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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Tribute to Deborah Kerr

"She has made forty-four movies. Light romances and dark ones. Epic adventures and costume dramas. Comedies and even one of our most beloved musicals. She played nuns and nannies. Nice ladies and occasionally ladies that weren't so very nice - but always a lady... In a singular way, she combined warmth with elegance, passion with patience, common sense with uncommon wit, great strength with even greater vulnerability."

- Glenn Close speaking of Deborah Kerr at the 66th Annual Academy Awards

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I think that quote from Glenn Close pretty much sums up the cinematic career of Deborah Kerr. I don't think there was a type of movie that Deborah didn't try her hand at. 

So it's strange that, before I became such an aggressive viewer of her pictures, I always thought that Deborah Kerr played delicate English ladies who never said a word out of place or ever stepped a toe over the line. Ladies that were prim and perfect. It wasn't that there is anything wrong with this type of a character; and, in fact, it happens to be just the type of character I myself would enjoy. But for a long time I had been keep myself deprived of the marvelous array of other roles Deborah played. 

Glenn Close was right in saying that she was "always a lady", despite the most well, dangerous, of roles she tackled. Tea and Sympathy (1956), for example, in which she plays an American wife with much lying under the surface who feels compelled to give one of her husband's pupils more than a little tea and sympathy. Or The Proud and the Profane, of the same year, where she must pull herself together and keep her dignity despite the scandal she suffers with William Holden. And in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), a nun who begins to feel burgeoning attraction for Robert Mitchum when the two are stranded on an island together whilst World War II rages!

Can you imagine playing those roles in the 50's? Whenever I read the plots for these movies and then go into watching them, I can't help but wonder how on Earth Deborah is going to play these characters and 'get away with them.' But, oh, if you were to see her in these roles you would understand why the Hays Code Office could not make an objection. These characters, no matter what they do, or at least, where their thoughts may stray, were always ladies because Deborah played them in that way. And, I think, because she transformed these characters into ladies is why they were sympathized with and accepted and beloved by audiences in the 50's.

All of the above is an attest to how good of an actress she was. I don't think there was a role or a performance which she was afraid of. I don't really think there was a role that she could not play.

If anyone has been keeping up with the list of films I've been seeing this year, you might have realized that Deborah Kerr is the actress I have seen the most of. So far I have seen eight of her movies and not once have I been disappointed. I feel as if I've been missing out on a lot. It wasn't like I didn't like Deborah; I certainly did, and I enjoyed her in movies like An Affair to Remember (1957), which is one of my favorites, and The King and I  (1956). But I don't think I really got to know her as an actress until these past few months.

Behind this marvelous actress is a lady, a person, who I hold in equal standard to that of the actress. It's a travesty that there is not a in print, decent biography about her. The moment one is written I can't wait to get my hands on it. There are so many interesting stories I've read about Deborah. Like, how, on the set of Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1956), her co-star Robert Mitchum expected her to be dull and delicate. Then she cursed out John Houston after one of the takes went awry, and Mitchum nearly drowned himself laughing!

And then there is the diary she kept while filming The Night of the Iguana (1964), with Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, & Sue Lyon. Here are some of my favorite passages from the 'Days and Nights of the Iguana' by Deborah:
OCTOBER 30: A really unbelievably lovely morning. I enjoy this breath of air each morning before work and again at the end of the day – it’s a godsend. I think the reason I get so tired working in a studio is the total lack of fresh air. Lunch wasn’t called until one-forty-five, so we were all very hungry. Elizabeth adn Richard had brought hamburgers (flown from somewhere exotic and healthy) complete with cheese, onions, and tomatoes and they asked Peter and me to join them. The hamburgers were delicious. Elizabeth also had a huge jar of Boston baked beans, which we delved into as if we had never eaten beans before in our lives. After a constant diet of fish and guacamole they tasted wonderful. We rehearsed a long and complicate shot after lunch, but we weren’t able to get it in the can, so it will be the first shot in the morning. I was glad to be through. Ava and I will meet at the beach at seven in the morning – her call is the same as mine so we can whizz out together in her speedboat. Elizabeth and Richard gave us a ride home in their boat which is christened Taffy. She is such a generous, sweet woman, friendly and warm and impulsive, and the Welshman kept us all laughing all the way back to Puerto Vallarta.
Perhaps this bit, too, about Ava Gardner & eating raw fish in Mr. Allison -
NOVEMBER 1: Met Ava at ten-to-seven at the beach. She was going to water-ski over to work, but by the time the boats were all organized it was a little late and she decided not to. But she swam out to the speedboat nevertheless. She has the strength of an ox, that girl! We sped across, the sky quite marvelous, with the moon still vivid on the horizon to the west and the sun rising in the east, and the water like flat syrup. It was a long day – Richard and I didn’t finish till six o’clock, which is later than we usually work here. but we must have done about four pages. We had some long waits for difficult setups, and Ava and I filled in the time rehearsing the long scene in the kitchen we have together. It-s a difficult one for her – masses of “black stuff” – and I have to decapitate and clean fish! Always seem to have  something strange to do with fish when I work with John. InAllison, Sister Angela has to eat raw fish – it’s all there was. I remember that the prop man had anchovies for me to eat, but John said it didn’t look like real raw fish – and in any case after a few 2takes” I was dying of thirst. So I ate raw fish. At least I got the expression of controlled disgust correctly.
The whole diary, actually, is just exciting to read, especially if you've seen the movie. Deborah's opinions on everyone & everything, most often favorable of her colleagues, which I'm happy to read as I love Elizabeth & Ava. 'The Welshman', or Richard Burton, on the other hand, I have a different taste for but Deborah seemed to like him too. ;) 

