By Deborah Kerr (as told to Dick Richards) – Picturegoer, Sept. 22nd 1956
If anyone believes that love and marriage have no special significance or lasting influence on a person’s life and is seeking an argument, then I’m hotly in favour of having one! For, without the love and security – spiritual, not material-that has come from my eleven-year marriage to Tony Bartley, there would be no Deborah Kerr. Or, at least, she would be a very different and incomplete Deborah Kerr. She would certainly not be as pleasant and understanding a person as I hope she is now. Even more certainly, she would not be as good an actress as the critics and picturegoers have been kind enough to acclaim her.
A new life began for me the day I met Tony. No, wait a minute, that’s not quite true. It began earlier, when I was nineteen. I was starry-eyed and hopelessly, dreamily in love. So you can imagine how I felt when a friend casually mentioned that the young man had just married another girl. Nineteen-and jilted! This, of course, was the end. With my heart broken, I pondered on what I wanted from love.
Whenever a man and I seemed to be developing a mutual interest in each other I soft-pedalled and measured him by the standards that I had begun to set for my husband-to-be, It was five years before I found the man.
I was entertaining the troops in Brussels and Tony was there in the R.A.F. He casually put the question: “Shall I look you up sometime?” “Why not?” I replied.
We met in London, talked a great deal and wrote many letters to each other. Then he was posted to Australia. He cabled me in Ireland, asking me to marry him. “Yes. When?” I replied. I was as sure as all that. ” Yes. When?” were the wisest words I have ever written. Our romance was based on reality and complete honesty, not a swift, surging passion. Of course, sex is important, but it cannot be all.
To my mind a real capacity for love is based on sympathy and compassion rather than on purely physical attractions. Tony saw that, apart from a pretty face and an attractive figure, I could be fundamentally an attractive woman at heart. It gave me a glowing confidence that I’d never had before.
In my restricted home life I was treated with affection and scrupulous fairness. But I was certainly not spoiled. I was shown that I was not the only pebble on the beach.
The Turning Point
I remember, despite this happy home life, that I always had the feeling of being alone. And this bred a shyness in me that carried on even into womanhood. People may not now believe it, but I am still fundamentally a shy, introspective person. Tony has helped me to conquer that. He has such an infinite capacity for getting on with people, even strangers, that some of this capacity was bound to rub off on me. Yes, marriage brought me an inner self-confidence that was to prove the turning point of my screen career. I had begun to doubt my abilities both as a woman and as an actress.
It all boiled down to a lack of self-confidence. In Hollywood I got a number of very dull roles … The Hucksters, If Winter Comes and so on. Dull, ladylike, precise, cardboard. They earn me the label, ” Deborah Kerr, lady.”
People associated me with my roles. I knew that my I performances were not good as as thought. I was failing as actress. My worry was reflected in my private life.
It was then that Tony proved on what a rock our marriage built. He rallied me out of black moods, boosted my morale. Yet still people seemed to find it difficult because I was a “lady” to believe that I was also very much a woman.
That is why I enjoy playing emotionally suppressed women, For I have been one-and so have most women at some time or other.
Such women are real and vital and so are their problems. That was why I enjoyed Edward, my Son, in which played the dipsomaniac wife. She was a woman with a problem, not just an artificial doll. The result? I was nonminated for an Academy Award.
But, apart from that, Hollywood was determined that prim British lady should remain that way for ever and ever. I had to compete with lions in Quo Vadis and an assorted selection of fauna and flora in King Solomon’s Mines.
But I really did begin to get fed up when I was cast in the colourless, more or less supporting role of Katharine Parr -Jean Simmons’s stepmother – in Young Bess.
Tony helped me to retain a sense of humour and a feeling of optimism. It was all justified when I met Burt Allenberg, who has always had confidence in and who is my agent.
You know the rest, of course. How he asked me would consider playing Karen in From Here To Eternity… I was flabbergasted. “But I’m Deborah Kerr,” I smiled. “I’m not allowed to let my hair down and have affairs in my pictures.” Burt winked and said; “They’ll find out!”
Do you know, as soon as I made “From Here To Eternity ” I was considered sexy? They found out that I had had legs and was capable of making convincing and exciting love on the screen. “Fancy Deborah Kerr letting her hair down!” they said, with raised eyebrows. They were forgetting that at last I was playing a real woman, with real emotions.
Of course, there were the usual foolish people incapable of separating reality from fantasy. The ones who tagged me an iceberg were now quick to decide that I must be very much the reverse! Why don’t they realize that there is something of both in every normal woman?
It seems to me to be so very stupid to try and put women into categories and label them like flower-seed packets-” Cool,” “Motherly,” Frigid,” Sexy,” Bluestocking” and the like. Most women are a bit of everything, wrapped up in a packet!
Anyway, i am glad that my marriage to Tony has worked out so well. He and our two little daughters have helped to make me a complete person and I believe that only a complete person can ever be a nearly complete actress.