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Deborah Kerr

Deborah Kerr



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Also Known As: Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer Died: October 16, 2007
Born: September 30, 1921 Cause of Death: Parkinson's Disease
Birth Place: Helensburgh, Scotland Profession: Cast ... actor dancer


A gifted, sensitive Scottish-born leading actress, Deborah Kerr landed her breakthrough screen role in 1940 as a frightened Salvation Army worker in the fine, all-star adaptation of the potent Shavian satire, "Major Barbara". Originally trained for the ballet, she moved into stage acting and gained some experience in British repertory theater before segueing to films. Although the shy, quiet side would often remain in Kerr's later star persona, she, like Greer Garson, gradually acquired a stiff-upper-lip attitude as her native land's and later Hollywood's postwar personification of the delicate yet strong, often impassioned English rose.

Kerr moved into leads in an adaptation of the controversial novel which was England's equivalent of "The Grapes of Wrath", the touching study of Depression-era poverty, "Love on the Dole" (1940). Although she did well in films including the grim "Hatter's Castle" (1941), it was really Kerr's lovely work in three roles in the splendid Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger time-spanning saga "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" (1943), as the various women in the hero's life, that really set her on top. She followed up with several excellent performances in fine films: the mousy wife whose marriage is revitalized when she enters wartime service in "Perfect Strangers" (1945); the Irish spy in the gripping "I See a Dark Stranger" (1946); and especially, a marvelous, award-winning performance as the determined yet fallible Sister Superior who attempts to establish a school and hospital in a remote Himalayan castle in Powell and Pressburger's uniquely unsettling "Black Narcissus" (1947).

With a string of performances like these, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood beckoned the graceful blonde star, and Kerr was soon co-starring opposite Clark Gable in the enjoyable satire of advertising, "The Hucksters" (1947). In many ways she filled the void Irene Dunne would soon create by leaving films. Gracious, ladylike and smart, Kerr would in fact recreate two Dunne roles: the proper Englishwoman who becomes governess to a potentate's brood in the musicalized version of "Anna and the King of Siam", "The King and I" (1956; with her singing dubbed by Marni Nixon); and the heroine prevented from making a crucial rendezvous with her lover in "An Affair to Remember" (1957; based on Dunne's better "Love Affair"). The actress' regal quality suited her for period adventures including "Quo Vadis" (1951) and "The Prisoner of Zenda" (1952), and she also ventured into comedy in "Dream Wife" (1953) and "The Grass Is Greener" (1961).

Perhaps the key difference between Kerr and earlier classy, genteel heroines such as Joan Fontaine was that the passions sparking Kerr's characters were often of a more overtly sexual nature. As questions of sex and censorship manifested themselves in the 1950s, her persona, prim only on the surface, proved ideal (as did Grace Kelly's) for suggesting the torrid side of romantic love. One of the most famous images of Kerr's career was that of her straying wife in "From Here to Eternity" (1953) making love on the beach with military officer Burt Lancaster. "The Proud and Profane" (1956) was such a similar film (and role) that it suffered by comparison, but there are similar dimensions in other Kerr roles such as the wife who helps an effeminate college youth "prove" his masculinity in "Tea and Sympathy" (1956) and even her nun, trapped on an island with a swarthy soldier, in "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" (1956).

Even if her mother-dominated spinster in "Separate Tables" (1958) was rather overdone, Kerr was a radiant, sincere and reliable actress, and since her appeal did not really depend upon youthful beauty, she continued impressively, if less prolifically, into 60s films. Her work as governesses who encounter ghost-possessed charges in "The Innocents" (1961) and free-spirited ones in "The Chalk Garden" (1964) was well crafted, and she had fine moments as a gentle tourist caring for her aging grandfather in "The Night of the Iguana" (1964) and as a matron who encounters liberated mores in the belabored but amusing sex farce, "Prudence and the Pill" (1968). Kerr subsequently returned primarily to stage work, keeping very busy in plays ranging from "Candida" to "Long Day's Journey Into Night" (both 1977), and enjoying considerable success in London and a worldwide tour in "The Day After the Fair" (1972-73, 1979). Variable health and problems remembering her lines interfered with some of her work, but her presence was always cherished, and she made a successful one-shot return to films as a repressed widow in "The Assam Garden" (1985). One of the actresses most nominated for an Academy Award without ever winning (six times), Kerr was given an honorary Oscar at the 1993 ceremonies. Seven years later, it was confirmed that she was suffering with Parkinson's disease and had been confined to a wheelchair.


Ernesto Alorda ( 2006-03-06 )

Source: Saw her in the play. Check the annals of the BAFTA Awards. Go to website.

I would like to add a couple of items to Deborah Kerr's achievements in her long career: She played Mary Tyrone opposite Charlton Heston in Eugene O'Neill's "Long Days Journey Into Night" at the Mark Tapper's Theater in Los Angeles I believe in 1978, and she was awarded an honorary BAFTA as a Career Achievement Award in 1991 in England.

Jorge ( 2007-05-27 )

Source: Robert Osborne's Oscar History Books.

Her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress was given to her in 1949 not 1948.

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