Deborah Kerr

(1921 - 2007)

A photo of Deborah Kerr
Deborah Kerr
1921 - 2007
Born
September 30, 1921
Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute County, Scotland United Kingdom
Death
October 16, 2007
Botesdale, Suffolk County, England United Kingdom IP22 1BU
Other Names
Deborah Jane Trimmer (Kerr)
Summary
Deborah Kerr was born on September 30, 1921 in Helensburgh, Scotland United Kingdom. She died on October 16, 2007 in Botesdale, England United Kingdom at 86 years of age.
Updated: September 15, 2019
2 Followers
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Deborah Kerr, CBE
Born Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer
30 September 1921
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland
Died 16 October 2007 (aged 86)
Botesdale, Suffolk, England
Resting place Alfold Cemetery near Guildford
Occupation Actress
Years active 1940–1986
Spouse(s) Tony Bartley
(m. 1945; div. 1959)
Peter Viertel
(m. 1960)
Children 2
Relatives Lex Shrapnel (grandson)
Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer CBE (/kɑːr/; 30 September 1921 – 16 October 2007), known professionally as Deborah Kerr, was a Scottish film, theatre and television actress. During her career, she won a Golden Globe Award for her performance as Anna Leonowens in the musical film The King and I (1956) and a Sarah Siddons Award for her performance as Laura Reynolds in the play Tea and Sympathy (a role she originated on Broadway). She was also a three-time winner of the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress.
Kerr was nominated six times for the Academy Award for Best Actress, more than any other actress without ever winning. In 1994, however, having already received honorary awards from the Cannes Film Festival and BAFTA, she received an Academy Honorary Award with a citation recognising her as "an artist of impeccable grace and beauty, a dedicated actress whose motion picture career has always stood for perfection, discipline and elegance".[1] As well as The King and I (1956), her films include An Affair to Remember, From Here to Eternity, Quo Vadis, The Innocents, Black Narcissus, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, King Solomon's Mines, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Sundowners, and Separate Tables.
Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer was born in Glasgow,[2][3] the only daughter of Kathleen Rose (née Smale) and Capt. Arthur Charles Kerr-Trimmer, a World War I veteran who lost a leg at the Battle of the Somme and later became a naval architect and civil engineer;[4] She spent the first three years of her life in the nearby town of Helensburgh, where her parents lived with Deborah's grandparents in a house on West King Street. Kerr had a younger brother, Edmund ("Teddy"), who became a journalist. He was killed in a road rage incident in 2004.[5][6]
Kerr was educated at the independent Northumberland House School, Henleaze in Bristol, and at Rossholme School, Weston-super-Mare. Kerr originally trained as a ballet dancer, first appearing on stage at Sadler's Wells in 1938. After changing careers, she soon found success as an actress. Her first acting teacher was her aunt, Phyllis Smale, who ran the Hicks-Smale Drama School in Bristol. She adopted the name Deborah Kerr on becoming a film actress ("Kerr" was a family name going back to the maternal grandmother of her grandfather Arthur Kerr-Trimmer). Kerr's first stage appearance was at Weston-super-Mare in 1937, as "Harlequin" in the mime play Harlequin and Columbine. She then went to the Sadler's Wells ballet school and in 1938 made her début in the corps de ballet in Prometheus. After various walk-on parts in Shakespeare productions at the Open-Air Theatre in Regent's Park, London, she joined the Oxford Playhouse repertory company in 1940, playing, inter alia, "Margaret" in Dear Brutus and "Patty Moss" in The Two Bouquets.
Kerr returned to the London stage 29 years later, in many productions including the old-fashioned, The Day After the Fair (Lyric, 1972), a Peter Ustinov comedy, Overheard (Haymarket, 1981) and a revival of Emlyn Williams's The Corn is Green.[7] After her first London success in 1943, she toured England and Scotland in Heartbreak House. Near the end of the Second World War, she also toured Holland, France, and Belgium for ENSA as "Mrs Manningham" in Angel Street, and Britain (with Stewart Granger) in Gaslight.
Having established herself as a film actress in the meantime, she made her Broadway debut in 1953, appearing in Robert Anderson's Tea and Sympathy, for which she received a Tony Award nomination. Kerr repeated her role along with her stage partner John Kerr (no relation) in Vincente Minnelli's film adaptation of the drama. In 1955, Kerr won the Sarah Siddons Award for her performance in Chicago during a national tour of the play. After her Broadway début in 1953, she toured the United States with Tea and Sympathy. In 1975, she returned to Broadway, creating the role of Nancy in Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Seascape.
