Larry Parks

Samuel Klausman Lawrence Parks (December 13, 1914 – April 13, 1975) was an American stage and movie actor.[1] His career arced from bit player and supporting roles to top billing, before it was virtually ended when he admitted to having once been a member of a Communist Party cell, which led to his blacklisting by all Hollywood studios.[2] His best known role was Al Jolson, whom he portrayed in two films: The Jolson Story (1946) and Jolson Sings Again (1949).

Larry Parks
Parks in 1950
Samuel Klausman Lawrence Parks

(1914-12-13)December 13, 1914
DiedApril 13, 1975(1975-04-13) (aged 60)
OccupationActor, Singer
Years active1941–1975
Betty Garrett
(m. 1944)
Children2, including Andrew Parks

Life and career

Parks was born in Olathe, Kansas, the son of Nellie (Klausman) and Frank H. Parks.[3] His family was Jewish.[4] He was raised in Joliet, Illinois, and graduated from Joliet Township High School in 1932.

He attended the University of Illinois as a pre-med student,[5] and played in stock companies for a few years.[6] He went to Hollywood at the suggestion of John Garfield who said a part in a Warner Bros film called Mama Ravioli was being held for him. The movie was cancelled but Parks wound up signing a movie contract with Columbia Pictures in 1941.[7]

Supporting player

As did most Columbia contract players, he played supporting roles in higher-budgeted films, and larger roles in B pictures.[8]

Parks could be seen in Mystery Ship (1941) and Harmon of Michigan (1941).[9] He could be seen in the "A" films You Belong to Me (1941) and Three Girls About Town (1941). He could also be seen in Sing for Your Supper (1941), Harvard, Here I Come (1942), Blondie Goes to College (1942), Canal Zone (1942), Alias Boston Blackie (1942), North of the Rockies (1942), Hello, Annapolis (1942), and Submarine Raider (1942).

Parks was also in an "A", They All Kissed the Bride (1942) with Joan Crawford. Then there were war films like Flight Lieutenant (1942), and Atlantic Convoy (1942). Parks was in A Man's World (1942) and had a bigger part in The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942) with Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre.

Parks had a tiny part in the "A", You Were Never Lovelier (1942). He was in Power of the Press (1943), Reveille with Beverly (1943), Redhead from Manhattan (1943) with Lupe Vélez, First Comes Courage (1943) directed by Dorothy Arzner, and Destroyer (1943) with Glenn Ford.

Parks had bigger parts in Is Everybody Happy? (1943), Deerslayer (1943), The Racket Man (1944), Hey, Rookie (1944), and Jam Session (1944).

Leading man

Parks graduated to leads with The Black Parachute (1944), Stars on Parade (1944), Sergeant Mike (1944), and She's a Sweetheart (1944).

He supported Paul Muni in Counter-Attack (1945). He was in a Western Renegades (1946), with Evelyn Keyes.[10]

When Columbia was preparing a screen biography of Al Jolson, many big-name stars were considered for the title role, including James Cagney and Danny Thomas (both of whom turned it down), but resident contractee Larry Parks was reportedly the first actor to be interviewed. Parks impressed the producers and won the role. At the age of 31, his performance in The Jolson Story (1946) earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.[11][12]


Now that Parks was a full-fledged star, Columbia kept him busy in elaborate productions. He appeared opposite the studio's biggest star Rita Hayworth in Down to Earth (1947). That year exhibitors voted him the fifteenth biggest star in the US.[13]

Then he made some swashbucklers, The Swordsman (1948) and The Gallant Blade (1948). Parks tried to break his contract with Columbia in 1948, but was unsuccessful.[14] That year he criticised HUAC.[15]

He made Jolson Sings Again (1949), which was another huge box office hit.[16] His co-star in the film, Barbara Hale, teamed with him again in the comedy feature Emergency Wedding (1950). In 1950 he and his wife announced plans to make their own film Stakeout.[17] British exhibitors voted him the ninth most popular star in the UK.


In 1951, Parks was summoned to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, under threat of being blacklisted in the movie industry, but he begged not to be forced to testify. He eventually did so in tears,[18] only to be blacklisted anyway. Larry Parks eventually gave up the names of his former colleagues to the HUAC.[19]

Following his admission before the committee, Columbia Pictures dropped him from his contract although it had four years to run and Parks had been set to star in the film Small Wonder (which later became The First Time); Parks' fee was then $75,000 a film.[20][21][22] A romantic comedy he made for MGM, Love Is Better Than Ever, was shelved for a year.[23]

He made a TV film for The Ford Television Theatre in 1953[24] and starred in the British film Tiger by the Tail (1955) in England.

