Parker was born as Siegfried Speck in Dresden in December 1930, in the last years of the Weimar Republic. Speck’s mother being a deaf mute, the baby was placed in an orphanage until adopted in 1937. The adoptive parents were very strict. At age 10 Speck had to join the Deutsches Jungvolk, and at age 14 the Hitler Youth.
13-15 February 1945 was the Allied bombing and the resulting firestorm of Dresden which killed up to 35,000. Speck’s family lived outside the city and survived.
Speck trained as a hairdresser, and found work in a fashionable salon in East Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse. In the days before the Berlin Wall, East Berliners could attend parties in West Berlin, and there Speck met Felix, his first boyfriend, also an Ossi, and later they escaped to West Germany. They settled in Hamburg, where Speck was a successful hairdresser.
A job on a cruise ship took Speck to Los Angeles. There was work hairdressing at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and acting in plays at L.A’s German Club, which led to an uncredited part in the 1959 remake of The Blue Angel. The same year, billed as Seigfried Speck, there was a part as a U-Boat crew member in episode 17 of the the first season of One Step Beyond. After that Speck became John Siegfried, and was in the 1962 biopic Hitler with Richard Basehart in the title role – Siegdfried played a gay SA officer killed in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives. Siegfried was in several television programs throughout the 1960s, often being cast as a German, and was again a ‘German Officer’ in the 1973 film, Trader Horn. One of Siegfried’s lovers was Rock Hudson.
However Siegfried was not happy living as male: the urge to be her true self was building and could no longer be denied.
“I was really getting bigger in the industry. But deep inside I was very, very unhappy. I used to get these attacks, like a panic attack....I wouldn't be alive. I was close to suicide....When you get into this change, you lose a lot of friends.”.
She completed transitioned in 1978 taking the name Marlene Parker. Afterward she did stand-up comedy and had a cable TV show. She became friends with the younger trans actress Candid Cayne.
- Sharon Knolle. ”Inside Trans Pioneer Marlene Parker’s Journey From Nazi Germany to Hollywood – and Beyond”. The Wrap, January 6, 2023. Online.
- Sharon Knolle. “Trans Pioneer Marlene Parker Portraits (Exclusive Photos)”. The Wrap, January 6, 2023. Online.