Remembering Deborah Kerr and Joey Bishop
We honor the lives of the Oscar-winning actress and the last member of the Rat Pack
She spent much of her career typecast in what she called ”tiara roles,” playing well-bred women of considerable bearing. But Deborah Kerr, who died Oct. 16 at the age of 86 from Parkinson’s disease, brought more to the big screen than style and grace: She danced with Yul Brynner as spirited governess Anna in The King and I, crashed through jungles in King Solomon’s Mines, and most famously sprawled in the surf and locked lips with Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity. She would go on to play everything from a woman who trysts with one of her schoolmaster husband’s students (Tea and Sympathy) to the sheepherder’s wife eking out a hard life in The Sundowners. ”She was genteel yet strong,” says Donna Murphy, who played Anna in a 1996 Broadway revival of The King and I. ”It was my job to find my own Anna, [but] hers was the image in my head.”
Kerr left Hollywood in 1969, declaring that she was ”either too young or too old” for the roles being offered. She made one more movie (1986’s The Assam Garden), and in 1994, she earned a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, which recognized a career that ”always stood for perfection, discipline, and elegance.” Nobody mentioned the toughness and the tempestuousness. But that’s how it was with Kerr: No matter what she played, she always came off as a lady.
And then there was the gentleman: Joey Bishop was an odd charmer who even managed to win over the notoriously prickly Frank Sinatra. In 1952, Sinatra handpicked the singer to warm up the crowd before his shows at the Riviera in New Jersey. In a few years’ time — alongside Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis Jr. — he was a full-fledged member of Sinatra’s fabled Rat Pack. And on Oct. 17, when he died of multiple causes at his home in Newport Beach, Calif., Bishop, 89, became the last of the gang to pass away.
Bishop’s heyday was the 1960s, when in addition to turning up with Frank and the boys in Ocean’s 11, he starred in two versions of The Joey Bishop Show. The first incarnation was a sitcom; the last version was a live, late-night ABC show most famous today for launching the career of his sidekick Regis Philbin. After the talk show ended in 1969, Bishop repeatedly subbed for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, and occasionally turned up in movies. But the frown-faced comic never quite achieved the same prominence as Dino, Sammy, and Frank. Not for nothing was he known as ”the mouse in the Rat Pack.” — Michael Sauter and Gregory Kirschling, with reporting by Aubry D’Armino and Kate Ward