He continued to squeeze out a living acting on the stage and doing occasional television programs.[25] He last appeared in a major role was in the John Huston film, Freud: The Secret Passion (1962).[26]

Later career

Parks eventually left the film industry and formed a successful construction business, and eventually he and his wife Betty Garrett owned many apartment buildings scattered throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Rather than sell them upon completion, Parks decided to retain ownership and collect rents as a landlord, a decision that proved to be extremely profitable. During this period, the couple occasionally performed in Las Vegas showrooms, summer stock productions, and touring companies of Broadway shows.[27][28]

Personal life

Parks married actress Betty Garrett in 1944. Betty Garrett starred in Hollywood films such as On the Town and on television as Archie Bunker's neighbor Irene Lorenzo on All in the Family and as landlady Edna Babish on Laverne and Shirley. Her career also faced turmoil as a result of her marriage to Parks, and the two spent much of the 1950s doing theatre and musical variety shows. Together they had two sons, actor Andrew Parks and composer Garrett Parks. Larry Parks was also godfather to actor Jeff Bridges.[29][30][31]

A Democrat, he supported Adlai Stevenson's campaign in the 1952 presidential election[32].

Parks died of a heart attack in 1975 at the age of 60.


Supporting roles and B movies
A-list stardom


  1. Died: April 13, 1975 (April 13, 1975). "Larry Parks | BFI | BFI". Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  2. "Blackface to Blacklist: Al Jolson, Larry Parks, and "the Jolson Story" (9780810819658): Doug McClelland: Books". Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  4. Cones, John. Motion Picture Biographies: The Hollywood Spin on Historical Figures. p. 33. ISBN 9781628941166.
  5. "Illinois Alumni Magazine | UIAA | Illinois Alumni". UIAA. March 21, 1951. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  6. "Right At His Peak". The Voice. 21 (20). Tasmania, Australia. May 15, 1948. p. 4. Retrieved October 10, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  7. "Larry Parks' Rise to Fame". The Advocate. Tasmania, Australia. March 17, 1950. p. 18. Retrieved October 10, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  8. "A Star is Born: Larry Parks as Al Jolson | A Tribute to Al Jolson". February 13, 2011. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  9. "Larry Parks —You Won't Remember Him". The Dowerin Guardian and Amery Line Advocate. XX (33). Western Australia. November 7, 1947. p. 9 (Modern Weekly News Magazine). Retrieved October 10, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  10. "Handsome Larry Parks Achieves Stardom". Lachlander and Condobolin and Western Districts Recorder. New South Wales, Australia. June 30, 1947. p. 1. Retrieved October 10, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  11. Ebert, Roger (August 25, 1968). "Interview with Larry Parks | Interviews". Roger Ebert. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  12. "The Jolson Story". Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  13. "Bing's Lucky Number: Pa Crosby Dons 4th B.O. Crown" By Richard L. Coe. The Washington Post January 3, 1948: 12.
  15. "Larry Parks Hits Hard At Red-Baiters". Tribune (401). New South Wales, Australia. March 17, 1948. p. 5. Retrieved October 10, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  16. T. M. P. (August 18, 1949). "Movie Review – Jolson Sings Again – THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; ' Jolson Sings Again,' in Opening at Loew's State, Calls for Some Lusty Cheering". Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  17. "Larry Parks plans to finance his own movie". The Sun (12, 534) (LATE FINAL EXTRA ed.). Sydney, Australia. March 30, 1950. p. 35. Retrieved October 10, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  18. "Larry Parks Commended For Truth". Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (23, 236). New South Wales. March 24, 1951. p. 3. Retrieved October 10, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  19. Silverman, Stephen M. Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and his Movies. Alfred A. Knopf. 1996. p. 140.
  20. "LARRY PARKS ON THE "OUTER"". The Northern Miner. Queensland. March 26, 1951. p. 3. Retrieved October 10, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  21. "Studio Drops Larry Parks Following Red Confession". The Newcastle Sun (10, 365). New South Wales. March 24, 1951. p. 2. Retrieved October 10, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  22. "LARRY PARKS QUITS STUDIO". The News. 56 (8, 657). Adelaide. May 8, 1951. p. 2. Retrieved October 10, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  23. Love Is Better Than Ever at the American Film Institute Catalog
  24. "Larry Parks on job again 'Paid for my mistakes'". Sunday Mail. Queensland, Australia. November 8, 1953. p. 25. Retrieved October 10, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  25. Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in America – Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman, Donald McNeilly. Retrieved April 13, 2014 via Google Books.
  26. "Freud | BFI | BFI". Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  27. Garrett, pp. 125-152.
  28. Garrett, pp. 169-171.
  29. "Biography for Larry Parks". Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  30. "Betty Garrett". The Telegraph. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  31. Rampell, Ed (April 18, 2011). "Bridges brothers honor Hollywood "Red" Betty Garrett". peoplesworld. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  32. Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 33, Ideal Publishers
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