Tribute By Monica Sullivan
No matter when they're actually made, the movie-watching experience is always in the present. How can contemporary audiences help bringing the present with us? We're critters of our time every bit as much as Thomas Edison was a critter of HIS era. So whether we're watching a creaky experiment of the 1890's or the latest theatrical release, we perceive the images as quaint or premonitory by the standards of today rather than yesterday. It shouldn't be, but somehow it IS, rather a shock to realize that a hot young star of-say-1956 is now a 69-year-old man who looks at his former acting career in the same way a veteran stockbroker might view a youthful gig as a nightclub dee jay.
John Kerr created quite a splash on Broadway when he won a 1954 Tony for his work in "Tea and Sympathy" opposite Deborah Kerr & Leif Erickson. He played a troubled, insecure young man who is bullied by Erickson's character & brought out of his sensitive shell by Deborah Kerr. MGM quickly bought the screen rights to "Tea and Sympathy" &, rare for 1956 or even 2001, signed all three stage stars for the Cinemascope movie, directed by Vincente Minnelli. The famous Robert Anderson line, "In years to come, when you think of me, & you will, be kind," is still quoted by people who've never seen the play or film, but who recognize "Tea and Sympathy" as a critical milestone in revealing how men lock themselves & each other into false roles. John Kerr's future as an actor was assured, but in spite of his early fame & his family heritage (his father Geoffrey was also an actor), he did not want to spend his entire life playing troubled, insecure characters. Even so, John Kerr is well remembered today for the many films in which he did star: "Gaby", opposite Leslie Caron & Cedric Hardwicke, "The Cobweb", with Susan Strasberg & Richard Widmark, "South Pacific", co-starring France Nuyen & Ray Walston, "The Vintage" opposite Pier Angeli & Mel Ferrer, "The Crowded Sky" with Rhonda Fleming & Troy Donahue, "Girl Of The Night", co-starring Anne Francis & Lloyd Nolan, "The Pit & The Pendulum", opposite Barbara Steele & Vincent Price & "7 Women From Hell", with Yvonne Craig & Cesar Romero.
More to his taste may have been his co-starring role as a frontier lawyer in Walt Disney's "Elfego Baca" series with young Robert Loggia in the title role. In any event, John Kerr eventually pursued a full-time career as a successful Beverly Hills lawyer. If you ask him about the past, you may well receive an autographed still, along with a politely guarded response. Appreciate John Kerr's perceptive interpretations of fragile misfits of the 1950's & 1960' on celluloid, for they exist no longer: they are light years away from the flesh & blood reality of the 21st century.
© 2001 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 1/17/01
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