Deborah Kerr, perhaps best known for her role in From Here to Eternity as the unsatisfied housewife, died on Tuesday at the age of 86.
Her beach kiss with Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity (pictured below) is regarded as one of the greatest screen kisses of all time.
Until Eternity, she was seen as a goody goody. Kerr herself once said: “I don’t think anyone knew I could act until I put on a bathing suit“.
I like this story about how she landed the role in Eternity:
] “She got a new agent, Bert Allenberg [in the early 1950s]. He had called her and declared: ‘Deborah, for years now you’ve been playing the insipid English virgin. I think I can get you the roles you ought to have,’
Harry Cohn, who was president of Columbia Pictures, originally wanted Joan Crawford or somebody like her, decidedly un-virginal. Mr. Allenberg argued the merits of a different sort of sexuality: a heroine ‘who looks like a lady but acts like a harlot.’
‘The result is screen history — which keeps repeating itself in the form of love scenes almost identical to that which Deborah and Burt played,’ American Weekly magazine said. […]
Her most notable roles were: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), I See a Dark Stranger (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), Edward, My Son (1949), From Here to Eternity (1953), The King and I (1956), Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), An Affair to Remember (1957), Separate Tables (1958), Beloved Infidel (1959), The Sundowners (1960), The Innocents (1961), The Night of the Iguana (1964), and The Arrangement (1968).
Kerr was nominated for six Academy Awards, but never won.
She received an honorary Oscar in 1994 for her career as an”artist of impeccable grace and beauty, a dedicated actress whose motion picture career has always stood for perfection, discipline and elegance.”
You can read her New York Times obituary here
Like most people my age, my first exposure to Deborah Kerr came from Sleepless in Seattle (1993). Since then I’ve seen countless films starring Kerr, my favorite being Black Narcissus (it gave me chills).
As for the beach scene in From Here to Eternity. I think 50 years from now that will still be the sexiest on screen kiss and it’ll take a lot to change that.