Monday, February 11, 2013

Remembering John Kerr

Actor John Kerr dies. It was a pleasure to intervew him for ICONS Radio Hour.
Obituary LA Times.

Remembering John Kerr:
A sensitive, boy-next-door leading man of American films and television in the 1950s and 60s, John Kerr (who was the son of actors) made a big splash in the Broadway (1953) and film (1956) versions of "Tea and Sympathy". His best known TV roles were as lawyers, a profession he opted to pursue in 1970, retiring from acting except for occasional appearances.

John Kerr's first appearance was as the son of Ruth Chatterton in "Tomorrow and Tomorrow" at Cape Playhouse in 1940. Kerr was educated at Phillips Exeter, and Harvard. During summers, Kerr became a junior fixture at Cape Playhouse, and appeared with the late Gertrude Lawrence in "O Mistress Mine" and "September Tide." Kerr entered Harvard in 1948 and he was a member of the Brattle Theatre Company. Kerr played in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", "Twelfth Night" and in Christopher Fry's "A Sleep of Prisoners."

Kerr made his Broadway debut just months after his 1952 graduation from Harvard in "Bernadine". The following year, he created what is perhaps his most memorable role, Tom, the prep school lad whom his classmates believe to be a homosexual and who is eventually bedded by the schoolmaster's wife "to save him" from such a life. Kerr earned a Best Supporting Tony for his work and was whisked to Hollywood. He made his feature debut playing a suicidal patient in a mental institution in Vicente Minnelli’s "The Cobweb" (1955). In "Gaby" (1956), he played a World War II soldier having an affair with Leslie Caron. That same year, he co-starred opposite Deborah Kerr in the film version of "Tea and Sympathy". Two years later, Kerr was the doomed Lt. Cable romantically paired with island girl France Nuyen in the musical "South Pacific". After these high profile features, he found himself by 1961 in the more modestly budgeted (to say the least) version of "The Pit and the Pendulum", produced by Roger Corman and co-starring Vincent Price. Kerr's film career effectively ended that year, although he played a few bit roles in features after receiving his law degree.

Throughout the years John Kerr has appeared in numerous television roles. Kerr had begun on the small screen in 1953, guest-starring on an episode of "Summer Studio One" (CBS). Throughout the 50s and into the 60s, he continued to appear in productions. He finally hooked onto a regular series with "Arrest and Trial" (ABC, 1963-64), a show that now appears to be a prototype for "Law & Order", splitting the action between the cops and the prosecutors, one of whom Kerr played. He again played a district attorney on "Peyton Place" (ABC), where his character was prosecuting Rodney Harrington (Ryan O'Neal) for murder. Since passing the California bar in 1970, Kerr has acted only occasionally.

He was in the TV-movie Western "Yuma" (ABC, 1971) and from time-to-time appeared on episodes of "The Streets of San Francisco" as a detective in one or two scenes. By the 80s, he was rarely seen, although one could catch him as a ferry captain in "Bay Coven" (NBC, 1987).