Deborah also shared stories about other movies she made, like this one about An Affair to Remember (1956):
Don’t ever kiss Cary Grant. He tickles! During many of poignant love scenes in An Affair To Remember I had a terrible time keeping a straight face. Cary was supposed to hold me tenderly but each time he put his strong arms around me, he would give me a little tickle under the ribs. This would start me giggling like a school girl, but Cary kept it up until I was almost exhausted. We were the despair of the director and the cameraman. 
Each time I’d screw up my face and take a deep breath because that would prevent me from laughing. Somehow we managed to get through all but the final love scene. Director Leo McCarey said, “Now in this one, Deborah, I want you to show all the tenderness you feel for this man. Okay,” he said to the crew, “roll ‘em”. I held my breath, but I could feel Cary put his arms around me tighter and then, in pure mischief, he started to slide his hand toward my ribs. Very slowly. I knew the tickle was coming. But when! It was a torture! But I held on so hard, that the tears came to my eyes. Finally, the director said, “Cut!” then he turned to me and said, “Deborah, that was wonderful.”
But I was so exasperated with my leading man that I didn’t realize I had just been paid a compliment. Instead, in a high shrill voice I said: “For heavens sakes, Cary, will you tickle me and get it over with?”
Plus there is that adorable face of Deborah's. Look at this expression from Mr. Allison:


Now, how is that not adorable? tell me??!!!

This post is getting kind of long, so I guess I'll wrap it up now. What you read was basically a rambling but still extremely affectionate tribute to Deborah Kerr, the utterly amazing actress robbed of a proper Oscar, a flawless human being & one of my favorite stars easily. 

PS: Have any of you readers heard of something called the No Bull Challenge? It's a project encouraging teens to help combat cyber-bullying by making short videos about the topic. My friend entered one, and maybe if you have a second, you could check it out & give it a vote; or check out the other videos and vote for which one you like best! Though having never been cyber-bullied, being a blogger, it's still an issue I feel close to and I think we can all help stop this aggressive form of bullying, even in small ways. :) 


Kristen said...

I've only seen The Innocents with Deborah which I found very fascinating. I too believed she always played the prim and proper English woman. I want to see Tea and Sympathy next!

KimWilson said...

Deborah Kerr was always a delight. She reminds me a lot of Babs Stanwyck in this regard--although babs didn't always play a lady.

Dani said...

I liked her in "From here to eternity" and saw "The King and I" because she was in it, but I never really became a huge fan of hers. I think I only saw one other movie of hers, "An affair to remember", but that was it. Maybe I should try and watch more films with her.
By the way, you have a thing for redheads, don't you? ;)

Rianna said...

The Innocents is one I'm hoping to see really soon! Oh, I really encourage you to see more of her movies. She's so lovely & Tea and Sympathy is also one I really enjoyed. I hope you watch it and let me know what you think of it afterwards! :)

Rianna said...

Deborah has yet to disappoint me! Both she and Barbara were versatile actresses who never won an Oscar, but I think the similarities do stop there. As you said, Barbara was known for her tough as nails screen personality (though there were certainly a vulnerable side to it, which is why she was a star).

Rianna said...

Oh yes, do try and watch some of her movies! My love of Deborah was actually slow growth. I'd seen a few of her movies, like the ones you mentioned,and it wasn't until recently I viewed her in other roles that I really started to love her. I recommend "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" and "Tea and Sympathy" for sure.

Yeah, I do kinda have a liking for the redheads, don't I? ;D

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