In the movie Parker Jason Statham, British actionman and Hollywood star, plays the title character. He’s a ruthless career criminal with a twisted sense of ethics—he doesn’t steal from the poor or hurt innocent people.
Sound familiar? Well it should, as the character is the star of 24 books written by Donald E. Westlake (under the pseudonym Richard Stark). In the books Parker is a man of mystery, who has never had a given name. Westlake never gave a first name to the character, once joking, “I don’t know what the hell it would be, maybe Frank.”
Many films have also been made from the books, with Parker played by everyone from Lee Marvin to Mel Gibson to Robert Duvall.
If the movies don’t ring a bell, however, it’s because on film Parker has often been renamed.
For instance in 1967’s Point Blank (based upon the novel The Hunter) Lee Marvin played the character named Parker in the book but changed to Walker for the film. In Marvin’s version Walker is a tough, hard man, a characteristic the actor may have taken too seriously. Legend has it that in rehearsal Marvin hit co-star John Vernon so hard Vernon burst into tears.
The next year The Split (named The Seventh in print) saw Parker played by Jim Brown but called McClain. This movie is most notable as the first theatrical release to receive an R rating from the brand new MPAA’s film rating system.
In the 70s and 80s the Westlake Parker novels remained popular Hollywood source material. Robert Duvall switched the name to Macklin in 1973s The Outfit, one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films, while the excellently named Slayground with Peter Coyote in 1983 featured a character called Stone.
The best-known Parker adaptation is Payback in 1999, the second film made from The Hunter. In this revenger story Mel Gibson as Parker (switched to Porter) plays a man shot by his wife and best friend and left for dead.
So many actors have played the character, but who would Westlake, his creator, like to have seen in the role? “Usually I don’t put an actor’s face to the character,” he said, “though with Parker, in the early days, I did think he probably looked something like Jack Palance. That may be partly because you knew Palance wasn’t faking it, and Parker wasn’t faking it either.”