Before she became locally famous on the small screen, a young Carol Lou Clark got her chance on the big screen.
She is more recognizable to Joplin audiences as Carol Parker, who had a high-profile 46-year career on television in Joplin.
Joplin residents can catch her Hollywood performance coming up in a showing of the 1954 musical comedy “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
When the movie made its original theatrical rounds, it was shown in Joplin at the Fox Theater.
It will be screened in that same place this time around at what today is Central Christian Center, 410 S. Virginia Ave. Parker will appear on stage before the showing with event master of ceremonies Gary Bandy at 6 p.m. Thursday to talk about her experience.
The showing is part of the “Joplin Goes to the Movies” series highlighting performers from Joplin as part of the city’s 150th birthday observance this year.
As a young dancer, the Joplin native took a vacation to visit a cousin in California. That cousin, Janet Kennedy Weidman, also from Joplin, had gone to California to study dance.
Weidman became a professional dancer shortly after graduation from Joplin High School and Lindenwood College in St. Charles. She then operated Schools of Dance from 1948 through 1998 in Joplin and Neosho, and Altus, Oklahoma.
Though she was six years older than Parker, they were best friends, Parker said.
When Parker flew to California to join Weidman, they stayed in a hotel. Amid the sightseeing, Weidman took dance classes and she encouraged Parker to check out casting agencies or booking managers for a chance to be in some type of production.
Parker went to a well-known talent agency, Central Casting in Los Angeles, where she was one of 300 there to be interviewed and perhaps get to audition. She interviewed with four people in the agency and to her surprise was selected as one of five people referred to the 20th Century Fox Studios, today part of The Walt Disney Co. The studio was casting people for a movie, she was told.
“I had to take a bus to get from the hotel to the movie studio, so I had to get up at 5:30 a.m. to be there by 7:30 a.m.,” Parker recalled. Those auditioning were asked to dance a few steps and she was one of those selected to be in the movie’s chorus line.
The movie starred six big names in the movie industry of the 1950s: Marilyn Monroe, Ethel Merman, Dan Dailey, Donald O’Connor, Johnnie Ray and Mitzi Gaynor.
Johnnie Ray, a popular singer, songwriter and pianist of that era, had the dancers, including Parker, circle around him while he played a song for them. As a 19-year-old, “that was a big thrill,” Parker said.
The chorus line involving Parker had two scenes in the picture. One was dancing down a flight of stairs. Marilyn Monroe was behind them in the shot.
“We had to do the steps over five times because Marilyn could not get her steps right,” Parker said. “She was very shy. She was nice, but stayed to herself” while on set.
Another person she remembers from the cast was a young dancer and performer, George Chakiris. He went on to win an Academy Award for best supporting actor in the hit “West Side Story.”
“It was so thrilling” to be around such talented performers, Parker said. But after a few weeks, her cousin left California to go back to teaching in the Midwest, and she was left alone and homesick.
When she spoke by telephone with her father, who was in Joplin, she told him she was lonely by herself. He told her he was a friend of actor Bob Cummings, also of Joplin, and she could call Cummings to watch after her. She said she did not do that because she didn’t know Cummings herself.
But she soon decided to come home.
“It was a wonderful experience and I never regretted it,” she said of her seven-week vacation in Hollywood. “But I was like Dorothy, I guess. There’s no place like home.”
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