family Affair (1937). The story was based on Skidding, a play by Aurania Rouverol, and served as moviegoers introduction to the Hardy family. MGM didn't carry huge expectations for the film, shot in just 17 days, but as Mickey Rooney wrote, "A funny thing happened to this little programmer: released in April 1937, it ended up grossing more than a half a million dollars worldwide" (83).
When the series began Parker's Marian took only a backseat to her father, the Judge, played by Lionel Barrymore in the first film and Lewis Stone in all subsequent entries. It didn't take long for Mickey Rooney to take the series over to such an extent that most of the films included the name of his character, Andy Hardy, in the titles going forward. Parker's Marian was relegated to the background though as I mentioned earlier, always involved.
Marian Hardy's romantic interest in A Family Affair, Linden's Wayne Trent, was gone after that first film. Linden himself only lasted for a few more roles at MGM and was out their door completely after the final two pairings with Parker. Perhaps the Hardy family saved Cecilia Parker from the same fate. Post-MGM Linden only appeared in a handful of films, though one was a small role in Gone With the Wind, before disappearing from the screen altogether and reemerging on the stage in the post War-years.
For a time the Parker-Linden pairing stretched off the screen as the two were often spotted at events with one another and soon linked romantically by the press. The publicity seemed almost half-hearted though with reports so transparent that some even stated that the romance had begun as studio publicity. Of course they claimed that it blossomed on its own from there, but neither star could be pegged down for a quote containing any hint of sparks. Parker was later linked with Bill Henry and Michael Whalen. Walter Winchell wrote in 1936 that while there was no romance with Linden, there was with Johnny Downs.
Of course, wedding bells were soon to chime in practically every one of these gossip reports. And, of course, they were all wrong.
Cecilia Parker married Robert "Dick" Baldwin on June 1, 1938. Baldwin was at that time under contract to Twentieth Century-Fox as an actor and the couple would even appear together in PRC's 1941 film Gambling Daughters. The film is usually cited as potential punishment for Parker by MGM for some unknown misbehavior, but if I had to guess I'd say Parker just wanted to act alongside her husband. Baldwin soon left the screen and according to the papers of the day later became a broker.
To the best of my knowledge the IMDb has Cecilia married to the wrong man. Her record is linked to Richard G. "Dick" Baldwin, while I believe she was actually married to Robert Browning Baldwin. Beyond a 1987 AP article specifically mentioning husband and wife co-starring in Gambling Daughters (additionally that article includes actual quotes from Cecilia Parker Baldwin) and a 1938 wire story announcing their pending marriage which gives Dick's home as St. Louis (matching Robert Browning Baldwin on the IMDb), I dug until finding the following at Ventura County Marriage Records:
Mind you, the page leading to this record (which I've highlighted above) specifically states that "these records were transcribed, indexed and submitted by Ventura County Genealogical Society." So it is not the actual hard copy of Cecilia and Dick's marriage certificate, but they've got the date right and include a reference number at the far right which can be searched by anyone in Ventura County. If you happen to get there to check it out, please come back here and confirm your findings. Personally, I'm satisfied with the mounting circumstantial evidence.
The Baldwins would have three children, their eldest a daughter, Ann, followed by two sons, Robert, Jr. and John. Cecilia Parker had played Marian Hardy in the first nine Hardy features prior to the birth of Ann, but childbirth would get in the way of the next couple of Hardy films. Marian wasn't written out of the family though, just off screen away from the family in New York. She would return with a vengeance fueled by New York airs in 1942's The Courtship of Andy Hardy and finished her role in the main run of the series with Andy Hardy's Double Life later that same year.
Cecilia Parker retired from the screen in 1942 but was lured back for a Hardy family reunion in the late 1950's. "I went back to Hollywood in 1958 to do another Andy Hardy picture and it just wasn't the same," Parker said in 1987. "Once you leave something, it's hard to go back and feel the same way. The spontaneity wasn't there" ("No regrets"). Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958) closed the book on the family for good.
12 Hardy films, the O'Neill adaptation, the first MacDonald-Eddy film, Garbo's little sister, all preceded by a career in B-westerns opposite some of the most legendary figures in the genre. A little before, even less after, but Cecilia Parker did all that (excepting that final Hardy reunion) inside a tight ten year period covering over fifty films!
Cecilia Parker Baldwin died on July 25, 1993 at age 79 after suffering from a long and undisclosed illness.
When asked about modern films in 1987 Parker said, "I think films today are a bit much. There's all that violence."
She may have been in her share of shoot-em-ups early on, and her Marian Hardy may have longed for more excitement than Carvel could provide, but certainly a cinematic visit back to the Hardys' home town would please those of a like mind to Cecilia Parker.
- "Cecilia Parker, 'Andy Hardy's' sister, dies." Oxnard Press-Courier. 27 Jul 1993: 3. Google News. Web. 20 Jun 2012.
- "Cecilia Parker In Talkie Debut." Syracuse Herald. 17 Jan 1932: 68. NewspaperArchive. Web. 19 Jun 2012.
- "Cecilia Parker: No regrets over leaving filmland." Merced Sun-Star. 22 Jun 1987: 20. Google News. Web. 20 Jun 2012.
- Central Press-Canadian. "Born in Fort William, Cecilia Parker Portrays All-American Girl on Screen." The Calgary Daily Herald. 23 Aug 1938. Google News. Web. 20 Jun 2012.
- Coons, Robbin. "Cecilia Parker, Graduate of Westerns, Gets Name in 'Who-Likes-Who' Columns." Kingston Daily Freeman. 12 Nov 1935: 9. NewspaperArchive. Web. 19 Jun 2012.
- "Garbo Lifted Cecilia Parker." The Windsor Daily Star. 8 Jan 1938: 18. Google News. Web. 20 Jun 2012.
- "Grooms, 1929-1940 - B." Ventura County Marriage Records. Ventura County Genealogical Society. Web. 20 Jun 2012.
- National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Naturalization Index Cards of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Central Division (Los Angeles), 1915-1976 (M1525); Microfilm Serial: M1525; Microfilm Roll: 25.
- Rawles, Obera. "How the Newest Crop of Stars Was Picked." Portsmouth Times. 15 Nov 1936: 68. NewspaperArchive. Web. 19 Jun 2012.
- Rooney, Mickey. Life Is Too Short. New York: Villard Books, 1991.
- "The Hollywood Reporter (Jan-Jun 1934)." Internet Archive. Media History Digital Library. Web. 20 Jun 2012.
- Thomas, Dan. "She'd Pet a Lion for Fame; Cecilia Parker Does It, Too." The Pittsburgh Press. 23 Mar 1934: 38. Google News. Web. 20 Jun 2012.
- Vale, Virginia. "Star Dust." Le Grand Reporter. 20 Feb 1942: 7. NewspaperArchive. Web. 19 Jun 2012.
- Winchell, Walter. "Walter Winchell On Broadway." Rochester Journal. 29 Jun 1936: 14. Google News. Web. 20 Jun 2012.