Robert Parrish was born in Columbus, Georgia on 4th January 1916. In 1924, his family moved to California and Parrish was introduced to film-making at an early age when he found after-school work in Hollywood, dismantling sets. At the urging of his mother, who was divorced with four children to feed, Parrish took roles as a child extra to help out with the family finances, appearing in All Quiet On the Western Front (1930), Chaplin’s City Lights (1931) and John Ford’s The Informer (1935).
His acting career was virtually at an end by the time he was 20 and his thoughts turned to film-making, staying with Ford as an assistant editor and sound editor on films such as Stagecoach (1939), Drums Along The Mohawk (1939) and The Grapes Of Wrath (1940). Parrish’s association with Ford continued into the war years when Ford joined the U.S. Navy as head of its Field Photography Branch. With Parish as editor, Ford made several documentaries, the best-known of which were The Battle Of Midway (1942) and December 7th (1943), a film about the attack on Pearl Harbour.
Parrish’s first full-length feature as editor was Body And Soul (1947), a boxing movie starring John Garfield and directed by Robert Rosen that won Parrish an Oscar which he shared with Francis Lyon. This was followed by Rosen’s All The King’s Men which Parrish coedited with Al Clark and which won an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1949. When Paramount failed to offer him the opportunity to direct, Parrish left the studio to join the independent producer Dick Powell as director of Cry Danger (1951) in which Powell also starred. He went on to direct The Mob (1951), The San Francisco Story (1952), Assignment Paris (1952) and My Pal Gus (1952). In 1954, he helmed the film version of H.E. Bates’ The Purple Plain, a war film set in Burma starring Gregory Peck, and this was followed by Fire Down Below (1957) and the Western The Wonderful Country (1959) which starred Robert Mitchum.
In spite of the consistently high quality of his work, Parrish’s career faltered and he looked to Europe to broaden his horizons. In 1967, Parrish became one of five directors credited with work on the troubled and uneven $8 million James Bond spoof Casino Royale for Charles K. Feldman. Here, he was in the company of John Huston, Ken Hughes, Val Guest and Joe McGrath, each of whom took their turn at attempting to bring Feldman’s vision to the screen. With a dizzying array of stars, including Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, David Niven, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr, William Holden and Jean Paul Belmondo, Casino Royale drew satisfactory audiences but was generally seen as an artistic disaster.
More successful was Parrish’s work on the Gerry Anderson feature film Doppelgänger (retitled Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun in the US), which was Anderson’s first live-action feature since Crossroads To Crime in 1961. The production was not without its difficulties: actress Tisha Sterling arrived in Britain for her role as Sharon Ross, wife to astronaut Glenn Ross (played by Roy Thinnes) but was discovered to be suffering from illness and marital problems which rendered her incapable of fulfilling her obligations – she was replaced at the eleventh hour by Lynn Loring, real life wife of Roy Thinnes who had fortunately accompanied him to Britain; scenes between Patrick Wymark (as Jason Webb) and Peter Dyneley (as David Poulson) had to be completely re-shot with Ed Bishop in the Poulson role when rushes revealed that the physical similarity between Wymark and Dyneley would confuse audiences; and in September 1968, Parrish took his cast and crew to Portugal for location filming during an uneasy period of political change for the country as Prime Minister Antonio Salazar fell ill and was deposed by Marcello Caetano – fearing the possible consequences of the coup, Parrish cut short the shooting schedule and quickly completed the necessary scenes within two weeks.
Parrish directed only three features after Doppelgänger, the violent Western A Town Called Bastard (1971 – aka A Town Called Hell) starring Martin Landau, the crime thriller The Marseilles Contract (1974) and Mississippi Blues (1984) co-directed with Bertrand Tavernier. Between his final two films, he published a volume of memoirs, Growing Up In Hollywood and followed this in 1988 with a second volume, Hollywood Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
Robert Parrish died at Southampton Hospital on Long Island, New York on 4th December 1995, aged 79. He is survived by his wife Kathleen, one son and one daughter.
Originally published in FAB 24.