Born Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer, Sept 26, 1921 in Helensburgh, Scotland, Kerr was a ballet dancer, who had her first significant screen roles under the genius of the British cinema, Michael Powell. She was filmed and cut out of Contraband (1940), but then turned up in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of Life and Death aka Stairway to Heaven) and then most memorably as the lonely and tempest-tossed nun in Black Narcissus (1947). Kerr's air of what Kingsley Amis termed "dignance" was essential to her 46-year long career, epitomized in respectable stuff like Separate Tables. In America, Kerr's hidden torridness was brought out when she played the adulterous Karen in From Here to Eternity, in which she explores a Hawaiian black sand beach with Burt Lancaster. The film earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress of 1953.
It was a comeback after a long stretch at MGM starring in costume dramas and epics. Later, she danced with Yul Brynner in The King and I, had a very sub-rosa affair with a student vaguely accused of unmanliness in Tea and Sympathy (1956): "When you speak of this, and you will speak of this, please--be kind". She held her own in the minor Cary Grant comedy The Grass is Greener, in which Grant and Robert Mitchum are rivals for her affections. In the 1960s, as the studio system frayed and fell apart she had more drastic roles: the proper woman melting in the Mexican heat and humid tropical prose of Tennessee Williams in Night of the Iguana, and a brief topless scene with Lancaster again in The Gypsy Moths (1969), and eventually had a turn as a Bond girl--of sorts--in Casino Royale (1967). Appearing with long-time co-star David Niven, Kerr turned on one of the richest stage-Scots accents ever. In the early 1980s she appeared in several small scale TV productions; because of Parkinson's disease she had not acted since 1986. But she appeared -- as David Thomson reminds us -- on the 1994 Oscars, to get the honorary award to make up for six bridesmaid appearances on the Oscars. Strange, none of the nominations was for perhaps her hardest work in The Innocents (1960). Kerr died Oct 16 at her home in Suffolk. She was 86.