by JAYCEE MICHAEL
A kind contribution of Lisa — cuckoo4kitties
After 30 years in the motion picture business and a roster of films to fill up more than a month’s late night shows, Deborah Kerr’s name is still box-office lure. She has just finished co-starring with Burt Lancaster in “The Gypsy Moths,” and with Kirk Douglas in “The Arrangement.”
When we asked Deborah what the secret of her incredible success was she replied: “I’ve never faked it. If you are a good worker and sincere with the audience, people realize this quality.” She added: “I’ll be truthful, as well. I’ve a secret to tell you…
I looked up. She smiled, and said: “I love to act.” She continued: “I think that I haven’t made many
errors either. Oh, I’ve done films out of friendship for friends like David Niven because its so much fun working with David.
“I’ve been lucky. There were always more actresses than actors vying for the top roles. I must say, the men have always been more durable in this business. Look at Burt Lancaster, or James Stewart, or John Wayne. Some of the actresses in their first films are already forgotten. I think that the reason is, that a man is more attractive at 55 than 35.”
Then Deborah looked across the room lovingly to her husband, writer Peter Viertel, a steel-haired, handsome, Germanic looking man in his early 50’s.
The Viertel’s live in a romantic fairy-tale of a house set in a discreet woods just above the ski resort of Klosters in eastern Switzerland. The house is furnished in rustic style, with much of the furniture in natural color wood and an abundance of flowers everywhere.
In the summer, they splash about their own swimming pool, and the winter finds them at the nearby snow sports for which Klosters is famous. Deborah commutes to Hollywood for film assignments. It is a fun-life.
Deborah and Peter met about 12 years ago on the film “The Journey,” which she made with Yul Brynner.
Peter had written the script.
Deborah remembered: “I had been divorced and I was lonely. Peter was also divorced-and lonely. We found that we had a lot to talk about, and one thing led to another.”
She commented: “I adore being married to a writer, because unlike most working husbands, he is home a great deal. That 9-to-5 job has ruined many a marriage. The wife hardly ever sees her husband during the day, and in the evening he may well be too tired to be much fun. Peter and I have a terribly close companionship. I believe that if you’re not spending time together, you grow apart. Of course, there’s also the alternative that you may get on one another’s nerves.”
Deborah has two daughters by her former marriage to a pilot. They are Melanie, age 22, who does sociological research in an English university, and Francesca, 18, who is spending the year studying additional courses at the University of London. Francesca plans on entering drama school next year.
Deborah added: “Francesca’s not interested in becoming an actress. She prefers to go into scenic design since she paints very well.”
She has a third daughter-Christine, 17, who is Peter’s child by his first marriage. Christine is studying at the University of Arizona.
So many of today’s young actresses, like Julie Christie and Hayley Mills, aren’t interested in marrying their boyfriends. Some, like Vanessa Redgrave, have children out of wedlock. What does Deborah think of the mores of this new generation of British actresses?
“I can understand that there is no need for marriage if you have no obligations. But, I think that it is better really if you are having chil-dren because there is still a great deal of social stigmatism attached to the unwed mother not to think of the child,” she said.
What does Deborah think of the current fad for cinema nudity? “Why are we prudish anyway about our bodies? The cinema has reached a point of realism where you can’t pretend that two people go to bed with their clothes on, certainly. A `nude scene’ may add realism to a decent film. In `The Graduate,’ it was tastefully handled. In `The Arrangement’ Kazan directed a scene which I have in bed with Kirk Douglas in such a way that the audience is not faced with direct nakedness, the shock of which could cause a giggle,” Deborah explained.
Then she continued: “But the cinema only reflects the changing attitudes of the world in general, and especially the younger generation.
Since I have three daughters, I am vitally interested in what is going on in that world. I think that young people, by their protests and challenges have brought the older generation face to face with its conscience. How-ever, these youngsters have a danger to overcome. That is negativism -negativism reflected by an inertia, drug taking and such that defeats their ideals.”
This past year was the first in several years that Deborah returned to Hollywood. But the Hollywood she found was a far cry from the tinseled Louis B. Mayer movie world she knew just after the second world war and during the early 50’s.
She explained: “The atmosphere has changed. I don’t feel as at ease as I used to there. Mind You, I enjoyed those years in America. Hollywood was bubbling with interest and success then. Now everything is deflated. The dressing rooms are shabby and dirty at M-G-M and the place has a loser kind of feeling about it.”
She explained: “Television has had a lot to do with it. It has blunted the public appetite for movies. Yet, the films are still a fabulous medium of expression. The cinema will never die. It’s become more a means of individual expression, rather than a factory catering to a mass need for entertainment.
“I think that this is also good for me because I am interpretive by nature, rather than initially creative, and I can work so much better with a good director,” she added.
Deborah and Peter have lived in Switzerland since their marriage in the mid-fifties. Like Audrey Hepburn, Liz Taylor, David Niven, Yul Brynner and other stars who have settled in the lush valleys and panoramic mountains of this beautiful country, they have found a good life.
Despite the fact that they were for many years together at Metro and both Swiss residents, Deborah did not get to know Liz Taylor until they made “Night Of The Iguana” together.
She had this to say about Liz: “No one is worth a million dollars a film today-except Elizabeth. She’s such a flamboyant, lush person.- And, she’s marvelously funny besides. What I admire about her is her tremendous loyalty. She fights like a cat to defend her friends in ordinary conversation.”
Deborah stood up and walked over to the window, where the sun had just receded behind a mountain peak so that a clear blue light covered the valley. She said.
“Most of us who have Swiss homes are really English. The less competitive pace suits us here, when we are not making films. Anyhow, if we were living- in Hollywood, we couldn’t save a few pennies for our old age. Although she is 48, Deborah looks at least 10 years younger. How does she do it, I asked her?
She smiled: “I walk a lot in this good air … exercise. If I get a bit of energy I lie on the floor and do sit-ups. And, I do a lot of swimming.”
What would Deborah advise an actress wanting to break into films today?
She looked at me seriously, with a slight frown beneath her immaculately back-swept blonde hair and said: “To be successful as an actress, you must want it more than anything else in the world. How well I remember my early years. Although I was born in Scotland, I had gone to Bristol, England to study with my aunt who had a drama school there.”
She stopped and smiled: “Oddly epough I Rot a scholarship for the Sadler Wells Ballet School. I wasn’t a bad dancer. But, I knew that I wanted to be an actress. So, I went into repertory in a provincial theatre, and it was from there that I was offered a film contract.”
And, if you hadn’t become a film star, I asked?
She sighed: “Perhaps I might have become another Margot Fonteyn.” Looking at Miss Kerr, I thought of that very first M-G-M slogan by which her name was identified: “Rhymes with star.” I have a feeling that no matter what she became, she was born to succeed.
Deborah stars in Warner’s The Arrangement.