Friday, October 19, 2007

Deborah Kerr Honored

Sunday, Oct. 21, Double-Feature Tribute Includes Nominated Performances
In From Here To Eternity and Separate Tables

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will pay special tribute to six-time Oscar® nominee Deborah Kerr, who passed away Thursday at the age of 86. On Sunday, Oct. 21, TCM will present a special double feature of two of Kerr’s most memorable nominated roles. At 8 p.m., she stars as a lonely military wife who seeks happiness through an illicit affair in From Here to Eternity (1953), co-starring Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed. And at 10:15 p.m., she plays a spinster who is completely dominated by her mother while staying at an English seaside resort in Separate Tables (1958), with Lancaster and Oscar winners David Niven and Wendy Hiller.

“Deborah Kerr was one of the great jewels of the movie industry,” said TCM host Robert Osborne. “Not only was she an immensely gifted and versatile actress, but also someone who made every film she touched better.”

Deborah Kerr bio from

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 that 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 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 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).

In Separate Tables (1958), she played a mother-dominated spinster, proving herself to be a radiant, sincere and reliable actress. And since her appeal did not really depend upon youthful beauty, she continued impressively into 1960s 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 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 problems 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.