Deborah Kerr

  1. Sheila Sim, A Canterbury Tale, 1944.      A love affair with UK director Michael Powell did not stop Deborah accepting an MGM contract in Hollywood. He married his other mistress and recast Kerr’s part of half of a young couple he met, “deeply in love… an air of innocence and freshness seemed to cradle them.” She was Sheila. He was Richard  Attenborough. They have been wed since 1945.
  2. Margaret Leighton, Bonnie Prince Charlie, 1946.     Just as David Niven was homesick for a UK movie, his leading lady crossed the Atlantic in the opposite direction, headed for Hollywood fame.  And so, Leighton inherited the 1740s Scots heroine, Flora McDonald, as famous as bonnie Prince Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart (gulp!), himself.
  3. Paulette Goddard, Unconquered, 1946.  For his English herione, director CB DeMIlle wanted the new English girl in town.  But not at her price!  Always a skinflint, CB’s rule was  rule was “Cut the price in half, then argue like hell:”   Her agent wanted to match her previous assignment’s salary:  $72,000.  Paulette Goddard (the third of four  Mrs Charlie Chaplin) wanted $1000,000., and CB took great delight in knocking her down to Kerr’s demanded fee of $72,000,. He paid men more. Co-star Gary Cooper got double his usual $150,000 fee – plus 5% of the action, which proved large indeed, as this was the top movie of 1947.   Naturally CB had told Kerr’s agent that her US career would be “greatly accelerated” by being in a DeMille production.  She did extremely well without  him!
  4. June Allyson, The Three Musketeers, 1947.     Allyson would have  preferred Kerr playing Constance. Not happy in period costumes, Allyson tried to wriggle out of the shoot. But at MGM, stars did what they were  told. Or face suspension. And no pay-cheque. As happened to Lana Turner on refusing, at first, to be Lady de Winter.  
  5. Greer Garson, That Forsyte Woman, 1948.   MGM  won  the rights to John Galsworthy’s The Forstye Saga in 1937 – and never knew what to do with it.  Instead of the full trilogy, the studio planned a re-titled version of the first book, The Man of Property, with Joseph L  Mankiewicz directing Franchot Tone as the stuffy banker, Soames Forsyte, and La Crawford as his  unfaithful wife, Irene.  Garson had twice been offered  Irene  in 1939  and 1945, for projects which never flew, either, despite being also aimed at  Cark Gable,  Deborah Kerr, Michael Wilding, etc.
  6. Ida Lupino, On Dangerous Ground, 1950.      One Brit for another… Also in the snowy mountains frame for the blind Mary were Lauren Bacall, Olivia de Havilland, Faith Domergue Susan Hayward, Wanda Hendrix, Janet Leigh, Margaret Sullavan, Teresa Wright, Jane Wyman – and Broadway newcomer Margaret Phillips. RKO chose well. Because, although un-credited, Lupino also co-directed the noir thriller with Nicholas Ray. In all, she helmed 41 films and TV shows during 1949-1968 when Hollywood women were just supposed to pout, pirouette and pucker up.
  7. Katharine Hepburn,  The African Queen, 1951.    Talking to MGM production chief Dore Schary, Kerr mentioned her desire to play Rose in the CS Forrester  story, Schary explained that Warner had the rights. But what about the lead in another Africa story.  “Yes, please!”  But…
  8. Gene Tierney, The Plymouth Adventure, 1951.      MGM Press release dated May 1, 1950 stated William Wellman would be directing Kerr. However, Clarence Brown helmed the saga of the Pilgrim Fathers’ Mayflower sailing from Plymouth on September 21, 1620. Spencer Tracy was delighted with Tierney – they had an affair during the shoot.
  9. Jean Simmons, Androcles and Lion, 1951.       During three years of bizarre casting of the George Bernard Shaw playlet – everyone from the sublime Chaplin (and Harpo Marx) to the ridiculous Eddie Bracken was imagined for the lead! UK producer-director Gabriel Pascal had tried to arrange a 1949 deal to shoot in Mexico with Kerr in almost a reprise of her Quo Vadis role. Finally, Lavinia was Simmons’ Hollywood debut.
