“The Raven haired sylph who walks in beauty like the night… Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that’s best of dark and bright; Meet in her aspect and her eyes…” — Lord Byron
It is so easy to look upon Barbara Parkins’ exquisite beauty and make that the initial distinction you recall about her as an actress before recounting the roles she’s contributed to, the iconic roles that have heightened the dream factory of our cultural consciousness that is — film and television. As Betty Anderson of Peyton Place and Anne Welles in Valley of the Dolls. But beyond the glamour and the pulp and the melodrama and the camp, there is an actress who not only possessed an otherworldly beauty but a depth of character and quality. Who touched our hearts but was one of the earliest women to kick ass too! As Betty Anderson, she broke ground in a role that discussed women who began to reflect on their bodies being used as negotiable product for men, even in good clean small moralistic New England towns. And through a lot of painful, solitary self discovery learned to rely on her own self-reliance and newly mined self respect. Barbara Parkins was leading the way three years before Jane Fonda was flyin’ free up in space in 1968’s Barbarella.
I have always been drawn to Barbara Parkins, her inherent sensuality, sophistication, her dreamy voice. There’s a deep well of desire and poetry simmering below that obvious beauty. She brings that sensuality with her to every versatile role as an actress. And that is why I’ve been in love with her since the very first time I saw her.
Barbara Parkins was among the women chosen by famed photographer Patrick Lichfield to be included in his 1983 book, “The Most Beautiful Women”.
Walking away from the whole deal she eventually turned the lens in on itself and began to photograph from the other side of the lens, rather than BE the subject of the photograph.
Turning down leading roles in the movies Goodbye, Columbus (1969) and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969). When asked why, Parkins replied, “I must have had my head in the sand”.
She was considered for the title role in the James Bond film Octopussy (1983) that went to Maud Adams.
I think there were even better roles for Barbara Parkins out there. She would have been a force to contend with, that I’m sure of…
Below is the link to Barbara Parkins home page for her marvelous photography…
Barbara Parkins will no doubt be remembered for her portrayal of Betty Anderson Cord on the iconic scandalous Sixties prime time operatic melodrama Peyton Place from 1964- 1969. At the age of 16 she and her mother moved to Los Angeles where Barbara was enrolled in Hollywood High School. She made her film debut in the crime drama 20,000 Eyes (1961) starring Gene Nelson and Merry Anders. Then the young actress began appearing in episodes of television shows like Leave It To Beaver’s Season 5 No Time for Babysitters. Ironically, neither Jerry Mathers nor I would either want to hide the fact or would be unhappy to have to spend the night hanging out with Barbara Parkins.
She was in the rare and underappreciated 87th Precinct (1961) Lady Killer episode and Dr. Kildare (1962) The Soul Killer episode, The Untouchables, Perry Mason.
Barbara worked as an usher in a cinema to pay for drama lessons. In 1962 Barbara recorded a song on Baronet Records called “A Tiny Little Teardrop” The song made it to Billboard charts.
She appeared in Wagon Train and Perry Mason and The George Burns Show.
IN THE VALLEY OF PEYTON PLACE
Barbara Parkins was soon offered the main role of “Betty Anderson” in television’s first prime-time soap opera, Peyton Place in which Parkins got top billing for her role as the small town bad girl symbolized by the town pillory that sits in the middle of the square representing the first marked woman who was driven out of the puritanical town of Peyton Place 200 years ago. Betty loses her virtue to the Mill owner’s son (Ryan O’Neal). Originally the character was slated to die in a car crash six weeks into the season, but Barbara became so popular with audiences that it made both Peyton Place and Barbara Parkins an overwhelming success. Her performance is deeply moving and emotionally driven which elevates the pulpy night time soap to a whole other level. Not to mention Ed Nelson’s always underrated performances. He should have been a leading man, he has all of what it takes to be a star.
Then came her role as Betty which brought her fame and notoriety, being nominated for an Emmy Award in 1966 for “Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series. Other Nominees were Barbara Stanwyck for “The Big Valley” and Anne Francis for “Honey West”. Barbara Parkins lost to Barbara Stanwyck that year and ironically Barbara Stanwyck would play Barbara Parkins’ mother in the made for television chiller A Taste of Evil (1971).
Barbara Parkins, and one of my favorite underrated actors, the sexy Ed Nelson were the only two who appeared on the first (1964) and last (1969) episodes of Peyton Place. Both would remain with the show for it’s entire 5 year run.
In 1965, Barbara Parkins was named “Hollywood’s Deb Star of the Year” by the Association of Hollywood Make up Artists and Hairstylists. And in 1965, sh won the Photoplay Gold Medal Award for Best Newcomer.
Anne Welles: [First lines] You’ve got to climb Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls. It’s a brutal climb to reach that peak. You stand there. Waiting for the rush of exhilaration; but, it doesn’t come. You’re alone and the feeling of loneliness is overpowering.
