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John Kerr, star of 'Tea and Sympathy,' 'South Pacific,' dies at 81

John Kerr, a Tony winner and the star of the films "Tea and Sympathy" and "South Pacific," died suddenly after a short illness on Feb. 2. He was 81.

Kerr began his acting career on the stage, making his Broadway debut in "Bernardine" in 1953. He won a Tony for his role as a sensitive, effeminate schoolboy in the Robert Anderson play "Tea and Sympathy" and starred with Deborah Kerr (no relation) in the 1956 film version. He played Lt. Joe Cable, who grows beyond the racism he learned as a child, in the 1958 film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "South Pacific."

The actor was also noted for his performance in Vincent Price horror film "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1961) and had a substantial career acting in television. Kerr first appeared on TV in a 1953 episode of "Lux Video Theatre," appeared on "Studio One in Hollywood" and "Playhouse 90" and made guest appearances on shows ranging from "Gunsmoke" to "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour." He recurred as an assistant district attorney on "Arrest and Trial" and as the DA on "Peyton Place."

John Grinham Kerr was born in New York City into a family of actors; his parents were Geoffrey Kerr and June Walker.

He was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard College.

In the late 1960s he sought to become a television director, and though he was mentored by Leo Penn, he soon decided that such work was not for him, and Kerr went to UCLA law school and became a practicing attorney in Beverly Hills. He continued to make occasional appearances on television, however, recurring as a prosecutor on "The Streets of San Francisco."

Kerr was married to Priscilla Smith from 1952-72.

Survivors include second wife Barbara Chu, whom he married in 1979; a son and two daughters by his first marriage; and two stepchildren by his second.

by Anonymousreply 5302/09/2013

"He won a Tony for his role as a sensitive, [childish epithet posted by a bigoted tool] schoolboy in the Robert Anderson play "Tea and Sympathy" and starred with Deborah Kerr (no relation) in the 1956 film version."

What epithet would you prefer? Gay?

Because the character he played in Tea and Sympathy is not intended by the author of that play to be gay. He is thought gay by everyone around him because he is just how the obituary describes him, sensitive.

Now, if you think the play or character is unpersuasive, you can certainly make that argument.

But there is no reason to call the author of the obit bigoted for accurately describing the character as he is written.

by Anonymousreply 102/07/2013

R1? That's an automatic filter that webbie has installed on the site that puts that in there replacing the word e f f e m i n a t e.

I copied and pasted the obit as it was written on the Variety site, and that is how it came out.

One more reason we need to have the preview post functionality returned to this site.

by Anonymousreply 202/07/2013

Aha, gotcha.


by Anonymousreply 302/07/2013

Didn't Debbie feel weird about seducing her real-life son in both the stage and film version of Tea and Sympathy?

But if memory serves me correctly all the sex took place off stage.

by Anonymousreply 402/07/2013

So the Tea and Sympathy guy wasn't gay?

by Anonymousreply 502/07/2013

All it takes is a woman to have sex with a guy and he won't be gay. - "Tea and Sympathy"

by Anonymousreply 602/07/2013

I only saw him in a DVD of "South Pacific" so in my mind, he was still a gorgeous young man.

by Anonymousreply 702/07/2013

It's funny how the melodramatic filter makes it seem as if Variety wrote "He won a Tony for his role as the sensitive, faggot schoolboy in the Robert Anderson play 'Tea and Sympathy'."

by Anonymousreply 802/07/2013

The ef-femin-ate filter is really stupid when there are worse things being flung around DL. It makes you wonder if the webmaster grew up with that accusation.

by Anonymousreply 902/07/2013




by Anonymousreply 1002/07/2013

I kind of like the filter.

by Anonymousreply 1102/07/2013

The play of Tea and Sympathy gives no definite answer to anything - it could be played as him sleeping with a woman to prove to himself he isn't gay, with the older woman doing it out of vanity.

The movie has a framing device where he's at his high school reunion remembering this part of his life, and the audience is knocked over the head with the fact that he got married.

Not a great movie either way - disappointing given that Minnelli directed it.

by Anonymousreply 1202/07/2013

Hate to hear about this. I loved him in SOUTH PACIFIC,

by Anonymousreply 1302/07/2013

Yes, but don't the play and the movie imply that Deborah Kerr's husband, an excessively butch coach who participates in the bullying of John Kerr's character, is himself gay and self-loathing?

by Anonymousreply 1402/07/2013

Shouldn't someone who starred in South Pacific be older?

Guess he was really young. Then again, I've never seen South Pacific.

by Anonymousreply 1502/07/2013

You're right, r12, the ending (in the play, at least) is totally ambiguous in terms of how we're "supposed" to judge it... I wonder if each audience member over the years has sort of filtered it through their own particular feelings and biases... Either "This is nice for both of them" or "She's doing a good thing" or "This is sad for both of them" or "She's sexually abusing him", etc.

by Anonymousreply 1602/07/2013

R4, they aren't related. According to OP's post, John Kerr's mother was June Walker.

by Anonymousreply 1702/07/2013

R15 Excuse me?

by Anonymousreply 1802/07/2013

Did he do his own singing in SP?

by Anonymousreply 1902/07/2013

Vincent Minnelli directed the screen version of Tea & Sympathy, so, no, an effeminate man is NOT a homo.

by Anonymousreply 2002/07/2013

No, r19, he was dubbed by Bill Lee, who also dubbed Christopher Plummer in THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

by Anonymousreply 2102/07/2013

Mitzi Gaynor is still touring in her own show.

