Deborah Jane Kerr Trimmer was born on September 30th 1921 to Captain Arthur (“Jack”) Charles Trimmer and Kathleen Rose Trimmer, nee Smale at a private nursing home in 7 St James Terrace, Hillhead, Glasgow. Although she was born in Glasgow, her parents were residing in Helensburgh at the time of her birth.
Deborah’s parents had moved to Helensburgh because of her father’s peacetime work as a civil engineer, and they lived for three years with his parents, Arthur Kerr Trimmer and his wife Mary Jane, at Nithsdale in West King Street. In 1924, Deborah and her parents moved from Helensburgh to Alford
A shy, insecure child, she found an outlet for expressing her feelings in acting, regularly co-opting her younger brother Teddy to be her co star in her own productions. She was educated at Northumberland House, Clifton, Bristol. Deborah’s father died when she was 15 and she enrolled in the Hicks-Smale Drama School where she took lessons in acting, ballet and singing. Teddy also took lessons as well. Although Deborah first concentrated heavily in ballet, she soon realized that her height (5’6″) put her at odds with the other dancers and she soon abandoned any serious thoughts of dancing professionally. She began to focus on acting and was soon appearing in Shakespearian plays at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park.
At one of these performances, Robert Atkins, a film director, and John Gliddon, a talent scout, were impressed with Deborah’s elegance, beauty and acting abilities. They offered her a five year film contract which she signed on November 1, 1939. She was immediately cast in a bit part in director Michael Powell’s film “Contraband” but her part was eventually cut from the film. Despite this setback, Kerr was introduced to producer Gabriel Pascal who was looking for an actress to play Jenny Hill in the film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara. She was given a screen test and hired but Pascal wanted her to gain more acting experience and he enrolled her in Oxford Playhouse where she would appear in several productions there. At her own suggestion, Deborah joined the Salvation Army as a volunteer so that she could gain insight into her character. Filming commenced on Major Barbara in late 1940 and it was released in Britain in August of 1941. The film opened to glowing reviews and it was apparent that a new star was on the horizon.
She quickly became a British cinema star, with roles in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) and Black Narcissus (1947). It was during this period that Deborah met a Squadrom Leader named Anthony Bartley, who was stationed in Brussels with the RAF. They began to date regularly and were married in November of 1945.
In 1947, she joined MGM, where she repeated her success in films like The Hucksters (1947)- where she was billed “Deborah Kerr – Her Name Rhymes With Star!” -, Edward, My Son (1949) and Quo Vadis (1951). Deborah soon tired of playing ‘English Rose’ type parts, and she made the most of her adulteress role when appearing opposite Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity (1953). The film was a success. She also achieved success on the Broadway stage in “Tea and Sympathy,” reprising her role in the 1956 film version. That same year, she played one of her best-remembered screen roles, “Mrs. Anna” in The King and I (1956) opposite Yul Bryner. More success followed in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), An Affair to Remember (1957), Separate Tables (1958), The Sundowners (1960), The Innocents (1961) and The Night of the Iguana (1964). Deborah retired from main stream movies in 1968, supposedly appalled by the explicit sex and violence on offer in most films.
After some stage and TV work in the 1970s and 1980s and swan song performances in The Assam Garden (1985) and Hold the Dream (1986) (TV), she retired from acting altogether. Deborah Kerr holds the record of the most Oscar nominations (six) without a win, but was finally awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1994 for her screen achievements. Similar to her losing streak at the Oscars, Deborah was awarded a BAFTA “Special Award” in 1991 after being nominated four times
Awarded a CBE (Commander of the order of the British Empire) in the 1997/8 New Years Honours List. Deborah had two daughters from her marriage to Anthony Bartley: Melanie Jane, born on December 27, 1947, and Francesca Ann. Bartley was a WWII Royal Air Force squadron leader.
Deborah Kerr died from complications associated with Parkinson’s disease on the 16th October 2007, in Suffolk, England.
Academy Award Nominations:
1949 – Edward, My Son
1953 – From Here to Eternity
1956 – The King and I
1957 – Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
1958 – Separate Tables
1960 – The Sundowners
1994 – Lifetime Achievement Award – Honorary Oscar
New York Film Critics Awards:
1947 – Black Narcisus
1957 – Heaven Knows Mr. Allison
1960 – The Sundowners
Golden Globe Award:
1956 – The King And I
[nominated 1949 – Edward, My Son]
[nominated 1957 – Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison]
[nominated 1958 – Separate Tables]
BAFTA – British Academy of Film and Television Arts:
1991 – Fellowship Award
[1955 -nominated for The End of the Affair]
[1956 – nominated for Tea and Sympathy]
[1961 – nominated for The Sundowners]
[1964 – nominated for The Chalk Garden]