October 18, 2007

Scottish-born actress Deborah Kerr dies aged 86

LONDON - Scottish-born actress Deborah Kerr, best known for her performance as the adulterous wife alongside Burt Lancaster in the 1953 film "From Here to Eternity," has died at age 86.

Her agent Anne Hutton said she died on Tuesday in Suffolk, eastern England.

"Her family was with her at the time. She had suffered from Parkinson's disease for some time and had just had her 86th birthday and so was an elderly lady. She just slipped away," Hutton said on Thursday.

Kerr's flame-haired beauty and image as an English rose made her a darling of Hollywood, and she starred in more than 40 films spanning nearly 50 years in cinema.

"Her type of refined sensuality proved refreshingly attractive, since it hinted at hidden desires and forbidden feelings, giving her acting an extra edge and interest," the Daily Telegraph wrote in its obituary.

Born Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer on September 30, 1921, in Helensburgh, Scotland, she trained in ballet before moving on to theater, and then film.

The actress landed her breakthrough screen role as a frightened Salvation Army worker in the all-star adaptation of the satire, "Major Barbara."

However, it was her work in three separate parts in the 1943 Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger production "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," as the various women in the hero's life, that brought her wider recognition.

In 1947 Kerr moved to Hollywood, and in 1953 she shattered her prim image by playing an adulterous Army wife who has an affair with another officer, played by Lancaster.

Their infamous embrace on the beach, lapped by the waves, is one of the most enduring in cinema, and the role earned Kerr her second Academy Award nomination for best actress following that for "Edward, My Son" four years earlier.

Ever conscious of her image, Kerr joked while shooting bathing suit tests for the scene: "I feel naked without my tiara."

Her third Oscar nomination came for the 1956 picture "The King and I," in which she famously played a governess opposite Yul Brynner's Siamese monarch. She went on to garner three more best actress nominations, none of which she won.

She was finally awarded an honorary Academy Award in 1994 "in appreciation for a full career's worth of elegant and beautifully crafted performances."

In 1945 Kerr married Anthony Bartley, an RAF hero of the Battle of Britain. They had two daughters and divorced in the late 1950s. She married screenwriter Peter Viertel in 1960.

She is survived by Viertel, two daughters and three grandsons.

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