Leslie Parrish (born March 18, 1935) is a musician and an American actress who worked under her birth name, “Marjorie Hellen” until she changed it to Leslie Parrish
in 1959. More importantly: she is also a producer, writer, activist and environmentalist.
She was born in Melrose, Massachusetts and also lived in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey before settling in Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania at the age of 10.
== Education ==
At age 14, she was a promising piano/composition student at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music (now merged with other art institutes to become University of the
Arts, Philadelphia) working her way through college as a maid and later, (at age 16) by teaching piano and doing waitress work. At 19, as her teachers became more
expensive, she could not earn enough to cover another full year of studies so had to take a year off to work and save money. She had no interest in modeling or acting,
but her mother convinced her that in one year of modeling, she could earn enough to go straight for her master's degree.
== Modeling and Acting ==
Modeling for the Conover Agency in New York City in 1954 lead to a contract with NBC-TV as the NBC “Miss Color TV” in April. Soon, she was the NBC “logo” for all
color broadcasts. She was replaced by the NBC peacock when 20th Century Fox put her under contract in Hollywood in November 1954. A contract at MGM followed in
1956. During these early years, she worked with Fred Astaire, Bette Davis, Paul Newman, Bing Crosby and many of the greatest directors of that period. Because acting
enabled her to help her family financially, she never went back to her career in music, a life-long sadness for her. While she was at Fox, she married singer/lyricist
Ric Marlow. They divorced in 1961 but she remained in Hollywood, working in films for 25 years.
Her first starring role in a major film was as Daisy Mae in “Li'l Abner” (1959). The director said she must change her name because, "No one will remember a girl with
two first names." She reluctantly became Leslie Parrish and worked under that name for two decades. (See list of more than 100 films and television guest-starring
roles in the 'CREDITS' section of this website).
Her favorite role, though not her biggest, was as the doomed Jocelyn Jordan in “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) in which she and Raymond Shaw (played by
Lawrence Harvey) fell in love, were married - and then he murdered her. In that film, she felt very privileged to work with the great director John Frankenheimer and
brilliant actors like Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury.
She also loved guest-starring in the futuristic TV series “Star Trek” in which she played Lt. Carolyn Palamas: scientist-turned-goddess ("Who Mourns for Adonais?").
And her role as Layle Johnson in "The Big Valley ("Bounty on a Barkley")," in which she and Nick Barkley (played by Peter Breck) had a short but very intense, sad,
love affair still brings tears to her eyes.
At times, major stardom loomed directly ahead and frightened her. She refused films and her own TV series which would have made her a famous star. Being a star
is a dream for many, but spending her life in spotlights was not appealing to Leslie and she avoided it. She was much more interested in government, civil rights, social
movements and - as early as the 50's - the environment!
== Activism ==
Gradually, those interests became her work and acting became a way to support herself as she devoted her life to activism.
In 1967, she became the first actress to protest the Vietnam War. On June 23, 1967, shortly after leaving the set of “Star Trek,” she participated with about 10,000 others
in a legal peace march in Century City (next to Beverly Hills). The march was attacked by a massive police force. Thousands were badly beaten. However newspapers
and television made no mention of the police riot or the beatings, though the President of the United States was there and swarms of helicopters roared above the
heads of the marchers with machine guns pointed at them. This event was so loud, visible and strange on the wealthy west side of Los Angeles, it was impossible to
miss but something had decided to bury the story, and was trying to bury free speech and the right to protest peacefully as well. That horrified Leslie. She worried about
the future of her beloved country.
She began making speeches throughout the Los Angeles area telling audiences what the media would not tell them. A group of UCLA professors who opposed the war
heard her, said she was a great asset as a speaker and asked if she could possibly get half a dozen other well-known actors to speak as well. If so, they would teach
them so they could withstand hostile questions from audiences and the press.
Within two weeks Leslie had created an organization called, “STOP!” (Speakers and Talent Organized for Peace) and had two dozen famous members who were
willing to speak. The organization quickly grew to 125 speakers, trained, tested and willing to withstand the attacks they got for opposing the war.
Leslie took non-violent self-defense training from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Dr. Martin Luther King’s organization), became a monitor captain and
six weeks after the violent beatings in Century City, helped organize a peace march twice as big on the “Miracle Mile” on Wilshire Boulevard on August 6, 1967. The
police were controlled, there was almost no violence and it was definitely covered by all media.
She created a bumper sticker which became world-famous: SUPPOSE THEY GAVE A WAR AND NO ONE CAME. She and friends distributed hundreds of bumper
stickers-from the trunks of their cars to people who stopped them to ask where they got them. Soon, Walter Cronkite broadcast that Bobby Kennedy had the bumper
sticker hanging in his plane. By then, someone had stolen the idea and made it: “What if they gave a war and no one came?” but spreading the thought was what
counted to Leslie.
