Deborah Kerr (1921-2007)
- 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.
- Paulette Goddard, The Unconquered, 1947. Money! Goddard's agent asked $100,000, then settled for... the $72,000 requested by Kerr. But Deborah refused to bargain and that was totally against director Cecil B DeMille's credo: "Cut the price in half, then argue like hell."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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
- 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.
- Elizabeth Taylor, Giant, 1955.
- 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.
- 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.
- Doris Day, Teacher’s Pet, 1958. The idea one year earlier had been the same Clark Gable but withDeborah
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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 was right. Before his heart attack,director Nicholas Ray gave most of Ava's lines to Paul Lukas.
- Eva Marie Saint, The Sandpiper, 1965. Before the Burtons were in everything, helmer Vincente Minnelli mused upon the From Here To Adultery duo, Deborah and Burt Lancaster - finally re-harvested by director John Frankenheimer for The Gypsy Moths, 1969.
- Julie Christie, Dr. Zhivago, 1965. Before director David Lean went younger...
- Anne Bancroft, The Graduate, 1967. On producer Lawrence Turman’s handwritten wish list of a dozen stars(Ingrid, Ava to Lana, Shelley) for Mrs Robinson. “We didn’t offer it to anyone else except Annie,” declared Mike Nichols. “Everyone cautioned her to turn it down. How can you go from the saintly Annie Sullivan [in The Miracle Worker, 1962] to the Medusa-like Mrs. Robinson? Too risky.”
- 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."
- 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.”
- 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.
- Shirley MacLaine, Two Mules for Sister Sara, 1970. Budd Boetticher scripted the gentle sunset Western for Robert Mitchum... and Kerras a Mexican nobility escaping the revolutiondisguised as a nun, and not the Albert Maltz re-written hooker.She had been a nun opposite Mitchumin their finest hour,Heaven Knows, Mr Allison, 1956.
- 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.
- 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.