  10. Elizabeth Taylor, Ivanhoe, 1952.      MGM’s hype: “Deborah Kerr. It rhymes with star.”   Not this time…  Taylor was not a  happy Rebecca, the love interest again  for  the titular and way too old Robert Taylor.  MGM agreed and talked to Kerr, Taylor’s co-star from Quo Vadis, but she had lately had her second daughter. Liz soldiered on  and the mini-epic was Metro’s top movie of 1952.

  11. Jean Simmons, Young Bess, 1952.       Or: Younger Bess.  MGM first bought Margaret Irwin’s book in 1945 – with Kerr or Greer Garson in mind for the young Queen Elizabeth I.  Simmons nearly lost the throne (opposite her husband, Stewart Granger, as Thomas Seymour) for being… too pretty.  True.  In every sense. Kerr became Catherine Parr, instead. Tired of insipid MGM roles, she then begged Columbia czar Harry Cohn to test for From Here To Eternity – as he tried turning Stewart Granger  into Sergeant Warden
  12. Grace Kelly, Mogambo, 1953.    Stewart Granger, who had already suggested the Scaramouche re-make, was keen on revamping Red Dust when Marlene Dietrich told him about it.  He had MGM keen on him, Deborah and Ava Gardner, when the studio decided to help Gable’s ailing box-office and let The King re-tread his own movie. With Grace and favour…  er Ava!
  13. Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday, 1952.   Frank Capra (and George Stevens) wanted Liz Taylor.  William Wyler liked Suzanne Cloutier (the future Mrs Peter Ustinov) for the runaway Princess Ann.   A further 28 actresses were seen, the royal  and risible – like the current sex-bombs Yvonne De Carlo,  Diana Dors, Gina Lollobrigida, Sylvana Mangano, Shelley Winters.  Apart from, perhaps, Vanessa Brown, Mona Freeman and Wanda Hendrix (even though her real name was Dixie), the Hollywood hopefuls  – singer Rosemary Clooney(George’s aunty), Jeanne Crain, Nina Foch, Janet Leigh, Joan Leslie, June Lockhart, Dorothy Malone, Patricia Neal, Barbara Rush – were soon discarded, lacking the stature of Euro-royalty. Idem for the Euros – Swedish Bibi Andersson and the French Capucine, Leslie Caron, Jeanne Moreau. Which left several perfect Brits Claire Bloom, Joan Collins, Glynis Johns, Kay Kendall, Deborah Kerr, Angela Lansbury, Moira Shearer, and, of course, Audrey … soon gracing the Time cover, hailed by the New York Times as a “slender, elfin and wistful beauty, alternately regal and childlike” with, added Variety, a “delightful affectation in voice and delivery, controlled just enough to have charm and serve as a trademark,” (And, Indeed, it did for evermore). 
  14. Elizabeth Taylor, Elephant Walk, 1953.     Kerr was top choice for Douglas Fairbanks Jr when he bought the  rights to Robert Standish’s novel in October  1951 for hiis (and Alexander Macdonald’s) company, They sold  out to Paramount in June 1952 to concentrate on TV production.  Vivien Leigh started the film and  suffered a breakdown after a month.  Working with her lover, Peter Finch, in a role refused by her husband, Laurence Olivier (who then recommended Finch!)  sure didn’t help  her brittle mental condition.
  15. June Allyson,  Executive Suite, 1953.   When handed the pet project of MGM production  chief Dore Schary, producer John  Houseman tried hard – but lost Kerr as William Holden’s wife… the least important role. The film had no music  just the  city sounds of New York. “Church bells, sirens, the roar of traffic, crowd noises, horns, the squeal of tires, faraway screams of brakes,” ordered Schary. “It all worked far better than conventional music.”