Leslie believed, along with many others, that Bobby Kennedy was the person who could oppose Lyndon Johnson, win the presidency and stop the war.
In October, 1967, a friend arranged a private meeting with Bobby Kennedy for Leslie. She begged him to run for president, told him about the powerful organizations
already functioning against the war in California, ready to give him total support if he ran. He looked deeply troubled throughout the talk but never deviated from his
statement that, “I can’t! I can’t possibly do that. It’s impossible. I can’t!”
On November 30, 1967 a brilliant but relatively unknown Senator named Eugene McCarthy declared that he would run against the war and oppose President Johnson.
The entire peace movement raced into high gear, working day and night to support him. Parrish was elected chair of his speaker’s bureau and used STOP! as a basis
from which to send speakers all over the state and later, all over the country. Things moved swiftly after that.
On March 12, 1968, McCarthy won 42% of the New Hampshire vote in the first primary, proving that Lyndon Johnson, with 49%, was vulnerable. Four days later, on
March 16, Bobby Kennedy declared that he, too, was running for president. Two weeks later, on March 31st, Lyndon Johnson said he would not run for president again.
McCarthy had been there when the peace movement needed a candidate and many remained loyal to him. Others went to Kennedy. Leslie was elected a McCarthy
delegate to represent him at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August, 1968.
Parrish had been producing huge rock concerts and other events to raise money for the peace movement. She also participated in many more marches, some which
were very dangerous, with police warnings of specific death threats. The participants knew that, sooner or later, some would be killed - and some were. All decided
the risk was worth it and continued to march.
Parrish was also working with Cesar Chavez, head of the United Farm Workers Union, often picketing with the workers in the fields, which was dangerous too, as some
farm workers had been killed. Parrish took bus-loads of celebrities to join marches with farm workers to draw press attention to them.
In April of 1968, a year of violence unsurpassed even today started to unfold.
On April 4, Leslie and “Star Trek’s” Leonard Nimoy (a top speaker for STOP!) flew to San Francisco to open a huge headquarters for McCarthy (so unlike the shabby
former delicatessen where the campaign had started). After the opening, they heard the devastating news that Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated! Parrish
and Nimoy cried during the speeches they gave that night. The country plunged into chaos and mourning.
Two months later, on June 6, 1968, Bobby Kennedy won the California primary and would have been the party’s nominee but he, too, was assassinated. The country
mourned and screamed in pain again.
At the raucous Chicago Democratic National Convention in August of 1968, McCarthy’s delegates spent little time on the convention floor, where there were physical
attacks on the press. Outside, brutal police beatings were covered by live television while thousands of spectators chanted, “The Whole World is Watching!”
Parrish and her STOP! group spent several days and nights leading shocked delegates and dignitaries through non-stop tear gas into the surreal scene outside the
Hilton Hotel across from Grant Park. Troops with fixed bayonets lined the street. Vehicles with cages called “People Pushers” rammed into anyone in the way. Police
created what has been known as a “Police Riot” ever since, beating people no matter who they were or what they were doing, then tossing them into vans to take
them to jail. After witnessing the violence, many dignitaries took a new look at the peace movement and turned against the war.
Hubert Humphrey was nominated by the convention but lost the 1968 election to Nixon, who soon resigned the presidency because of his administration’s illegal
activities: “The Watergate Scandals.” Many in his administration went to jail.
Leslie and the peace movement were already at work on the 1972 election, hoping to elect George McGovern. He won many primaries, and Parrish was elected a
McGovern delegate to the very peaceful 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami, Florida. But McGovern lost the election, partly due to Nixon’s illegal activities to
undermine his campaign.
Throughout this very active period, Parrish worked in many political campaigns (presidential, gubernatorial, senatorial, congressional, mayoral) and with many
organizations, often producing major events for them. Her last major production was the huge Mobilization Against the War (MOBE) in San Francisco’s Polo Grounds
on November 16, 1969. 300,000 people attended a four-hour program of music and speeches. Her MC’s were the great comedian-actor-writer-producer Carl Reiner and
Paul Schrade – the UAW chief who was shot in the head next to Bobby Kennedy when Bobby was assassinated.
Parrish was involved in two other major activities during these years.
