Deborah Kerr, six time Oscar nominee and star of From Here To Eternity, has taken her Final Taxi at the age of 86.
Born Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer in Scotland, Kerr originally trained as a ballet dancer, first appearing at Sadler’s Wells in 1938. She made the switch to film in 1940 with an uncredited role in Contraband.
Kerr was signed by MGM in 1947 and went on to be a major star counting Robert Mitchum, David Niven, Stewart Granger and Spencer Tracy among her leading men.
Her first Oscar nomination was for the 1949 film Edward, My Son. There followed nominations for From Here To Eternity (1953), The King And I (1956), Heaven Knows, Mr Allison (1957), Separate Tables (1958) and The Sundowners (1960). She holds the record for the most best actress nominations without a win.
Kerr’s most famous role, and the one for which she will be most remembered, is that of Karen Holmes, the adulterous wife in From Here To Eternity who along with Burt Lancaster, was part of one of cinema’s most famous kisses as the pair clinched on a beach as waves crashed around them. Even today it is still one of the sexiest scenes in movie history. I was floored when I found out that Joan Crawford was originally cast to play that part. I don’t know if it would have worked.
Another high point came in 1956, when she was given the film role of Anna in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I. ( The role was originally cast for Maureen O’Hara). She played opposite Yul Brynner, who recreated his stage performance as the strutting king in the film. Her singing for classics numbers like “Getting to Know You” was dubbed by the offscreen by Marni Nixon. Her acting needed no assistance and she was nominated for an Academy Award.
Originally when filming began on Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, her co-star Robert Mitchum worried that Kerr would be like the prim characters she frequently played. However, after she swore at director John Huston during one take, Mitchum, who was in the water, almost drowned laughing. The two stars went on to have an enduring friendship which lasted until Mitchum’s death in 1997.
Another of Kerr’s memorable roles is in one that ranks supreme amid the legion of immortal chick-flicks, An Affair To Remember (1957). In it Kerr knocks tuxedo-clad playboy Cary Grant emotionally overboard while on a posh cruise. The smitten Grant and Kerr agree to meet six months later at the top of the Empire State Building…if they still love each other once they return to the real world. Yes this is the movie that inspired the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie Sleepless in Seattle.
Then, in 1968, she suddenly quit movies, appalled by the explicit sex and violence of the day. After some stage and TV work in the 1970s and 1980s and swan song performances in The Assam Garden (1985) and Hold the Dream (1986) (TV), she retired from acting altogether. Deborah Kerr was given a Honorary Oscar for her screen achievements in 1994.