She was cast as “Anne Welles” in Valley of the Dolls (1967) after Candice Bergen dropped out two weeks before filming was to begin. She originally tested for the role of “Neely O’Hara”. Barbara Parkins is perfectly poised and reserved and glamorous and beautiful (Michael Musto) as Anne Welles, and she’s got “those damn classy looks!”
Patty Duke, Lee Grant, Mark Robson, and Jacqueline Susann and Barbara Parkins in Valley of the Dolls (1967
Then it happened. In 1967, Barbara was cast in the lead role as Ann Welles in Valley of the Dolls directed by Mark Robson adapted from the novel by Jacqueline Susann, which still has a huge cult following, with it’s colorful dialogue, montages, notorious adult subject matter and some of the best high drama and camp, not to mention, one of the best film scores by John Williams and theme song by André Previn and lyrics by Dory Previn sung by Dionne Warwick. Most of all it features memorable actresses like Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, Lee Grant, the tragic Sharon Tate, Susan Hayward and Naomi Stevens.
Though the film was trashed by critics it was a commercial success and still remains today a guilty pleasure, and why the hell not, it’s eye candy for those of us who are starved for sweet nostalgia.
In 1968 she was nominated for “Golden Laurel” Award as Female New Face.
Barbara Parkins became friends with the ill fated Sharon Tate and even met up with her in London to be her bridesmaid when she married director Roman Polanski on June 20, 1968.
A WALTZ WITH A TASTE OF EVIL
She appeared as the intoxicating and dangerous Roxanne in director Paul Wendkos’ atmospheric The Mephisto Waltz (1971) co-starring Jacqueline Bisset, Curd Jurgens, Alan Alda and Bradford Dillman.
In 1971 we went to the theater in anticipation of two decadent films, when I was a very old 9 year old. I was riveted by the narratives and their bewildering rhythm and heady pace. The Mephisto Waltz did not go over well with critics yet, I am a fan of Wendkos’ style, and I hung on every frame. Plus I was mesmerized by Barbara Parkins’ raven haired exquisiteness. The movie came out during cinema’s preoccupation with devil worship in an urban setting and in the midst of a seemingly clean cut American lifestyle of bougie suburbia. The film is a lesser known ‘devil’ picture concerning a dying concert pianist Duncan Ely (Curd Jurgens) who practices black magic and intends to master soul transference into the body of his protégé Myles Clarkeson. This diabolical plot is brewed with the help of his arrestingly beautiful daughter Roxanne, the sylph-like Barbara Parkins whose exquisite beauty makes one woozy just to look at her. As the bewitching Roxanne, Parkins is far from the wayward ingénue she played in Valley of the Dolls who must find her way back home again. In The Mephisto Waltz she is a she-devil who carries on satantic rituals and aides in her father’s diabolical plan by possessing Paula Clarkson’s (Jacqueline Bisset) body so she can continue to be with her father who will now reside in Myles’ body. Jurgens- wants his youth and his maestro legacy to live on in pianist Myles Clarkson (a very handsome and serious Alan Alda . Bradford Dillman plays Barbara Parkin’s ex husband Bill who is aware of her predilection toward devil worship and warns Paula of how dangerous Roxanne and her father are, and how they practice devil worship to do anything they want to get what they want, much to his mistake as he winds up with the fatal blue oily dot on his forehead. This film possesses a very artful mean streak that lingers. Not to mention that slick 70s style, Moss Mabry’s fashion design and Jerry Goldsmith’s potent score that incorporates composer Franz Liszt’s forceful & infernal The Mephisto Waltz.
And then Barbara Parkins appeared in the made for television mystery/suspense tingler directed by John Llewelyn Moxey A Taste of Evil (1971) co-starring Barbara Stanwyck as an ice queen of a mother and Roddy McDowall with a good’n creepy script by Jimmy Sangster.
Parkins plays Susan Wilcox who has spent a good deal of her youth in a mental institution after a brutal assault as a young child on her family estate. After being released, while getting settled back home she realizes that someone is trying to terrorize her once again and drive her crazy or worse!
Along with the slew of made for television thrillers came this ensemble piece with a great cast Snatched about a kidnapping plan gone awry with plot twists and turns, typical for 70s viewing. Directed by Sutton Roley and starring Howard Duff, Leslie Nielsen, Sheree North, Robert Reed, John Saxon, Tisha Sterling, Anthony Zerbe, Richard Davalos, and Barbara Parkins as Maxvill, Snatched is a taut typical ABC Movie of the Week thriller.
After Sharon Tate’s brutal death in 1969 Barbara Parkins left Hollywood behind and moved to London, where she appeared in several British films like The Kremlin Letter (1970), The Mephisto Waltz (1971), The Deadly Trap (1971), Puppet on a Chain (1971), Asylum (1972), Christina (1974) and Shout at the Devil (1976).
THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971)
Directed by Paul Wendkos adapted from the novel by Fred Mustard Stewart. Myles (Alan Alda) a music journalist and frustrated pianist becomes the target of a devil worshiping father and daughter Curd Jurgens as brilliant concert pianist Duncan Ely and Barbara Parkins as the mesmerizing Roxanne who plan to transfer the dying Duncan Ely’s soul into Myles so he can continue to live in a younger handsome body with good hands. Wendkos’ style is disorienting and atmospheric. Barbara Parkins is absolutely captivating as the dark and alluring Roxanne. Co-stars Jacqueline Bisset and Bradford Dillman.
THE KREMLIN LETTER (1970)
During the Cold War a Naval Intelligence officer endowed with a powerful photographic memory is transferred to the CIA to participate in a covert operation in Moscow. Barbara Parkins plays Agent B.A.
THE DEADLY TRAP (1971)
Directed by René Clément it’s a taut thriller. And nothing is as it seems as Faye Dunaway’s genius boyfriend Frank Langella suddenly quits his job and then her children disappear an apparent kidnapping. Barbara Parkins plays her friend Cynthia who tries to help her solve the mystery.
PUPPET ON A CHAIN (1971)
Sven-Bertil Taube plays Paul Sherman a U.S. Agent sent to Amsterdam to investigate a heroine smuggling ring and police corruption in the police force with the help of Barbara Parkins who plays Maggie his incognito agent girlfriend.
Director Roy Ward Baker’s anthology horror jewel box showcases macabre stories by master story teller Robert Bloch. Barbara Parkins segment is called Frozen Fear her character Bonnie is having an affair with Richard Todd who murders his wife, but there’s horrible retribution wrapped in butcher’s paper in the end for both adulterers.
SHOUT AT THE DEVIL (1976)
Starring Lee Marvin and Roger Moore. During World War I, a British aristocrat, an American entrepreneur, and the latter’s attractive young daughter, set out to destroy a German battlecruiser, which is awaiting repairs in an inlet just off Zanzibar. Barbara Parkins is astonishing as the courageous Rosa in this adventure directed by Peter Hunt (Editor on There Was a Crooked Man 1960, Dr. No 1962, From Russia With Love 1963, Goldfinger 1964, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service 1969, Night Games 1980)
Slowly she lost interest in acting and got married in the late 1970s, living in France for a time. When her marriage ended she came back to the states and began appearing in popular television shows, like Law of the Land tv movie (1976), The Love Boat (1977) Hotel (1983) and a original cast reunion of Peyton Place tv movie in 1985.
During the years late 60s and early 70s Barbara had done photo pictorials for Playboy magazine. The first issue being in May, 1967, February, 1970 and May, 1976
In the 1970s she did television series like Ghost Story/Circle of Fear ep. The New House (1972), Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974) co-starring Lee Remick, Captain and the Kings (1976), Testimony of Two Men (1977), Young Joe, the forgotten Kennedy (1977), and a great performance in Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women (1978), and The Critical List (1978) and major motion pictures like Bear Island (1979).
Breakfast in Paris (1982)
In the early eighties Barbara appeared on television shows like Vegas (1980), Fantasy Island (1980), the mini-series The Manions of America (1981), the film Breakfast in Paris (1982), Uncommon Valor (1983), Hotel 1983), To Catch a King (1984), Calendar Girl Murders (1984) and The Love Boat (1984).
After the 1980s Barbara Parkins appeared less frequently, you can see her in Perry Mason: The Case of the Notorious Nun, Jake and the Fatman (1988) and Murder She Wrote (1989). She did do a brief stint in the CBS-TV series “Scene of the Crime” (1991) Filmed in her home of Vancouver and did a guest appearance on “Picket Fences” (1996).
After her daughter Christina was born she only returned to do a brief stint on the CBS TV series Scene of the Crime in 1991 which was filmed in Vancouver, Parkins birthplace. She announced in 1997 that she was retiring from the screen at the 30th anniversary screening of Valley of the Dolls in San Francisco. Though in 1998 she did appear as Annie Laurie Williams in Scandalous Me:The Jacqueline Susann Story, based on the life of Valley of the Dolls’ author.
For now she remains an icon and is a highly respected photographer and still that raven haired beauty we all admire on screen.
“Today, Barbara spends her time retired but very active in her environmental causes such as the World Wildlife Organization, The Dian Fossey Organization (the Gorilla Fund as a Supporter), and the Woodlands Trust Organization U.K. She travels and has given her stamp of approval of the Official Fan Page on FaceBook managed by Andy Zambella.”
“I’d very much like to be Ava Gardner. She IS sex.”
“I learned the word “power” when I was in Peyton Place (1964).”
[on why she thought Valley of the Dolls (1967) was considered a cult classic] “Maybe because it is so . . . bad.”
[When asked about her friend, Sharon Tate, in 2010]: “Most people know that she was kind and sweet, and had an innocence about her. Her gentleness was very special, and it was a big loss.”