by Anonymousreply 2202/07/2013

He pronounced his name as "Cur", right (as opposed to Deborah who pronounced hers "Carr")?

by Anonymousreply 2302/07/2013

Correct, R23.

by Anonymousreply 2402/07/2013

The film version of "South Pacific" came out many years after the original musical.

by Anonymousreply 2502/07/2013

True, R14, that is implied about the coach. Didn't Brando play a similar role in Reflections in a Golden Eye?

by Anonymousreply 2602/07/2013

I found him oddly sexy, sorry to hear of his death.

by Anonymousreply 2702/07/2013

During the mid '60's, he played the district attorney John Fowler on Peyton Place. His wife was in such a dither over her extramarital affair affair with a young and very hot David Canary (and who can blame her) that she went out for a drive and ran down Mia Farrow (and who can blame her).

by Anonymousreply 2802/07/2013

That bare chest, those WWII dog tags and that white bathing suit... what I remember about the "Happy Talk" number in SOUTH PACIFIC.

by Anonymousreply 2902/07/2013

Joan Fontaine and Anthony Perkins would later play the parts on Broadway.

In the play the student was caught skinny dipping with a professor who was rumored to be gay.

In the film the student was caught knitting!

by Anonymousreply 3002/07/2013

I don't know why they did that to my post, there was nothing that should have been censored.


Vincent Minnelli directed the screen version of Tea & Sympathy. So...a feminine man is by no means a homosexual.

(Minnelli was a very feminine "heterosexual" man, or so he told his wives).

by Anonymousreply 3102/07/2013

Looks like someone is interfering with your posts, R31. I bet you offended someone in another thread and they have found you here via trolldar.

Make sure your anti-virus is up to date before you post again.

by Anonymousreply 3202/07/2013

r20 / r31. Your post was automatically edited. I understand your confusion though.

There are a handful of words that DL is set to auto-correct to something else, and the word you used is one of them.

Unfortunately these examples of seemingly arbitrary censorship are not posted or explained anywhere here on DL, so we all only learn about them from others explaining what they know about the history of those words and how the auto-correct for them came to be.

by Anonymousreply 3302/07/2013

John and Mitzi. Photo from 2010.

by Anonymousreply 3402/07/2013

Yeah, I know. But I did not think that the word "e f f e m i n a t e" fell into that category.

by Anonymousreply 3502/07/2013

The framing device used in the Tea and Sympathy movie was required to get go-ahead approval from the Hays/Breen/film production decency office.

by Anonymousreply 3602/07/2013

R31 Is that he told Mary Martin's husband too--with whom he supposedly had an affair before they married Judy and Mary. Poor Judy--at least Mary knew what was what and had her own benefits from the appearance of a heterosexual marriage. You do wonder how they conceived their daughter Heller--though, of course, queer folk do occasionally have sex with the opposite sex and I've read that they both got paticularly tipsy one night--whether it was to give them the lack of inhibitions to be able to do the deed to make a baby, or whether the baby was a result of an alcohol-fuelled experiment, we'll never know.

by Anonymousreply 3702/07/2013

[quote]I don't know why they did that to my post, there was nothing that should have been censored.

"They" didn't do it. It's the webmaster who is calling you a "bigoted tool." The webmaster has banned the word you used. Threads that used that word three or four years ago, now have that words deleted and replaced with an attack against the person who posted it, claiming they're a "bigoted tool."

In view of you, r20, and hundreds of others being bashed as a bigot, I suppose the person bashing you grew up as a much less than masculine child and was deeply hurt by bullies, hence the "childish" in the slam against you.

Could it be that the bullied has now become the gay bashing bully?

by Anonymousreply 3802/07/2013

John Kerr was only 26 when he filmed South Pacific and he was gorgeous!

by Anonymousreply 3902/07/2013

Loved him in South Pacific ~ my favorite musical, so there ~ and I have, as I grow old, been known to burst into a chorus or two of Younger than Springtime...

by Anonymousreply 4002/07/2013

When you speak of him later -- and you will -- please, be kind.

by Anonymousreply 4102/07/2013

R39 So was Miss Mitzi.

by Anonymousreply 4202/07/2013

R38 But for what possible reason is the name R-che-le banned?

by Anonymousreply 4302/07/2013

He still looked good in R34's pic.

by Anonymousreply 4402/07/2013

Damn! I thought he'd died decades ago. Goes to show what I know.

by Anonymousreply 4502/09/2013

I always confused him with John Dall.

by Anonymousreply 4602/09/2013

So why would they drop the skinny dipping scene for a scene where he knits?

by Anonymousreply 4702/09/2013

Loved him in South Pacific - he was soooo beautiful. He apparently didn't have much of an acting career after that & became a successful lawyer in L.A.

My favorite song in the movie is still "Salmon Chanted Evening".

by Anonymousreply 4802/09/2013

R48, it's Sam and Janet Evening. Duh.

by Anonymousreply 4902/09/2013

R23, I thought for years that John Kerr and Deborah Kerr pronounced their names differently too until I heard him say his own name in an interview. He said it as "Carr" just like Deborah. I was very surprised.

by Anonymousreply 5002/09/2013

Tea and Sympathy is depressing as hell.

Love how the dad thinks a folk singer is the worst thing you could be!

by Anonymousreply 5102/09/2013

Only married twice:

by Anonymousreply 5202/09/2013

R37, since Mary Martin was a very active lesbian, a gay husband fit the bill perfectly.

by Anonymousreply 5302/09/2013
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