Old Hollywood lost another legend with the passing of Deborah Kerr, who died on Tuesday, in Suffolk, England. She was 86, and had been battling the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
A red-headed Scottish beauty, she got her start in British films, appearing in movies like Major Barbara (1941), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), and Black Narcissus (1947). It was her work in Narcissus, playing a troubled young nun, that caught the attention of Hollywood producers.
She brought to her first American roles such a degree of to-the-manor-born refinement and elegance that some dubbed her the “British virgin.” Of course, all that changed with her portrayal of the restless Karen Holmes in 1953’s From Here to Eternity (pictured). Her now-iconic embrace with Burt Lancaster — on the crashing surf of a Hawaii beach — rankled censors and still radiates briny heat (“I never knew it could be like this”). She received the second of her six Oscar noms for her work here — she never won, but was given a honorary statuette in 1994.
Some other famous roles included her turn as the spirited schoolteacher who charms Yul Brynner in 1956’s The King and I and the unlucky nightclub singer/object of Cary Grant’s affection in 1957’s An Affair to Remember — a famous scene from that movie was a key element of Sleepless in Seattle. Me? I liked her best playing three very different women in the Powell/Pressburger classic Colonel Blimp. Or as the spinster-ish Sibyl in Separate Tables. What about you, PopWatchers: Which of her performances do you recall most fondly? And is there any actress today who embodies Kerr’s class and intelligence?