  16. Grace Kelly, Dial M For Murder, 1953.     Alfred Hitchcock wanted Cary Grant as the suave husband planning a brilliant murder of his wife – originally Olivia De Havilland, then offered to Kerr. She was already filming and that’s how an agent made sure he caught sight of Kelly’s Taxi test. And Hitch met his Perfect Leading Lady. They made two more classics together: To Catch A Thief (with Grant) and Rear Window – Hitchcock’s huge double whammy of 1954
  17. Jean Simmons, Guys and Dolls, 1955.    The choice facing auteur supreme Joe Mankiewicz’s only musical was Kerr, Grace Kelly or, fresh from co-starring with Marlon Brando in Desiree, the enchanting Simmons.
  18. Elizabeth Taylor, Giant, 1955.
  19. Jean Seberg, St Joan, 1957.     Rejected by George Bernard Shaw when he tried to film his play in 1942 – “not thick enough” (sic) said GBS, in a possible IQ compliment.  Discovered by director Otto Preminger, Seberg said she was perfect: she was Joan’s age, came from a small farming town “and I didn’t want to marry the boy next door, either!”  Tragically,  she did not.
  20. Barbara Rush, Harry Black and the Tiger, 1958.    Another of Stewart Granger’s reunion plans with his ex-lover was stymied when the studio would not release her and he was “lumbered” with an over-talkative  unknown quantity.

  21. Doris Day, Teacher’s Pet, 1958.     The idea one year earlier had been the same Clark Gable but with Deborah. 
  22. Lana Turner, Imitation of Life, 1958.       Dropping plans for a musical rehash (!) of the 1933 weepie, producer Ross Hunter went straight.  And straight to the best soap-opera director Douglas Sirk, Kerr and, inexplicably, Richard Egan. The title perfectly summed up all of Sirk’s soaps.
  23. Joanne Woodward, Rally ’Round The Flag, Boys! 1958.  When the hero was still  Ialian-American, producer  Buddy Adler tried to interest Sinatra into the only Leo McCarey comic fest that simply… festered.  His bait was the classy Kerr playing his wife.  The Voice loved the idea – and kept it for his own production of Marriage on the Rocks  in 1964.
  24. Maureen O’Hara, McLintock! 1962.   A sure fire winner and, therefore, a way for John Wayne pay of to pay back UA’s Alamo loans – get his Batjac library back and still make a flat $25,000 and up to 10% of the profits! So, the leading lady was no contest. Kerr and Susan Hayward were fine, but O’Hara was feisty and always Duke’s favourite. This was the fourth of their five movies.  
  25. Kim Stanley, Seance a Wet Afternoon, 1963.  Bryan Forbes, the UK’s sharpest writer-producer-director at the time, needed a similarly top-notch actress for the publicity-seeking clairvoyant Myra Savage. He certainly  looked in the right  quarters : Deborah Kerr, Simone Signoret, Shelley Winters and ultimately, America’s woefully under-used Kim Stanley.
  26. Ava Gardner, 55 Days At Peking, 1963  Dismayed by the prospect of Ava as a Russian baroness, Charlton Heston asked producer Samuel Bronston to book Kerr. Or Melina Mercouri. Or Jeanne Moreau.  He later reported how Ava’s character was killed off because nobody could put up with her unprofessionalism anymore. Drunk on-set, cursing director, Nichoals Ray,  forever  demanding rewrites and ruining one day’s shoot when an extra photographed her.
  27. Geraldine Page, Dear Heart, 1963.  Robert Mulligan was due to direct Deborah as the spinster finally falling for  someone – Glenn  Ford as a greetings card salesman. Except they became Broadway’s Geraldine Page and Ford, helmed by Delbert Mann.  Beautiful little rom-com.  Total flop.
  28. Eva Marie Saint,The Sandpiper, 1964.    Hey, this was a story of illicit love, so… “The Burtons…! Gotta be the Burtons!”….  So any notion of re-uniting From Here To Eternity ’s Deborah Kerr-Burt Lancaster, much less the fresher union of Kim Novak-Rock Hudson  were shoved aside. And, indeed  it sis the Burtons… in the third of eleven films together. Despite their mystifying lack of on-screen chemistry!Liz looked hot in the long-shot Big Sur beach scenes because of her body-double was… the unknown  Raquel Welch. (Kerr and Lancaster were finally re-harvested by director John Frankenheimer for The Gypsy Moths, 1969).
