Ms. Kerr was a major Hollywood star throughout the 1950s. Blessed with pale skin, lovely, placid features and blonde hair, which she typically wore short and back, she played a series of emotionally cool, well-bred, but kind women. On screen, no one was more ladylike than Deborah Kerr. "I came over here [Hollywood] to act," she said, "but it turned out all I had to do was to be high-minded, long-suffering, white-gloved and decorative."
She was the English governess who tamed the boorish Siamese king in the screen version of The King and I, playing opposite Yul Brynner. Her singing voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon. She was Terry MacKay, the lady who is too dignified and selfless to tell her lover Cary Grant that she had lost the use of her legs in the romantic weeper "An Affair to Remember." Other films included "Edward My Son," "Heaven Knows Mr. Allison," "Separate Tables" and "The Sundowners." She was nominated for Academy Awards six times. She won an honorary Oscar in 1994.
Ironically, the role she is best known for was her most torrid, in "From Here to Eternity," in which she has a clandestine affair with soldier Burt Lancaster. The passionate kiss they share on the beach, while the waves role over them, is one of the most memorable love scenes in film history. The two actors were, in fact, romantically involved during the filming of the movie.
Ms. Kerr was born in Helensburgh, Scotland on Sept. 30, 1921. She was given a strict upbringing, with an emphasis on posture and good manners. She trained as a dancer at her aunt's drama school in Bristol, and soon began making appearances in plays. Her first appearance on the West End stage was as Ellie Dunn in Heartbreak House at the Cambridge Theatre in 1943. She began acting in British films in 1941 and was brought to Hollywood in 1947 after making an impression in the film "Black Narcissus."
She made her Broadway debut in 1953 in Robert Anderson's drama Tea and Sympathy, playing a bullying headmaster's understanding wife, who takes pity on a nonconformist student who is accused of homosexuality. It was Ms. Kerr who, when her character decides to alleviate the boy's doubts by taking him to bed, uttered the famous line, "Years from now when you talk about this — and you will — be kind." Harold Clurman wrote that she was "beautiful to behold as well as gratifyingly warm and simple." Ms. Kerr repeated her performance on film. In 1975, she returned to Broadway in Edward Albee's beachside allegory Seascape, playing one half of a middle-aged couple who encounter two talking lizards on the beach. The play had a short run, but won the Pulitzer Prize.
She was married to Anthony Bartley from 1945 to 1959. They had two children. She married Peter Viertel in 1960. Ms. Kerr retired from films in 1968.