== Los Angeles City Government ==
After the violent police riot in Century City in 1967, Parrish joined many determined to rid Los Angeles of the mayor called “Mad Sam Yorty” who had incited the police
to riot. In 1969, a brilliant young former police lieutenant, Tom Bradley, who was now the first black city councilman in Los Angeles County, ran for mayor. Parrish
supported him immediately. He was well ahead in all polls but Yorty’s dirty tricks on the eve of the election caused him to lose. He quickly ran again and Parrish
worked with him closely for the next four years. That time, he won. In 1973, Tom Bradley became the first black mayor of Los Angeles - and then was re-elected five
times, setting a record for length of tenure as well as accomplishments for the city. Parrish served on his commission of forty activist citizens who formed the new city
== Creator of a new form of Television ==
After the lack of media coverage of the police riot in Century City June 23, 1967, Parrish yearned to develop a way of covering such activities live so the media could
not suppress and manipulate the news and fool the public. In 1969, she began developing a unique television station devoted to live coverage of such events as well
as in-depth discussion and analysis of major developments in an ever-more-complex world. Five years later, KVST-TV (Viewer Sponsored Television, Channel 68)
went on the air as a member of the PBS network of stations. It had major help from local activists, film notables and major business people. It's staff and board of
directors was more than 50% minority. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS believed in the station’s objectives and provided major support. And Leslie
became the first female president of a television station. After a difficult beginning, by 1975, KVST was getting good reviews and was sometimes chosen “Best of the
Week” in Los Angeles papers. It was beginning to get positive attention nation-wide, too. But in 1976, one community trouble-maker on the board of directors sabotaged
the station by falsely screaming "racism", creating terrible dissention on the board. Six months of acrimonious board meetings later, his rump group succeeded in
taking over and - just when KVST had new equipment and the high-tech bus which would have enabled it to cover live events, as planned from the beginning - the new
board turned the signal OFF. KVST-TV was never seen again. Something had decided to bury KVST.
In 1979, C-SPAN which shares many of KVST’s objectives, particularly in-depth coverage of important issues, went on the air. It developed the concept further, covering
Congress live. It is a major success, now running three networks around the clock and those networks are Leslie’s favorites.
KVST had taken eight years of Parrish’s intense devotion. The wanton destruction of a tool so valuable to the community and, potentially, to the country, ended her
years of non-stop activism.
== Marriage and new forms of activism ==
In 1977, she married author-aviator Richard Bach, who taught her to fly. They lived in almost-total isolation in the Arizona and Nevada deserts for two years, then
moved to Oregon.
Parrish’s intense concern with the environment continued. In 1979, Parrish and Bach became solar pioneers, building an experimental, 100% solar home in the extreme
climate of southwest Oregon - very hot in summer, very cold in winter - using no heating or cooling systems other than solar. The experiment was a great success.
While in Oregon, Parrish returned to activism after seeing the devastation of forests “managed” by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) in the area. She and Bach
decided to protest the BLM’s illegal activities. With the help of two neighbors, they started an organization called, “Threatened and Endangered: Little Applegate
Valley” (TELAV). Though they were warned that it was useless to protest - that no one ever opposed the BLM and prevailed - they worked 16-hour days on two Apple II+
computers for two years and produced a huge legal document, heavily-researched, scientifically-based – 600 pages protesting BLM activities. They not only succeeded
in forcing the BLM to stop the activity they had protested, but made it admit to the press that most of the work BLM proposed doing was illegal. The protest has had a
long-lasting affect and continues to protect the area. TELAV still continues its environmental work.
Leslie and Richard then moved to the San Juan Islands in Washington state where they lived close to nature for many years writing books together, among them two
world-wide best-sellers: “The Bridge Across Forever” and “One” - both dealing with their relationship. They divorced in 1999 and Richard remarried one month later.
== After Divorce ==
Parrish returned to activism, creating a 240-acre wildlife sanctuary on a ridge-top property on Orcas Island to save it from development. She called it the “Spring Hill
Wildlife Sanctuary.” For more than a decade, she planned, worked on it physically, and funded her “Experiment in UNDER-Developing,” creating eleven small, hidden
home sites on 25% of the land while preserving 75% in perpetuity within the San Juan Preservation Trust. Though the property is now completely “developed,” it is
invisible from the island community. No breaks occur in the ridge line, the forest remains intact. It is, in fact, healthier than it was when development began.
During this period, Parrish also worked as silent co-author and/or editor of several books, and silent backer of many good causes, choosing to stay out of public view
as much as possible.
Her greatest concern is the destruction of the planet on which we live and the extinction of the glorious life forms which have thrived here for so many millennia.
She believes the earth has passed the point of no return but still continues her efforts to “save the planet.”
Her roof is covered with solar panels and she runs her home and her car, a TESLA, with her own electricity, keeping her carbon footprint as small as possible.
She concentrates heavily on environmental work.
She is presently writing her autobiography.
BACK TO TOP
TO VIEW LARGE FULL COLOR IMAGE, PLEASE CLICK ON PICTURE BELOW. BELOW