I do it because it's exactly like dressing up for the grown ups. I don't mean to belittle acting but I'm like a child when I'm out there performing—shocking the grownups, enchanting them, making them laugh or cry. It's an unbelievable terror, a kind of masochistic madness. The older you get, the easier it should be but it isn't it? Kerr's first film role was in the British production Contraband in 1940, but her scenes were edited out. With her next two British films—Major Barbara and Love on the Dole (both 1941)—her screen future seemed assured and her performance, said James Agate of Love on the Dole, "is not within a mile of Wendy Hiller's in the theatre, but it is a charming piece of work by a very pretty and promising beginner, so pretty and so promising that there is the usual yapping about a new star".[7] She went on to make Hatter's Castle (1942), in which she starred opposite Robert Newton and James Mason, and then played a Norwegian resistance fighter in The Day Will Dawn (1942). She was an immediate hit with the public: British exhibitors voted her the most popular local female star at the box office. In 1943, she played three women in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. During the filming, according to Powell's autobiography, Powell and she became lovers: "I realised that Deborah was both the ideal and the flesh-and-blood woman whom I had been searching for".Kerr made clear that her surname should be pronounced the same as "car". To avoid confusion over pronunciation, Louis B. Mayer of MGM billed her as "Kerr rhymes with Star!" Although the British Army refused to co-operate with the producers—and Winston Churchill thought the film would ruin wartime morale—Colonel Blimp confounded critics when it proved to be an artistic and commercial success. Powell hoped to reunite Kerr and lead actor Roger Livesey in his next film, A Canterbury Tale (1944), but her agent had sold her contract to MGM. According to Powell, his affair with Kerr ended when she made it clear to him that she would accept an offer to go to Hollywood if one were made.
Her role as a troubled nun in the Powell and Pressburger production of Black Narcissus in 1947 did indeed bring her to the attention of Hollywood producers. The film was a hit in the US, as well as the UK, and Kerr won the New York Film Critics' Award as Actress of the Year. British exhibitors voted her the eighth-most popular local star at the box office. Soon she received the first of her Academy Award nominations for Edward, My Son, a 1949 drama set in England that co-starred Spencer Tracy. In Hollywood, Kerr's British accent and manner led to a succession of roles portraying refined, reserved, and "proper" English ladies. Kerr, nevertheless, used any opportunity to discard her cool exterior. She starred in the 1950 adventure film King Solomon's Mines, shot on location in Africa with Stewart Granger and Richard Carlson. This was immediately followed by her appearance in the religious epic Quo Vadis? (1951), shot at Cinecittà in Rome, in which she played the indomitable Lygia, a first-century Christian. She then played Princess Flavia in a remake of The Prisoner of Zenda (1952). In 1953, Kerr "showed her theatrical mettle" as Portia in Joseph Mankiewicz's Julius Caesar. She then departed from typecasting with a performance that brought out her sensuality, as "Karen Holmes", the embittered military wife in Fred Zinnemann's From Here to Eternity (1953), for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. The American Film Institute acknowledged the iconic status of the scene from that film in which Burt Lancaster and she romped illicitly and passionately amidst crashing waves on a Hawaiian beach. The organization ranked it 20th in its list of the 100 most romantic films of all time.
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Biography
Deborah Kerr
Most commonly known name
Deborah Kerr
Full name
Deborah Jane Trimmer (Kerr)
Nickname(s) or aliases
Female
Gender
Deborah Kerr was born on in Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute County, Scotland United Kingdom
Birth
Deborah Kerr died on in Botesdale, Suffolk County, England United Kingdom IP22 1BU
Death
Deborah Kerr was born on in Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute County, Scotland United Kingdom
Deborah Kerr died on in Botesdale, Suffolk County, England United Kingdom IP22 1BU
Birth
Death
Heritage
Childhood
Adulthood

