Graceful and gifted
Deborah Kerr was the quintessence of British dignity in her movies. Nominated six times for the Oscars, she never won it. Now 83, she is remembered for her roles in some of the classics, says RANDOR GUY.
In "Quo Vadis" with Robert Taylor. On the sets: (Right)
DIGNIFIED, slimly attractive and cultured, the beautiful import to Hollywood from the United Kingdom was promoted by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer as the quintessence of British dignity in her movies. Her name is Deborah Kerr.
Somewhat regrettably, though she was nominated six times for the best actress Oscar award she never won it. By way of compensation and consolation, she received an Honorary Oscar Statuette from the Academy in 1994 in recognition of her career achievement as ``an artist of impeccable grace and beauty, a dedicated actress whose motion picture career has always stood for perfection, discipline and elegance.''
Besides making her mark in movies, she established herself in theatre and American television thereby proving that she was not just a mere personification of all that was best in a British lady. She was also an actress of talent. (Her surname `Kerr' is Scottish and is pronounced as `C-A-R-R.') Many Americans, including those from Hollywood, invariably mispronounced her name, which annoyed her immensely and she was sensitive about it.
Relaxing while on location shooting for "Tea and Sympathy."
Deborah Jane Kerr Trimmer was born in Helensburg, Scotland, on September 30, 1921. She trained as a ballet dancer in London. Her engineer father Trimmer passed away when she was hardly 15 years old and that put an end to her dancing career.
Deborah Kerr, as she called herself, began appearing on stage in England in the late 1930s thanks to her aunt who was a radio star. She took her bow in movies in "Contraband," (1940, a small part was deleted in the final edit!).
Hungarian filmmaker Gabriel Pascal , who brought Bernard Shaw to the screen, discovered her and her role in Bernard Shaw's "Major Barbara"(1941) brought her to public and critical attention.
On the sets: "Prisoner of Zenda"
During the Second World War years, she became a popular British actress. When she won the New York Film Critics' Best Actress Award for "Black Narcissus" (1947), she came under the watchful scan of Hollywood producers. Consequently, she relocated to the Movie Mecca and began her career in Hollywood starring opposite the `King of Movies' Clark Gable in "The Hucksters" (1947).
She received the first of her six Oscar nominations for "Edward, My Son" (1949, a George Cukor movie in which her co-star was the great Spencer Tracy). Her reputation began to zoom upwards with successful films like "King Solomon's Mines" (1950), "Quo Vadis" (1951), "The Prisoner of Zenda" (1952) and "Julius Caesar" (1952).
Then came a role totally out of character for Kerr, which created a sensation and film history. When famed filmmaker Fred Zinnemann began to work on the filming of the best-selling James Jones blockbuster novel, `From Here To Eternity,' many names were suggested for the role of the adulterous wife of an army officer.
When Zinnemann suggested Deborah Kerr for the role, even the tough-talking, nuts-and-bolts-chewing, dictatorial movie mogul and Columbia 'Boss' Harry Cohn was taken aback and bellowed that the actress would never even think of such a role!
However Zinnemann persuaded her to do that role. Her passionate lovemaking scenes on the Hawaiian beach with her lover, the bare-chested `macho' Burt Lancaster, sizzled.
Clark Gable and Deborah Kerr before starting work on "The Hucksters"
Interestingly, Columbia Pictures and Kerr received thousands of angry letters protesting against her doing such a role! "From Here To Eternity" (1953) received seven Oscar Awards including Best Picture and Best Director and was nominated for four more awards including Best Actress for Kerr. Sadly she missed the Gold.
Her other milestone movies include, "Young Bess" (1953), "The King and I" (1956 Oscar nomination, considered as her finest film), "Tea and Sympathy" (1956), "Heaven Knows Mr. Allison" (1956, Oscar nomination) and "An Affair To Remember" (1957, a major hit where she was paired with the inimitable Cary Grant. This movie reminded many of the English classic, "Brief Encounter." It was later remade as "Sleeping In Seattle," which was also a hit. Surprisingly it revived interest in the 1957 Kerr-Grant movie.).
There was "Separate Tables" (1958, based on the play of Terrence Rattigan. Here Kerr played a spinster at a seaside resort under the suffocating shadow of her dominating and pushy mother. It got an Oscar nomination).
Dressed up for "Julius Caesar" with Greer Garson (left) and Marlon Brando.
Then there was "The Sundowners" (1960, Oscar nomination), "The Night of the Iguana" (1964, a John Huston movie based on the famous Tennessee Williams play.) In spite of the reputation of the playwright, its noted filmmaker and the impressive cast that included Richard Burton and Ava Gardner, the movie was not a success. Much to everyone's surprise, the not so well known former British stage actor, Cyril Delavanti (1887-1975), who played the old poet-father attracted attention which led to his getting roles when he was well past 75!
The increasing violence and sex in movies, made Kerr move away from films and she began to concentrate on television. She came back to act in a movie in 1985, "The Assam Garden."
Deborah Kerr, 83, lives in happy retirement with her husband, Writer Peter Viertel, in Switzerland.
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