Tribute to a Hollywood mum

By Mark Beaumont – October 26th, 2007: Bury Free Press

Deborah and her grandchildrenShe was a Hollywood legend to many, immortalised after roles in The King and I and her clinch in the surf with Burt Lancaster in From Here To Eternity, but to one Wattisfield woman, Golden Globe Award-winning actress Deborah Kerr was also known as mum.

She had two daughters, Melanie Bartley and Francesca Shrapnel, and spent her last two years living close to Francesca’s Wattisfield home. “I always loved her in The Sundowners with Robert Mitchum. That was a great favourite of hers,” said Francesca. “She was just wonderful. She had already had five Academy nominations and she thought if she was ever to get it, that would be the one, sadly that wasn’t to be.”

Still, the Hollywood star won a Golden Globe for best actress for The King and I in 1957 and was awarded an honorary Academy award in 1994 followed by a CBE in 1998.

“I watched her recently in The Innocents and I think it is just a lovely film,” said Francesca. “There was a kind of stoicism to my mum that that character had. She is extraordinary in that.”

At the height of her career, the actress was so in demand that in one month alone she had the billing on three movies while also appearing on the stage.

Despite her mum’s fame, Francesca said she and her sister led a ‘normal’ and ‘idyllic’ childhood.

“We were incredibly well protected. There were difficult patches, my parents divorced and that is obviously traumatic whoever you are, but she was very clever about keeping our private lives private.”

She didn’t court publicity.

“Occasionally, we would be somewhere and then suddenly there was all this hoo-hah and we would suddenly become aware that we were with this huge star but she was very level headed.”

Francesca is married to actor John Shrapnel, who appeared in Gladiator and Troy. The couple have three sons Joe, who is a screenwriter, Tom, who is a director and Lex, who is an actor.

“She was a huge inspiration to them. I’m hugely proud,” said Francesca.

The star also leaves her second husband, writer Peter Viertel.

A family funeral was held in West Sussex, where the actress grew up.

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