Deborah Kerr biography

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Deborah Kerr biography

Actress. Born Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer, on September 30, 1921, in Helensburgh, Scotland. She was the first child born to Colleen and Arthur Kerr-Trimmer, a civil engineer who died when Kerr was 15. As a child, she expressed an interest in drama, often performing in local productions with her younger brother Teddy. She enrolled in England’s Phyllis Smale School and concentrated on ballet. Kerr soon abandoned a professional dance career when she realized that her height (she was 5’6’’) would limit her ability. At age 17, she directed her efforts toward acting and made a number of stage appearances in Shakespearean plays. During one of her repertory productions, Kerr’s acting was recognized by film director Richard Atkins, who was so impressed with her performance that he offered her a five-year film contract. In 1940, she landed her first starring role in the film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s novel Major Barbara, which was applauded by both critics and audiences. In Kerr’s next film, Love on the Dole, she received top billing and rave reviews for her portrayal of a poverty-stricken character. She was cast in Penn of Pennsylvania (1941), and as the female lead in both Hatter’s Castle and The Day Will Dawn (1942). In 1943, she was offered the starring role in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, which required that she play three different characters spanning three generations. Kerr seized the challenging role with a remarkable performance that garnered the attention of MGM Studios in Hollywood.

As contract negotiations with MGM began, Kerr met Anthony Bartley, whom she married in 1945. Immediately following her marriage, she was cast in the film adaptation of Rumer Godden’s novel Black Narcissus (1947). The film, set in the vast Himalayas, was considered a cinematographic masterpiece. Kerr’s performance as Sister Superior was also considered a fine accomplishment, and she was awarded the New York Film Critics Award for Best Actress.

In 1946, Kerr and her husband ventured to Hollywood, where she was to star opposite Clark Gable in the eagerly awaited The Hucksters (1947). She followed the film’s success with If Winter Comes (1948), which featured virtually an entire British cast. With her next role, opposite Spencer Tracy in Edward My Son (1949), Kerr captured her first Academy Award nomination.

In fulfilling her contract with MGM, Kerr’s next projects were predominantly historical epics including King Solomon’s Mines(1950), Quo Vadis?(1951), Julius Caesar(1953), and Young Bess (1953). In 1953, Kerr was afforded the opportunity to replace Joan Crawford in From Here to Eternity. After a wardrobe dispute, Crawford relinquished her role to Kerr, who deviated from her refined image to portray an adulteress. The film was an instant success, coveting eight Oscars including Best Picture.

Kerr debuted on Broadway in 1953’s Tea and Sympathy and later re-created her role in the 1956 film version. In 1955, she was handpicked by veteran stage actor Yul Brenner to play Anna in the film version of The King and I. The film was a tremendous success, as was Kerr’s performance for which she received a third Oscar nomination. In 1958, she starred opposite Cary Grant in the classic romance An Affair to Remember. Among her other memorable films were Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse (1957), which co-starred David Niven and Jean Seberg, and 1958’s Separate Tables, which earned Kerr another Academy Award nomination.

In 1959, Kerr and her husband divorced, ending a 14-year marriage. Shortly after, she married Peter Viertel, the son of Austrian poet Berthold Viertel. Following her wedding, she put her career on hold in order to devote time to her husband. In 1962, Kerr made her television debut in Three Roads to Rome before returning to the big screen in the 1963 film adaptation of The Chalk Garden, which also starred Hayley Mills.

Throughout her career Kerr enjoyed a steady influx of work. However, in the 1960’s she began to accept less memorable parts in supporting roles. After the poorly received The Arrangement(1969), Kerr returned to stage work where she starred in The Day After the Affair, Long Days Journey Into Night, and Candida.

In the 1980s, Kerr concluded her career with a number of performances in television films including Witness For the Prosecution(1982), A Woman of Substance (1983), and Hold the Dream(1986). With six Best Actress nominations, Kerr holds the record for most Academy Award nominations without ever winning. However, in 1994, she received an honorary Oscar for her years of work during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Recently, Kerr confirmed that she has been afflicted with Parkinson’s disease and is confined to a wheelchair. She currently lives in Klosters, Switzerland with her second husband Peter.

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