A Tribute to Deborah Kerr
Deborah Kerr holds the record for most Best Actress Oscar nominations without a win (6), which is all the more impressive considering that she quit the movie business in 1968, after expressing her dislike for the excessive sex and violence in films. She appeared in only one theatrical film after 1969 (when the films she had been working on earlier were released), concentrating instead on stage and TV roles. But before she left, she gifted us with some very special performances. In fact, I don’t believe she ever gave a performance that was less than adequate, and most were quite memorable.
Born in Scotland on September 30, 1921, and originally trained as a dancer, Deborah Kerr began appearing on stage in England in the late 30s, thanks to the efforts of a radio star aunt. She first appeared in a film in 1940 (Contraband, in a bit part), and was soon “discovered” by Gabriel Pascal, a British film producer. Roles in Major Barbara (1941) and Love on the Dole (1941) quickly resulted in popularity among English filmgoers during the WWII years, and in turn a New York Film Critics Best Actress Award for her role in Black Narcissus (1947) resulted in a ticket to Hollywood and a starring role opposite Clark Gable in The Hucksters (1947).
She received the first of her six Oscar nominations for Edward, My Son in 1949. She also had a successful Broadway debut in 1953, in Tea and Sympathy (which she later repeated for the 1956 film version). Feeling she was in danger of becoming typecast on both sides of the Atlantic as the reserved, proper, independent woman — which she played very well, of course — she fought for and got one of the two signature parts of her career: the adulteress in From Here to Eternity (1953), the one with the famous beach scene with Burt Lancaster. She got her second Oscar nomination for that one, followed by The King and I (1957), her other best-known part, then Heaven Knows, Mr Allison (1957), Separate Tables(1958) and The Sundowners (1961).
She was one of the most popular performers of the late 50s, demonstrated by her 1959 Golden Globe as the world’s most popular female film star. While never winning on Academy Award or a BAFTA award (4 nominations) for Best Actress, she was given a special BAFTA in 1991 and an honorary Oscar in 1994, and received a Companion of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1998.
After leaving Hollywood in 1968, Deborah Kerr appeared on the big screen only once more, in The Assam Garden (1985). Her TV appearances included an Emmy-nominated role in A Woman of Substance, a 1983 miniseries.
This article was originally written in 2001 for her 80th birthday. She passed away in October, 2007 at the age of 86, after suffering from Parkinson’s.
Part I: Introduction
Part III: Movie Reviews & Where to Find Her Movies
Part IV: Photos, Art, and Posters