Deborah Kerr likes life without limelight

Beaver Country Times – Mar 20, 1971

New York – From here to eternity Deborah Kerr seethes with motion and emotion – juggling life’s pleasures and problems with equal zest. Probe why she has temporarily ditched the blare-glare of show business and she lets you know she doesn’t need any tea or sympathy: “ I’ve reached The Pinnacle. Now I want to clutch anything that sets me apart from the human race.”

If you do the everyday things most people do, you’re likely to come face to face with still beautiful Deborah Kerr anywhere.

She’s the smashing strawberry blonde sitting next to the black man in head-to-toe grey fox at the Clay-Frazier fight. She’s in the Fifth Avenue stores, complaining to the buyers that, by golly, there isn’t anything wearable in the collections and when are the designers going to control their lust for freak clothes?

She’s the celebrity that the aristocratic Spaniards and jet-sellers will recognize at the April fiesta in Seville. And last week when in London she hopped a No. 73 crowded bus, groping with a splendid array of packages acquired from a shopping spree. It was raining, taxis were scarce and Deborah was “rubbing elbows with life.”

She deftly located the fare in her purse, hung onto a strap and successfully struggled with the juggling parcels. The Cockney conductor, obviously recognizing his famous passenger but not addressing her by name, winked and coolly observed: “ Gettin’ on a bus, eh?”

What pleased the actress was the conductor’s tacit acknowledgement of her famous presence. Honestly, she says, her heart aches for stars like Raquel and Elisabeth because, good God, they never had the joy of buying their own tickets to anything: “ Fame can be a shackle.”

Today the lady is noose free.

As Mrs. Peter Viertel, wife of the novelist, she is at liberty to globe-trot when he does. She co-designed their Swiss chalet in Klosters, near Zurich, along with architect Arnold Thut, whom she describes as a Wagnerian gentleman with wild hair and a fantastic voice. They played very well together. The house, a conversational piece among the rich-and-famous, is doubly dramatic. Half of it is built on the side of a hill. The other half snakes across the top of the hill.

The house, which the fashion magazines are dying to photograph but Deborah says no-for-privacy-sake, is the scene of frequent dinner parties.

One of the Viertel’s best friends is Paris couturier Ungaro, who skis a lot nearby during the winter months. About Ungaro: “A dear boy.” About Ungaro fashions: “ I don’t wear them. I’ve told him I will not make an appearance in something that suggests I’m emerging from a dark African jungle.”

Deborah, who is a fashion plate of placed-down elegance, buys most of her clothes from Grieder’s in Zurich, because she knows the buyer and the buyer knows her tastes. The actress has a “thing” about costume dressing and sputters sporadically about not wearing “peculiar” clothes that shock everyone into a faint.

This isn’t likely to happen.

At the last Viertel party that Ungaro attended, Deborah, the extraordinary hostess, greeted everyone in a dark Kimberly Knit pantsuit. The time before she slipped into a 15-year-old Traina-Norell pantsuit, that one of her three daughters  (ages 18 to 25) had borrowed from her and which Deborah returned to herself.

She’s in the process of buying a mink coat from Maxmillian but it’s a practical purchase and a sale time bargain. Obvious status symbols, like a Gucci bag and a Pucci dress, aren’t Deborah’s idea of heaven: “They are insurance against boredom about the insecure.”

In the next breath she’s twittering about Queen Elizabeth ‘s emeralds and re-enacting the scene of how they met and she curtsied and said: “ Good evening, ma’am.” Deborah’s glance is exaggeratedly wide-eyed and indicates that her eyes nearly fell out of their sockets when she saw the emeralds which are reputed to be as big as robins’ eggs.

Deborah is a happy person. She’ll march all around the mulberry bush to avoid problems. Her husband is always telling her that she’s too easy. His favorite comment is. “ Darling, raise a little hell because people are always walking on you with hobnail boots.”

Just before coming to New York, she had worked with a decorator to get off-beat carpeting for her private bathroom off the master bedroom. It came two inches too wide. She got down on her hands and knees and cut it herself rather than “bitch.”

The actress paints in her spare time and at least one Palm Beach gallery operator has begged her to do a collection of 30 canvases to put up for sale. She’s a Grandma-Moses type, works in oils, painting country scenes. So far she has done about a dozen pieces – with more to come, in between trips.

Deborah Kerr was sent off to boarding school as a teenager – the no-longer-in-existence Northcumberland School in Bristol – and lived miserably. Classmates taunted her because she didn’t joined the gang at recess but went off in a corner to paint by herself. One day the mean ones emptied the grooves of paint and substituted mud. It was her sort of cruel teasing that made her cry a lot.

And yet it was the same deep sensitivity that spurred her on. It was originally tapped and channeled by her favorite aunty, Phyllis Forester, English elocution teacher and radio actress.

Aunty insisted Deborah attend her classes. One memorable day the aunt played a role where she talked animatedly with and imaginary character.” But I SAW the other person in my mind’s eyes,” says Deborah. “ I knew my aunt had sparked my fires.”

In April, when the Viertel’s go to Seville, Deborah will stand on the sidelines while her husband directs a filmed documentary on the 45-year-old star bullfighter, Dominguin, who will make a come back after a decade of retirement.

Deborah has already caught the excitement.

She talks about “stars” being unable to squelch a desire to once again conquer the old heights because, in the final analysis, they know no other life.

Perhaps she is talking about herself.

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