Professions

Television
Kerr experienced a career resurgence on television in the early 1980s when she played the role of the nurse—played by Elsa Lanchester in the 1957 movie—in Witness for the Prosecution. Later, Kerr rejoined screen partner Robert Mitchum in Reunion at Fairborough. She also took on the role of the older Emma Harte, a tycoon, in the adaptation of Barbara Taylor Bradford's A Woman of Substance. For this performance, Kerr was nominated for an Emmy Award.

Personal life
Kerr's first marriage was to Squadron Leader Anthony Bartley RAF on 29 November 1945. They had two daughters, Melanie Jane (born 27 December 1947) and Francesca Ann (born 20 December 1951 and subsequently married to the actor John Shrapnel). The marriage was troubled, owing to Bartley's jealousy of his wife's fame and financial success,[9] and because her career often took her away from home. They divorced in 1959.

Her second marriage was to author Peter Viertel on 23 July 1960. In marrying Viertel, she became stepmother to Viertel's daughter, Christine Viertel. Although she long resided in Klosters, Switzerland and Marbella, Spain, she moved back to Britain to be closer to her own children as her health began to deteriorate. Her husband, however, continued to live in Marbella.[16]

Death
Kerr died aged 86 on 16 October 2007 at Botesdale, a village in county of Suffolk, England, from the effects of Parkinson's disease.[17][18][19] Less than three weeks later on 4 November, her husband Peter Viertel died of cancer.[20] At the time of Viertel's death, director Michael Scheingraber was filming the documentary Peter Viertel: Between the Lines, which would include reminiscences concerning Kerr and the Academy Awards.[21] Kerr's body was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary's Church, Redgrave.[22]

Honours

Deborah Kerr's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1709 Vine Street
Kerr was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1998, but was unable to accept the honour in person because of ill health.[23] She was also honoured in Hollywood, where she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1709 Vine Street for her contributions to the motion picture industry.

Kerr won a Golden Globe Award for "Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy" for The King and I in 1957 and a Henrietta Award for "World Film Favorite – Female". She was the first performer to win the New York Film Critics Circle Award for "Best Actress" three times (1947, 1957 and 1960).

Although she never won a BAFTA, Oscar or Cannes Film Festival award in a competitive category, all three organisations gave Kerr honorary awards: a Cannes Film Festival Tribute in 1984;[24] a BAFTA Special Award in 1991;[7] and an Academy Honorary Award in 1994.[1]

In September and October 2010, Josephine Botting of the British Film Institute curated the "Deborah Kerr Season", which included around twenty of her feature films and an exhibition of posters, memorabilia and personal items loaned by her family.

Award nominations
Deborah Kerr was nominated six times for the Academy Award for Best Actress: Edward, My Son (1949), From Here to Eternity (1953), The King and I (1956), Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), Separate Tables (1958) and The Sundowners (1960). She received an Academy Honorary Award for her career in 1994.

She was also nominated four times for the BAFTA Award for Best British Actress: The End of the Affair (1955), Tea and Sympathy (1956), The Sundowners (1961) and The Chalk Garden (1964).

She received one Emmy Award nomination in 1985 for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special for A Woman of Substance. She was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama for Edward, My Son (1949), Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) and Separate Tables (1958).

