By Peter Evans
It sometimes seems to me that beneath the fragile finish of Deborah Kerr there is some unbreakable fibre as yet unknown to man. For Miss Kerr, I have decided after much thought, is a tough lady.
I mean she looks delicate enough, but how else but by being tough could she be so well placed among the last of the great survivors in a business so notoriously cruel on women?
It is all cunningly camouflaged, of course, the toughness. She looks the kind of woman who was born within the sound of bone china and grew up in the well-bred breeze of fluttering lace handkerchiefs.
Consider, for a moment, her record. It is now some 25 years since she made their first picture, “Major Barbara”. Yet at 44 she is still helping to set the pace. Somehow, even now, she makes it look a piece of cake.
Recently she flew into London from her home in Switzerland to take over Miss Kim Novak’s role in ‘The Eye of the Devil” opposite David Niven. Cool, calm and collecting a pretty penny or two for her trouble.
It is a remarkable achievement. She has never had a nervous breakdown, a temperamental blow-up or gone 15 rounds with the champion headshrinkers. It’s true she’s had two husbands but by most super-star standards that is a rare restraint indeed.
Over the years I have probed for the stark of hard ambition beneath the eggshell exterior.
“Well you know, I’ve never believed it’s been necessary to kick and scream to do well.”
“Maybe, maybe, I could have been a bigger star than I am today if I’d been a noisier actress. Maybe I should have made more fuss sometimes.”
All you get from that is more eggshell bellow eggshell. No sign of the hard-boiled yolk.
“I suppose,” she says, and you wonder if you’re coming close to the six-minute egg, ” my one driving force, a long time ago, was ambition. But it was of a rather nonchalant sort.”
Deborah smiles and you think of crisp summer linen and large sun-hats and the sound of lawn-mowers on Sunday mornings. She is so English you’d rush to send a gunboat at her slightest distress.
But damnitall, where is the steel in her make-up?
You just don’t go on and on and on the way she does without, well, a little knife-wielding. Even if it’s a knife from the best silver cutlery.
Deborah, it seems, does.
In a business where it is considered loyal if you stab someone is the back provided you sterilize the weapon first she remains remarkably guiltless.
Today she chooses her films with care. She says: ” I think you must work very hard at first to establish a reputation.”
“But a little while ago I decided I wouldn’t work untill I really felt I had to, or wanted to. It was quite a simple decision really. One day I just asked myself – what the hell am I getting up at 5 a.m. for?”
“Anyway,” she says, ” it IS a rat race. It gets tougher and tougher. How have I survived? It’s hard to analyze myself. I’ve never been calculating. I suppose a lot of actresses think too much about themselves and success. It becomes so obsessive, the whole thing. I have never got to the point where I would do something if it meant losing a chum. I’m just a Girl Scout at heart, I just hate being miserable.”
In her Park Lane suit, she looks positively like the long-distance star she is. She said: “Really, everything I’ve done has been from the heart. It sounds square and pious but, golly, that’s been the basis of my survival kit.”
You must admire her. For she is a woman who has learned the art of not cracking under the strain. An actress who knows that talent is what really fortifies the over-forty stars.