Movie Legend: Deborah Kerr
Deborah Kerr is the greatest actress never to have won a Best Actress Academy Award. And while Greta Garbo, Judy Garland, Carole Lombard, and a number of others might be similarly worthy, Deborah Kerr earned six nominations and should have had more.
Born in Scotland as Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer, the actress initially wanted to be a ballet dancer. After appearing in a number of British films, Kerr hit it big with Black Narcissus. Winning the NY Film Critics Award, Kerr was brought to Hollywood by MGM to be a rival to the other genteel star of the day, Greer Garson. Her best film during this wasted period was the female lead in Edward My Son, a George Cukor-directed drama co-starring Spencer Tracy. It was a financial flop, but it netted Kerr her first Best Actress nomination.
When her MGM contract was behind her, Deborah shocked Hollywood by landing the part of the adulterous military wife in From Here To Eternity. This led to another nomination and began a run of great roles in the 1950s. No actress during this decade got as many plum roles or as many Oscar nominations.
Kerr's career of quality films ended with The Night of The Iguana (1964), and the actress was finally awarded an honorary Oscar in 1994. Deborah Kerr was married two times and had two daughters. She died in England in 2007 at the age of 86, followed a few months later by her husband of almost 50 years, writer Peter Viertel.
Essential Deborah Kerr
Black Narcissus ( 1947) features Kerr as the head of a group of Anglican nuns who travel to India. Considered by some as the most gorgeous color film of all time, this classic has scenes of sumptuous beauty complete with a crazed nun wearing jungle red lipstick. Amazingly this film was made entirely on a British sound stage. Recently restored by Criterion, this DVD is a must for Kerr fans.
From Here To Eternity (1953)
With her hair cut short and bleached blond, Kerr makes her character with the trampy past one of the most touching and vulnerable women in films. Although Audrey Hepburn won the Oscar for her lovely princess in Roman Holiday, Kerr deserved it for her rich change-of-pace role. Watch her face in the final scene with Donna Reed on the boat. She is brilliant.
Heaven Knows Mr. Allison and An Affair to Remember (1957)
These two smash hits made Deborah the hottest actress in town. She was nominated for her role in Heaven as a nun stranded on an island with Robert Mitchum during the war and won the NY Film Critics Award. But An Affair To Remember has entered into legendary status basically due to the promotion it received in the Tom Hanks film Sleepless in Seattle. Kerr and Cary Grant are perfect in this classic with Kerr's last line causing a flood of tears in movie houses across the land.
Separate Tables (1958) Once again nominated for Best Actress, Kerr played the dowdy repressed spinster who takes pity on poor David Niven (Best Actor Oscar winner) after he’s been charged with indecent behavior in an English cinema. Co-starring Burt Lancaster and Rita Hayworth, this film was a big hit.
The Sundowners (1960) The year that Elizabeth Taylor won her first Oscar for Best Tracheotomy, Kerr was nominated for her splendid work as the poor Australian wife of sheep herder Robert Mitchum. Reunited with her Eternity director Fred Zinnemann, Kerr was magnificent. Once again Kerr lost a deserved Oscar, even though she won a third NY Film Critics Award.
On a personal note, I have a framed note from Deborah Kerr and it’s a riot. I had written her in NY, sending her some notes for a film series I had programmed in college. Her note started off with: "In hideous haste," but her writing was a bit wavy and all my friends thought it said "In hideous taste!" For weeks I was devastated until I figured out the mistake.
I then got to meet her in 1973 backstage at the Shubert Theater in Los Angeles when she was starring in The Day After the Fair. As expected, she was delightful. I had brought two photos from the 1940s English publication The Tatler. She said she had never seen either. I asked her to sign one and I gave her the other. It was a priceless moment.
Deborah Kerr was a great actress and a lovely and charming woman.