Filmography
Year Title Role Notes
1940 Contraband Cigarette Girl (scenes deleted)
1941 Major Barbara Jenny Hill
Love on the Dole Sally Hardcastle
1942 Penn of Pennsylvania Gulielma Maria Springett
Hatter's Castle Mary Brodie
The Day Will Dawn Kari Alstad
A Battle for a Bottle Linda (voice) (animated short)
1943 The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp Edith Hunter
Barbara Wynne
Johnny Cannon
1945 Perfect Strangers Catherine Wilson
1946 I See a Dark Stranger Bridie Quilty New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (also for Black Narcissus)
1947 Black Narcissus Sister Clodagh New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (also for I See a Dark Stranger)
The Hucksters Kay Dorrance
If Winter Comes Nona Tybar
1949 Edward, My Son Evelyn Boult Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1950 Please Believe Me Alison Kirbe
King Solomon's Mines Elizabeth Curtis
1951 Quo Vadis Lygia
1952 Thunder in the East Joan Willoughby
The Prisoner of Zenda Princess Flavia
1953 Julius Caesar Portia
Young Bess Catherine Parr
Dream Wife Effie
From Here to Eternity Karen Holmes Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
1955 The End of the Affair Sarah Miles Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
1956 The Proud and Profane Lee Ashley
The King and I Anna Leonowens singing dubbed by Marni Nixon
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (2nd place, also for Tea and Sympathy)
Tea and Sympathy Laura Reynolds Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (2nd place, also for The King and I)
1957 Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison Sister Angela New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
An Affair to Remember Terry McKay
Kiss Them for Me Gwinneth Livingston Uncredited (dubbed voice of Suzy Parker in a few scenes)
1958 Bonjour Tristesse Anne Larson
Separate Tables Sibyl Railton-Bell David di Donatello for Best Foreign Actress
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance
1959 The Journey Diana Ashmore
Count Your Blessings Grace Allingham
Beloved Infidel Sheilah Graham
1960 The Sundowners Ida Carmody New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated—Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance
The Grass Is Greener Lady Hilary Rhyall
1961 The Naked Edge Martha Radcliffe
The Innocents Miss Giddens
1964 On the Trail of the Iguana Herself UK promotional short
The Chalk Garden Miss Madrigal Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
The Night of the Iguana Hannah Jelkes Nominated—Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance
1965 Marriage on the Rocks Valerie Edwards
1966 Eye of the Devil Catherine de Montfaucon
1967 Casino Royale Agent Mimi
(aka Lady Fiona McTarry)
1968 Prudence and the Pill Prudence Hardcastle
1969 The Gypsy Moths Elizabeth Brandon
The Arrangement Florence Anderson
1982 "BBC2 Playhouse" Carlotta Gray episode: A Song at Twilight
Witness for the Prosecution Nurse Plimsoll
1984 A Woman of Substance Emma Harte Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special
1985 The Assam Garden Helen Graham Nominated—David di Donatello for Best Foreign Actress
Reunion at Fairborough Sally Wells Grant
1986 Hold the Dream Emma Harte (final film role)
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It is impossible not to admire the performances and the performer herself. She achieved fame when barely 20, in a star-laden version of Major Barbara (1941), followed rapidly by four further movies, and for 45 years remained at or near the pinnacle of her profession. Within a period of 12 years, she received six Oscar nominations but did not receive the statuette until 1994, when an honorary Academy award was given for her lifetime's work.
By the late 1980s, in poor health, she had effectively retired from acting, gravitating from her home in Switzerland to Spain with her second husband, the writer Peter Viertel (whose screen credits include The African Queen). Much later still, she was to return to England. Her rare public appearances reminded us of her great popularity in such contrasted roles as the governess in The King and I (1956) and the adulterous wife in From Here to Eternity (1953). She was greatly admired by her fellow actors and always brought a touch of class to the most mundane of roles.
Kerr was born in Helensburgh, Scotland, the daughter of a first world war officer, and educated at Northumberland House, in the Bristol suburb of Clifton. She dabbled in acting during her teens, including radio work for the BBC West Region in Bristol, and in amateur theatricals. She moved to London to study at the Sadler's Wells ballet school, making her debut in Prometheus in 1939. That year too saw her in a small role in Much Ado About Nothing at the Regent's Park open air theatre, and from 1939 to 1940 she worked with the Oxford Repertory. An abortive screen debut as a cigarette girl in Contraband (1940), ended on the editing-room floor. But the directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were soon to remedy that unkind cut.
In 1998 she was made a CBE, but said that she felt too frail to travel to London to receive it personally. In 45 films, in as many years, she seldom, if ever, gave a weak performance and certainly never gave a less than professional one.
Her marriage to Tony Bartley ended in divorce in 1959. He died in 2001. She married Viertel in 1960. He survives her, as do two daughters from her first marriage and three grandsons.
Deborah Jane Kerr (Deborah Kerr Viertel), actor, born September 30 1921; died October 16 2007

Refresh this page to see various historical events that occurred during Deborah's lifetime.

In 1921, in the year that Deborah Kerr was born, the silent film The Sheik, directed by George Melford and starring Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres (also featuring Adolphe Menjou) debuted on October 21st. Critics weren't enthusiastic but the public loved it - in the first few weeks 125,000 people had seen the movie - and it eventually exceeded $1 million in ticket sales. And Rudolph Valentino, an Italian American, became the heartthrob of a female generation.

In 1957, she was 36 years old when on October 4th, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first man made earth-orbiting satellite - and triggered the Space Race. Sputnik I was only 23 inches in diameter and had no tracking equipment, only 4 antennas, but it had a big impact.

In 1972, Deborah was 51 years old when on November 7th, Richard Nixon won re-election, amidst the dawning knowledge of the Watergate scandal, by 60.7% to anti-war candidate George McGovern's 37.5%.

In 1984, she was 63 years old when due to outrage about "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (it seemed too "dark" to many and it was rated PG), a new rating was devised - PG-13. The first film rated PG-13 was "Red Dawn".

In 1991, she was 70 years old when on November 7th, legendary basketball player Magic Johnson announced that he had HIV. In 1991, the public was confused about the difference between HIV and AIDS (HIV is a virus that can lead to AIDS) and there was little treatment for either. Most thought that Johnson would die within a year or so. Also, the transmission of AIDS wasn't understood so he had to retire from basketball. Magic Johnson is still alive and well.

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