Biography

Plagued by several severe childhood illnesses, Larry Parks was inspired by the example of his doctors to study medicine at the University of Illinois. But before graduating, Parks had decided to become an actor. He headed for New York, where he ushered at various theaters and movie houses before joining the Group Theater. He signed a movie contract with Columbia Pictures in 1941, appearing in "B"s and bits until selected to play the title role in the big-budget The Jolson Story. Parks was coached in the role by Al Jolson himself, whose singing voice was heard throughout the film (reportedly, this association was a pleasant one until Jolson, incensed that Columbia had not asked him to star in his own biopic, viciously turned on Parks and treated him atrociously). With the exceptions of Jolson Story and its 1949 follow-up, Jolson Sings Again, most of Parks' starring vehicles were easily forgettable. As a result of his brief association with the Communist Party, Parks was ordered by the HUAC to testify in its loyalty hearing in 1951. Though he publicly begged not to be forced to turn stool pigeon by identifying his fellow "Reds" in the movie industry, Parks ended up being strongarmed into doing just that. If he had harbored any hopes that his testimony would save his own career, those hopes were dashed when Parks was dropped by Columbia and unofficially blacklisted from films for ten years. He supported himself during these dark days by appearing in musical stage productions with his wife, actress Betty Garrett. In 1962, the ban was lifted on Larry Parks, and he made his movie comeback in John Huston's Freud; it proved to be his last film. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi