Deborah Kerr, CBE (30 September 1921 - 16 October 2007) was a Scottish film and television actress. She won the Sarah Siddons Award for her Chicago performance as Laura Reynolds in Tea and Sympathy, a role which she originated on Broadway, a Golden Globe Award for the motion picture The King and I, and was a three-time winner of the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress. She was also the recipient of honorary Academy, BAFTA and Cannes Film Festival awards.
She was nominated six times for Academy Award for Best Actress but never won. In 1994, however, she was awarded the Academy Honorary Award, cited by the Academy as "an artist of impeccable grace and beauty, a dedicated actress whose motion picture career has always stood for perfection, discipline and elegance". Her films include The King and I, An Affair to Remember, From Here to Eternity, Quo Vadis, The Innocents, Black Narcissus, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Separate Tables.
Kerr was born Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer in a private nursing home (hospital) in Glasgow, the only daughter of Kathleen Rose (nee Smale) and Capt. Arthur Charles Kerr-Trimmer, a World War I veteran pilot who later became a naval architect and civil engineer. Directly after her birth 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, Edward (a.k.a. Teddy), who became a journalist and died in a "road-rage" incident in 2004.
Kerr was educated at the independent Northumberland House School in the Henleaze area of Bristol in England (the school was demolished in 1937, when Kerr was only 16 years old), and at Rossholme School in 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.
Kerr's first film role was in the British film Contraband in 1940 but her scenes were left on the cutting room floor. She followed that with a series of films, including Hatter's Castle (1942), in which she starred opposite Robert Newton and James Mason. The following year, 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, she and Powell 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 Winston Churchill thought it would ruin wartime morale, and the British Army refused to extend co-operation with the producers, the film confounded critics by proving to be an artistic and commercial success. Powell had hoped to reunite Kerr and Roger Livesey, who had played the title character, 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 Black Narcissus in 1947 brought 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. In Hollywood, her British accent and manners led to a succession of roles portraying a refined, reserved, and proper English lady. Nevertheless, Kerr frequently 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.
Kerr also departed from typecasting with a performance that brought out her sensuality, as Karen Holmes, the embittered military wife in 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 she and Burt Lancaster make love on a Hawaii beach amidst the crashing waves. The organisation ranked it twentieth in its list of the 100 most romantic films of all time.
From then on, Kerr's career choices would make her known in Hollywood for her versatility as an actress, She portrayed a nun (Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison), a mama's girl (Separate Tables), and a governess (The Chalk Garden and The Innocents), but she also portrayed an earthy Australian sheep-herder's wife (The Sundowners) and lustful and beautiful screen enchantresses (Beloved Infidel, Bonjour Tristesse). She also starred in comedies (The Grass is Greener and Marriage on the Rocks).
Among her most famous roles were Anna Leonowens in the film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I (1956), and opposite Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember (1958). In 1966, the producers of Carry On Screaming! offered her a fee comparable to that paid to the rest of the cast combined, but she turned it down in favour of appearing in an aborted stage version of Flowers for Algernon. In 1967, at the age of 46, she starred in Casino Royale, achieving the distinction of being the oldest 'Bond Girl' in any James Bond film.
In 1969, pressure of competition from younger, upcoming actresses made her agree to appear nude in John Frankenheimer's The Gypsy Moths, the only nude scene in Kerr's career. Concern about the parts being offered to her, as well as the increasing amount of nudity in films in general, led her to abandon film work at the end of the 1960s in favour of television and theatre work.
As a stage actress, Deborah Kerr made her Broadway debut in 1953 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. In 1975, she returned to Broadway, creating the role of Nancy in Edward Albee's Pulitzer-winning play Seascape.
The theatre, despite her success in films, was always to remain Kerr's first love, even though going on stage filled her with trepidation:
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.
Deborah Kerr experienced a career resurgence in the early 1980s on television, when she played the role of the nurse (played by Elsa Lanchester in the 1957 film version) in Witness for the Prosecution. Later, Kerr re-teamed with screen partner Robert Mitchum in Reunion at Fairborough. This period also saw Kerr take on the role as the older version of the female tycoon, Emma Harte, in the adaptation of Barbara Taylor Bradford's A Woman of Substance. For this performance, Kerr was nominated for an Emmy Award.
