Feb 3, 2007

Deborah Kerr - Rhymes with "Star"

Scottish-born Kerr's name may not actually rhyme with star, but in creating this cute couplet for her first U.S. film in 1947, MGM's crafty promotions department touched on something that legions of film fans have acknowledged in the years since then: while vastly underappreciated as a dramatic actress, the British beauty* is very much one of Tinseltown's twinkliest.

Having said that, it doesn't really take too much for me to like a star. Wittiness, sophistication, sex appeal, the perfect shade of lipstick - all traits that, once an actor's talent has been established, I tend to focus on, wondering how I can employ them in my rather dull college-girl lifestyle and add that ineffable Hollywood allure to my own list of desirable traits. After watching 1957's weepy drama An Affair To Remember this week, I was simply enchanted with regal redhead Deborah Kerr who, with her rosy beauty and genteel demeanor, is definitely one to admire.

Scottish-born Deborah Jane Kerr
was raised and educated in England during the 1920s and '30s, and after discovering an outlet for her passions in acting, the shy teenager was given an opportunity to play 'legitimate theatre' by her aunt, a radio celebrity. After being noticed by producer/director Gabriel Pascal and winning a small but notable role in his 1941 film Major Barbara (she recited The Lord's Prayer at her audition), she quickly became a star in Britain. Hollywood had yet to take note of her, but Deborah's role in the gripping drama Black Narcissus (1947) got their attention, and she was soon under contract at MGM.

Aside from few notable anachronistic parts - her lusty, seaside From Here To Eternity turn in the surf with Burt Lancaster being the most profound and the most iconic - Kerr was consistently cast as women she later called "high-minded, long suffering, white-gloved and decorative", such as parts in The End of The Affair (1955) and my personal favorite, An Affair To Remember. Her propriety and elegance, attributed as much to her upbringing as to the strictness of an insistent Victorian grandmother, were often called on more than her dramatic ability, though her deft combination of these elements and her skill garnered her six Oscar nominations in twelve years. (She was eventually awarded an honorary statuette in 1994).

Kerr quit movies in 1968 after divorcing first husband Anthony Bartley, father of her two daughters, and settling into marriage to director Peter Viertel, to whom she remains married today. She lives in Switzerland, but Parkinson's disease has rendered her incapable of publicly sharing her Hollywood history or granting fan requests for autographs. Her stunning celluloid legacy is still accessible, though, and she is as powerful a screen presence as she was sixty years ago. I recommend you pour yourself a pink champagne and get to know Deborah Kerr...she rhymes with "star" for a reason.

*I know Kerr's not British, but she played long-suffering English ladies in so many of her best-known roles...

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