Creator / Deborah Kerr
Kerr rhymes with star!
Deborah Jane Kerrnote CBE
(30 September 1921 — 16 October 2007) was a Scottish-born actress who was one of Hollywood's favorite redheads from the 1940s through the 1960s. Her success was pretty quick out of the gate, with well-received supporting roles in Major Barbara
and Love on the Dole
in her native UK. Teaming up with Michael Powell turned out well for her, with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
and Black Narcissus
helping get her the attention of Hollywood.
Her early years in Tinseltown were successful, but not in the way she would have hoped. Due to her I Am Very British
way of speaking, MGM shoved her in various Costume Dramas
and period pieces. She ended up typecast as an English Rose
or Proper Lady
— in what she mockingly called "poker up the arse parts". The film Young Bess
was the last straw for her, and she nearly had her contract terminated. But luckily for her, Fred Zinnemann cast her in his World War II drama From Here to Eternity
. The scene of her passionately kissing Burt Lancaster on the beach as the waves wash over them shocked audiences who were used to seeing her in corsets — and it helped show Hollywood her range. Although she would go on to play many more English Roses, she credited that with helping her get more varied parts.
She continued working in films until the 60s before abruptly quitting — appalled by the violence and sex of the day
. She went back to the stage in Britain, and worked in a few television projects over there afterwards. In her career she amassed five Oscar nominations — for Edward, My Son
, From Here To Eternity
, The King and I
, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
, Separate Tables
, and The Sundowners
. She never won, but was presented with an honorary award in 1994. This was her official goodbye to Hollywood, and she enjoyed a peaceful retirement until her death in 2007.
Some films in which Deborah Kerr appeared include:
Tropes associated with her works:
- Actor Allusion: In The Gypsy Moths she cheats on her husband with Burt Lancaster, in a nod to their roles in From Here to Eternity. There's a reference to the year 1953 which is the year that film was released.
- Adam Westing: She poked fun at her stuffy English Rose persona in Casino Royale (1967).
- Award Snub: Six times she was nominated for an Oscar and never won. In the 90s they presented her with an honorary Oscar for her contribution to film.
- Best Known for the Fanservice:
- From Here to Eternity is a respected war picture among film buffs. But its most memorable detail is the steamy kiss on the beach between Deborah and Burt Lancaster.
- The Gypsy Moths is remembered for her appearing nude at the age of 47.
- Colbert Bump: When An Affair to Remember was shown during Sleepless in Seattle, it enjoyed a surge in popularity through video rentals in the 90s - something she was quite pleased about.
- Contractual Purity: She said in an interview that Hollywood expected its ladies to have no sense of humour, and as such she found herself often playing Proper Lady characters - princesses, nuns, governesses and ladies. Avoiding this trope was the reason she did the steamy beach scene in From Here to Eternity - and although she got many more costume drama roles, she credits the film with helping shake up her image. She invoked it by poking fun at herself while posing in a swimsuit to promote the film, saying "I feel naked without my tiara".
- Creator Backlash: She referred to many of her Proper Lady costume drama roles as "poker up the arse parts". In fact, the moment Young Bess wrapped, she went to MGM and asked them to terminate her contract. Luckily for her career From Here to Eternity was the next film she did.
- Dawson Casting:
- The Innocents Miss Giddens is meant to be a young governess on her first job (and is only nineteen or twenty in the novella the film's based on). Deborah was forty when the film was made. In
- Young Bess where she was only twenty-four playing Catherine Parr in her thirties. Inverted in
- Tea and Sympathy too. Laura in 1947 mentions having a husband who was in World War I, putting her in her early forties. Deborah was thirty-five. Possibly inverted in
- Deleted Role: Her first role was in the film Contraband but all her scenes were cut.
- Dye Hard: Deborah was a natural dark haired redhead. An aunt who got her into films persuaded her to lighten it.
- Fake American: In From Here to Eternity as Karen Holmes.
- Fake Australian: In The Sundowners.
- Fake Brit: Technically. She was Scottish but her I Am Very British way of speaking led to her playing English characters.