Kerr's first marriage was to Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Anthony Bartley on 29 November 1945. They had two daughters, Melanie Jane (born 27 December 1947) and Francesca Ann (born 20 December 1951), who married the actor John Shrapnel. The Kerr-Bartley marriage was troubled, owing to Bartley's jealousy of his wife's fame and financial success, and because her career often took her away from home. Kerr and Bartley divorced in 1959. Her second marriage was to author Peter Viertel on 23 July 1960. In marrying Viertel, she acquired a stepdaughter, 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.
Some of Kerr's leading men have stated in their autobiographies that they had an affair or romantic fling with her. The actor Stewart Granger claimed that Kerr seduced him in the back of his chauffeur-driven car at the time he was making Caesar and Cleopatra (1945). Likewise Burt Lancaster claimed that he was romantically involved with her during the filming of From Here to Eternity (1953). There is no independent corroboration of either actor's claims.
Deborah Kerr died from the effects of Parkinson's disease on 16 October 2007 at the age of 86 in the English village of Botesdale, Suffolk. Peter Viertel died of cancer on 4 November 2007, less than three weeks later. At the time of Viertel's death, director Michael Scheingraber was filming the documentary Peter Viertel: Between the Lines, which Scheingraber says will include reminiscences about events concerning Kerr and the American Academy Awards. The film is as yet (2010) unreleased.
Deborah 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. She was also honoured in Hollywood where, for her contributions to the motion picture industry, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 1709 Vine Street.
Deborah 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 academies gave her honorary awards. In 1984, she was awarded a Cannes Film Festival Tribute. In 1991, she received a BAFTA Special Award and in 1994, she received the Academy Honorary Award in recognition of "an artist of impeccable grace and beauty, a dedicated actress whose motion picture career has always stood for perfection, discipline and elegance".
Kerr has also never been honored with an in-depth biography or filmography that critically examines her unique artistry or her quiet, but fascinating life. Besides the biography by Eric Braun, there is only one other by entertainment journalist Michelangelo Capua, published in 2010, entitled simply: Deborah Kerr: A Biography. However, the British Film Institute's Josephine Botting curated a "Deborah Kerr Season," which included almost 20 of her feature films as well as an exhibition of posters, other cinemabilia, and personal items on loan from Deborah Kerr's family, which took place in September and October 2010.
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 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).
Archibald Alexander Leach (January 18, 1904 - November 29, 1986), better known by his stage name Cary Grant, was a British-American actor. With his distinctive yet not quite placeable Mid-Atlantic accent, he was noted as perhaps the foremost exemplar of the debonair leading man: handsome, virile, charismatic and charming.
He was named the second Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute. His popular classic films include The Awful Truth (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Gunga Din (1939), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Notorious (1946), To Catch A Thief (1955), An Affair to Remember (1957), North by Northwest (1959), and Charade (1963).
At the 42nd Academy Awards the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored him with an Honorary Award "for his unique mastery of the art of screen acting with the respect and affection of his colleagues".
Early life and career
Archibald Alexander Leach was born in Horfield, Bristol, United Kingdom in 1904 to Elsie Maria Kingdon (1877-1973) and Elias James Leach (1873-1935). An only child, he had a confused and unhappy childhood, attending Bishop Road Primary School. His father placed his mother in a mental institution when he was nine and his mother never overcame her depression after the death of a previous child. His father had told him that she had gone away on a "long holiday" and it was not until he was in his thirties that Leach discovered her alive, in an institutionalized care facility.
He was expelled from the Fairfield Grammar School in Bristol in 1918. He subsequently joined the "Bob Pender stage troupe" and travelled with the group to the United States as a stilt walker in 1920 at the age of 16, on a two-year tour of the country. He was processed at Ellis Island on July 28, 1920. When the troupe returned to the UK, he decided to stay in the US and continue his stage career.
