In Peyton Place Parkins received lead billing for her role as small town bad girl Betty Anderson. As initially conceived, the character was scheduled to die in a car crash six weeks into the season, but audience reaction to Parkins was overwhelmingly favorable, and it was decided to keep her in the story line. In a late 1965 interview the actress said about her role:
- "I'm lucky in the role I have. Mine was the big story when the series started off. I haven't had much to do lately, but when I do have scenes, they are important to the plot, You might say I'm the salt and pepper in the stew
:Eventually shedding her "other side of the tracks" image, Betty endured many of the trials and tribulations of soap opera life. The character achieved such popularity that when the show ended its run, producer Paul Monash developed a spin-off series, The Girl from Peyton Place, for Parkins. However, when co-star Ryan O'Neal, who played her husband, declined to participate, the project was shelved. Nevertheless, Parkins insisted she often felt very insecure on the set, saying
In Valley of the Dolls Parkins played Anne Welles, the naive small-town girl, described as "the good girl with a million dollar face and all the bad breaks" — a character based on author Susann. The film was trashed by the critics, although Parkins was one of the few to emerge unscathed. The movie, however, was a huge commercial success and eventually became a campy cult classic. "Jackie was ...taken with Barbara, who she felt resembled an earlier Jackie Susann, dark and intense and with a distinctive voice."
In the late 1960s Parkins was linked to several men, but she insisted most of the stories were made up by gossip magazines. Some of the men included Omar Sharif, Adam West, David Hedison and Marcel Marceau. In a 1965 interview Parkins said: