Full name, Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer; born September 30, 1921, in Helensburgh, Scotland; immigrated to the United States, 1947; daughter of Arthur Charles(a civil engineer) and Kathleen Rose (Smale) Kerr-Trimmer; married Anthony Charles Bartley, November 28, 1946 (divorced, July, 1959); married Peter Viertel (a screenwriter), July 23, 1960; children: Melanie, Francesca, and one step daughter. Addresses: AGENT--The Lantz Office, 9255 Sunset Blvd., Suite 505, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
Deborah Kerr's stage and screen career spans more than four decades, during which she has appeared in over forty-five films. She has won four New York Film Critics's best actress awards and six Academy Award nominations--for Edward, My Son, From Here to Eternity, The King and I, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, Separate Tables, and The Sundowners. She has yet to win an Oscar and admits she minds missing out on the one in 1960 for Ida, the deprived but tolerant wife of Robert Mitchum's itinerant Australian sheep farmer in The Sundowners. Yet, despite her enduring appeal, according to Ken Doeckel in the Films in Review issue of January, 1978, Kerr "still defies classification today. All her gifts--classically chiseled features, expressive voice, charm, wit, intelligence and literacy--serve to challenge the usual Hollywood actress image."
Trained as a dancer at her aunt's drama school in Bristol, England, Kerr wona scholarship to the Sadler's Wells ballet school and at seventeen made her London debut among the corps-de-ballet in Prometheus. She soon discovered, however, that she was more interested in drama and began playing small roles invarious Shakespearean productions. In the early 1940s, she made her British film debut as the Salvation Army girl, Jenny Hill, in the movie version of George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara. Other film roles followed in which she typically played cool and reserved well-bred ladies. In 1946, on the strength ofher sensitive portrayal of a nun in Black Narcissus, she was brought to Hollywood by Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer to play the lead opposite Clark Gable in The Hucksters. She retained her serene, ladylike image on the American screen through a series of genteel roles in such films as If Winter Comes, Young Bess, King Solomon's Mines, and Quo Vadis. Then in 1953, she was given the opportunityto play, on loan to Columbia, the part of Karen Holmes, the alcoholic nymphomaniac Army wife in From Here to Eternity. Her scene on the beach with Burt Lancaster in their classic love scene from that movie made it clear that a real woman existed beneath that cool exterior. "Suddenly I could act," Kerr toldRichard Lee in an interview that appeared in the January 25, 1975, New YorkPost. "Suddenly I had sex appeal."
Soon thereafter Kerr made her Broadway debut as Laura Reynolds, the compassionate wife in Robert Anderson's Tea and Sympathy. The part looked like just another "teacup" role, she related to Lee, "another goody-goody lady." It tookdirector Elia Kazan, Kerr explained, to show her that Laura was "a symbol ofso many things that I myself believe in . . . compassion and tenderness, forinstance, and the idea that a man need not conform to a schoolboy image of masculinity to be a man." Kerr's sensitive, dazzling performance won both critical and popular acclaim. She remained a full season with the hit drama and later went on a national tour with it.
Following Tea and Sympathy, Kerr became an internationally respected star. Among her most notable film performances of the next decade were those in The King and I, Tea and Sympathy, Separate Tables, Beloved Infidel, and the Australian-filmed The Sundowners. She was also the tormented governess in an adaptation of Henry James's novella Turn of the Screw titled The Innocents, an unconventional governess in The Chalk Garden, the frustrated spinster awakened tolife by Richard Burton in The Night of the Iguana, and Kirk Douglas's unsatisfied wife in The Arrangement.
Kerr returned to the London stage in the fall of 1972 in The Day After the Fair and took the play on a tour of the United States in 1973. Since then she has appeared in numerous other plays, anmong them Edward Albee's Seascape, Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night, and Shaws's Candida. Kerr made her television debut in the BBC production Three Roads to Rome. Other television appearances have included roles in Witness for the Prosecution, A Woman ofSubstance, and Reunion at Fairborough. The actress has also graced a few Oscar broadcasts, hosted the Tony Awards in 1972, and narrated several documentaries.