Still under his birth name, he performed on the stage at The Muny in St. Louis, Missouri, in such shows as Irene (1931); Music in May (1931); Nina Rosa (1931); Rio Rita (1931); Street Singer (1931); The Three Musketeers (1931); and Wonderful Night (1931).
After some success in light Broadway comedies, he went to Hollywood in 1931, where he acquired the name Cary Lockwood. He chose the name Lockwood after the surname of his character in a recent play called Nikki. He signed with Paramount Pictures, but while studio bosses were impressed with him, they were less than impressed with his adopted stage name. They decided that the name Cary was OK, but Lockwood had to go due to a similarity with another actor's name. It was after browsing through a list of the studio's preferred surnames, that Cary Grant was born. Grant chose the name because the initials C and G had already proved lucky for Clark Gable and Gary Cooper, two of Hollywood's then-biggest movie stars.
Having already appeared as leading man opposite Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus (1932), his stardom was given a further boost by Mae West when she chose him for her leading man in two of her most successful films, She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel (both 1933). I'm No Angel was a tremendous financial success and, along with She Done Him Wrong, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, saved Paramount from bankruptcy. Paramount put Grant in a series of indifferent films until 1936, when he signed with Columbia Pictures. His first major comedy hit was when he was loaned to Hal Roach's studio for the 1937 Topper (which was distributed by MGM).
Grant starred in some of the classic screwball comedies, including Bringing Up Baby (1938) with Katharine Hepburn, His Girl Friday (1940) with Rosalind Russell, Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) featuring Priscilla Lane, and Monkey Business (1952) opposite Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe. Under the tutelage of director Leo McCarey, his role in The Awful Truth (1937) with Irene Dunne was the pivotal film in the establishment of Grant's screen persona. These performances solidified his appeal, and The Philadelphia Story (1940), with Hepburn and James Stewart, showcased his best-known screen persona: the charming if sometimes unreliable man, formerly married to an intelligent and strong-willed woman who first divorced him, then realized that he was with all his faults irresistible.
Grant was one of Hollywood's top box-office attractions for several decades. He was a versatile actor, who did demanding physical comedy in movies like Gunga Din (1939) with the skills he had learned on the stage. Howard Hawks said that Grant was "so far the best that there isn't anybody to be compared to him".
Grant was a favorite actor of Alfred Hitchcock, notorious for disliking actors, who said that Grant was "the only actor I ever loved in my whole life". Grant appeared in such Hitchcock classics as Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), To Catch a Thief (1955) and North by Northwest (1959). Biographer Patrick McGilligan wrote that, in 1965, Hitchcock asked Grant to star in Torn Curtain (1966), only to learn that Grant had decided to retire after making one more film, Walk, Don't Run (1966); Paul Newman was cast instead in Torn Curtain, opposite Julie Andrews.
In the mid-1950s, Grant formed his own production company, Grantley Productions, and produced a number of movies distributed by Universal, such as Operation Petticoat (1959), Indiscreet (1958), That Touch of Mink (co-starring with Doris Day, 1962), and Father Goose (1964). In 1963, he appeared opposite Audrey Hepburn in Charade (1963). His last feature fim was Walk, Don't Run (1966) with Samantha Eggar.
Grant was once considered a maverick as he was the first actor to "go independent," effectively bucking the old studio system, which almost completely controlled what an actor could or could not do. In this way, Grant was able to control every aspect of his career. He decided which movies he was going to appear in, he had personal choice of the directors and his co-stars and at times, even negotiated a share of the gross, something unheard of at the time, but now common among A-list stars.
Grant was nominated for two Academy Awards in the 1940s. He was denied the Oscar throughout his active career because he was one of the first actors to be independent of the major studios. Grant received a special Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1970. In 1981, he was accorded the Kennedy Center Honors.
Retirement and death
Although Grant had retired from the screen, he remained active in other areas. In the late 1960s, he accepted a position on the board of directors at Faberge. By all accounts this position was not honorary as some had assumed, as Grant was regularly attending meetings and his mere appearance at a product launch would almost certainly guarantee its success. The position also permitted use of a private plane, which Grant could use to fly to see his daughter wherever her mother, Dyan Cannon, was working. He later joined the boards of Hollywood Park, Western Airlines (now Delta Air Lines), and MGM.