- Fake Irish: Technically as Sister Clodagh in Black Narcissus too, though she's Not Even Bothering with the Accent. She keeps her accent in the flashbacks to Clodagh's pre-vocational life in Ireland, so it's unknown if Clodagh's accent simply faded from years as a nun. She puts on an Irish accent for real as another nun - this time Sister Angela in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison.
- Funny Character, Boring Actor: Inverted. Usually typecast as high-minded, long-suffering ladies of various periods. In real life she was reportedly very goofy and fun-loving. Take note of this snarky award presentation.
- I Am Not Spock: Robert Mitchum reportedly thought she would be like the prim and proper characters she played. During one scene in Heaven Knows Mr Allison, she swore at the director - and he almost drowned laughing.
- I Am Very British: Her voice was naturally this, which was probably the reason she did so many period movies.
- Loads and Loads of Roles: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp has her playing three different characters in the titular Colonel's life.
- Madonna–Whore Complex: Ran into this early on in her career. American audiences saw her as a Madonna - with her posh English accent and typecasting as ladies in costume dramas. She essentially had to play a Whore to shake up her image.
- Magnum Opus Dissonance: The King and I, Black Narcissus, An Affair to Remember or From Here to Eternity would be her best known roles. Deborah regarded The Innocents as her finest performance, though that is a Cult Classic. In her autobiography she stated that the role she should have won her Oscar for was The Sundowners.
- Non-Singing Voice: In The King and I, dubbed by Marni Nixon. This was actually when such a thing went public. Although Marni Nixon's contract stated that she couldn't say anything, Deborah went to the papers and mentioned her by name.
- The Other Marty: Kim Novak was cast as Catherine in Eye of the Devil and had filmed a good amount of her scenes when she fell off a horse. Deborah was cast to replace her, and nearly all the scenes were re-shot.
- Playing Against Type: From Here to Eternity had her playing a Fake American trophy wife unhappy in her marriage that has an affair with a Pearl Harbor soldier.
- Playing with Character Type: As a proper governess in The Innocents...who may or may not be going mad and with a questionable relationship to a young boy. Also in King Solomon's Mines, as a Proper Lady thrown into the African wilderness - and needs an Adrenaline Makeover to get by.
- Poor Man's Substitute: Early in her career, she was given a lot of parts that Greer Garson turned down.
- Prim and Proper Bun: What her hair was usually up in considering the type of characters she played.
- Production Posse: She starred in two Michael Powell films back to back - The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Black Narcissus.
- Rapunzel Hair: Sported a lot of this in many of her period films - The Innocents, The King and I, King Solomon's Mines (at first anyway).
- Reclusive Artist: She retired from films in the late 1960s and lived a quiet life afterwards. She made one more public appearance at the 1994 Oscars, where she was presented with an honorary award. That was considered her official goodbye to Hollywood and she remained under the radar until her death in 2007.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: She abruptly quit films in the 1960s, appalled by the violence and sex of the era.
- Star-Making Role: Black Narcissus brought her to the attention of Hollywood, though it had the effect of typecasting her as an English Rose.
- Those Two Actors:
- Typecasting: She played a lot of:
- English Rose Proper Lady - In her early films.
- Governesses - The King and I, The Innocents, The Chalk Garden
- Nuns - Black Narcissus, Heaven Knows Mr Alison
- She was versatile enough to get plenty of other parts after a while, though. Overall a lot of her characters were delicate or refined, who went through harrowing experiences.
- What Could Have Been:
- She really wanted to star in The African Queen, but the studio refused - as she had just done a similar role in King Solomon's Mines - and it went to Katharine Hepburn instead. Nobody is exactly sorry about this, as Hepburn did a bang-up job, but still, you have to wonder...
- She was up for the title role in Young Bess but scheduling conflicts with Edward, My Son led to Jean Simmons getting it. Deborah was given the smaller role of Catherine Parr instead.
- Producers of Carry On Screaming! offered her a lot of money to star, but she opted to do a stage version of Flowers for Algernon instead.