  29. Julie Christie, Doctor Zhivago, 1964.   
    Rome producer Carlo Ponti secured the rights to Boris Pasternak’s1958 Nobel P rize wining novel, based not only on Russia’s revolution and Stalin’s Great Purge of freedom, but the married writer’s long affair with the poet Olga Ivinskaya.  Ponti signed David Lean to direct Mrs P, Sophia Loren, as Olga. Or Lara by now.  “Too tall,” snapped Lean.  But:  “If anyone can convince me she’ a virgin, I’ll let her play the part.” Her husband kept his  choices – Loren-Newman – for  Lady L, instead. Not the same thing at all!   They then looked at Jane Fonda, not keen on spending nine months in Spain (Rod Steiger was there for a year), Deborah Kerr (“too old”), Sarah Miles (soon to wed Lean’s scenarist, Robert Bolt) and, when MGM was trying to cut costs, the Metro starlet Yvette Mimieux. Fonda changed her mind, but too late (and how she regretted it ever after) because  David Lean called John Ford about the British girl in his Young Cassidy, while everyone else (and soon enough, Lean himself) were entranced by the same girl in Billy Liar… with her Darling Oscar around the corner.  The incandescent Julie Christie! (Billy Liar, himself, Tom Courtenay, became the young  revolutionary  Pasha).

  30. Maureen O’Sullivan, Never Too Late, 1965.     Spencer Tracy was the only thought for Harry. Opposite one of a dozen choices for his wife – pregnant at 50, ho, ho, ho! From Rosalind Russell to Katherine Hepburn (“but I’m too old for  Edith”). Plus Kerr, June Allyson, Lucille Ball, Anne Baxter, Joan Fontaine, Susan Hayward, Eleanor Parker, Ginger Rogers, Ann Sheridan. Ultimately, Warner Bros went with the Broadway hit’s duo: Paul Ford and O’Sullivan..
  31. Anne Bancroft, The Graduate, 1967.     
  32. Coral Browne, The Killing of Sister George, 1968.       Backed away from US director Robert Aldrich’s sexed-up Lesbian drama.  “I just can’t see myself sticking my tongue down Susannah York’s whatever.” 
  33. Jeanne Moreau, Monte Walsh, 1969.  Love, said Marvin, was one  of the most beauteous forms  of life. “I play what I hate. Now I’d like to play what I love.” The three producers were keen on Kerr as his lady – Marvin and director William Fraker flew to Paris and  seduced Moreau.  She loved Marvin, wanted him to to move to Paris. Or, so he said.   She added: “He says more in less words, sometimes no words at all, than any other American actor I’ve ever met.”
  34. Margaret Leighton, The Go-Between, 1970.    The lady’s not for waiting… Director Joseph Losey kept Kerr hanging around so long in her hotel for a decision about her playing Mrs Maudsley that she simply walked away.
  35. Shirley MacLaine, Two Mules for Sister Sara, 1970.    Thirteen years after Heaven Knows Mr Allison, Kerr and Robert Mitchum were asked to make thjs almost Western re-hash of their  lonesome hero and a nun. Only this time the nun was a hooker in an old habit. And habits. Eventually played by Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine. Mitchum and Kerr, friends for life after he caught her swearing at director John Huston, made three more films together.  This one flopped and after the failure of Woman Times Seven and Sweet Charity, it ended Shirley’s A-List career.
  36. Piper Laurie, Tim, Australia, 1979.    For the spinster getting hot for the title lad (an unknown called Mel Gibson), Hollywood actor turned Aussie producer Michael Pate tried them all and struck lucky right after Piper’s Carrie Oscar nomination.
  37. Maggie Smith, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, 1987.     Jack Clayton had been trying to film Brian Moore’s novel for 20 years. And all the time hearing how Deborah, John Huston or Katharine Hepburn were beating him to it.






 Birth year: 1921Death year: 2007Other name: Casting Calls:  37