In the last few years of his life, Grant undertook tours of the United States in a one man show. It was called "A Conversation with Cary Grant", in which he would show clips from his films and answer audience questions. Grant was preparing for a performance at the Adler Theater in Davenport, Iowa on the afternoon of 29 November 1986 when he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. (He had also suffered a minor stroke in October 1984.) He died at 11:22 pm in St. Luke's Hospital.
Grant was married five times, and was dogged by rumors that he was bisexual. He wed Virginia Cherrill on February 10, 1934. She divorced him on March 26, 1935, following charges that Grant had hit her. He married Barbara Hutton and became a father figure to her son, Lance Reventlow. The couple were derisively nicknamed "Cash and Cary," although in an extensive prenuptial agreement Grant refused any financial settlement in the event of a divorce. After divorcing in 1945, they remained lifelong friends. Grant always bristled at the accusation that he married for money: "I may not have married for very sound reasons, but money was never one of them."
Grant married Betsy Drake on December 25, 1949. He appeared with her in two films. This would prove to be his longest marriage, ending on August 14, 1962. Drake introduced Grant to LSD, and in the early 60s he related how treatment with the hallucinogenic drug legal at the time at a prestigious California clinic had finally brought him inner peace after yoga, hypnotism, and mysticism had proved ineffective.
He eloped with Dyan Cannon on July 22, 1965 in Las Vegas. Their daughter, Jennifer Grant, was born prematurely on February 26, 1966. He frequently called her his "best production", and regretted that he had not had children sooner. The marriage was troubled from the beginning and Cannon left him in December 1966, claiming that Grant flew into frequent rages and spanked her when she "disobeyed" him. The divorce, finalized in 1968, was bitter and public, and custody fights over their daughter went on for nearly ten years.
On 11 April 1981 Grant married long-time companion, British hotel PR agent Barbara Harris, who was 47 years his junior. They renewed their vows on their fifth wedding anniversary. In 2001, Harris married former All-American quarterback David Jaynes.
Grant was allegedly involved with costume designer Orry-Kelly when he first moved to Manhattan, and lived with Randolph Scott off and on for twelve years. Richard Blackwell wrote that Grant and Scott were "deeply, madly in love", and alleged eyewitness accounts of their physical affection have been published. Hedda Hopper and screenwriter Arthur Laurents have also alleged that Grant was bisexual, the latter writing that Grant "told me he threw pebbles at my window one night but was luckless". Alexander D'Arcy, who appeared with Grant in The Awful Truth, said he knew that he and Scott "lived together as a gay couple", adding: "I think Cary knew that people were saying things about him. I don't think he tried to hide it." The two men frequently accompanied each other to parties and premieres and were unconcerned when photographs of them cozily preparing dinner together at home were published in fan magazines.
Grant's widow, Barbara, has disputed that there was a relationship with Scott. When Chevy Chase joked about Grant being gay in a television interview, he sued him for slander; they settled out of court. However, he did admit in an interview that his first two wives had accused him of being homosexual. Betsy Drake commented: "Why would I believe that Cary was homosexual when we were busy fucking? Maybe he was bisexual. He lived 43 years before he met me. I don't know what he did".
Grant was a Republican, but did not think movie stars should publicly make political declarations. During his career some people considered him to be a left-winger, as he publicly condemned McCarthyism in 1953 and vocally supported his blacklisted friend Charlie Chaplin. Grant was also criticized by right-wing columnist Hedda Hopper for vacationing in the Soviet Union after filming Indiscreet (1958). He appeared to worsen the situation by remarking to an interviewer "I don't care what kind of government they have over there, I never had such a good time in my life". In June 1968 he made a public appeal for gun control following the assassination of his friend, Democratic Senator Robert F. Kennedy. After his retirement from acting, Grant was active in a number of Republican causes. He introduced First Lady Betty Ford to the audience at the Republican National Convention in 1976. He was also a vocal supporter of his friend Ronald Reagan during the 1980s.
Photograph is from the 1957 movie, An Affair to Remember and was hand color tinted by artist, Margaret A. Rogers.