John Kerr dies — actor was star of stage, film and TV

(LOS ANGELES TIMES) – John Kerr, 81, a stage, film and TV actor who won a Tony Award for his performance in Elia Kazan’s 1953 Broadway production of “Tea and Sympathy” and went on to reprise his role in the 1956 film version, died Saturday of heart failure at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, his son Michael said.

Kerr’s other film roles included the youthful Lt. Cable in the 1958 film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “South Pacific” and the young man investigating his sister’s murder in Roger Corman’s 1961 cult classic “The Pit and the Pendulum,” starring Vincent Price.

But Kerr received his best notices for “Tea and Sympathy,” playing Tom Lee, a sensitive adolescent whom his prep school classmates suspect of having homosexual tendencies and who is comforted by the headmaster’s wife, played by Deborah Kerr. It was the Broadway debut for the actress, who was not related, and she also repeated her role in the movie drama directed by Vincente Minnelli.

John Grinham Kerr was born Nov. 15, 1931, in New York City. His mother was theatrical actress June Walker and his father, Geoffrey Kerr, was a playwright who had also been an actor. His grandfather, Frederick Kerr, also acted on the London stage and in films.

After his parents’ marriage ended, Kerr attended boarding schools and Harvard University, where he began acting while a student. His first Broadway appearance was a starring role in the comedy “Bernardine” in 1952.

He also was a busy television actor during the heyday of live dramatic anthology series in the 1950s. He had a regular part as a district attorney in “Peyton Place” in 1965 and ’66.

In the late 1960s, Kerr tired of acting and decided to make a career change, enrolling at UCLA’s law school. He passed the bar in 1970 and went into private practice as a lawyer, specializing in personal injury defense. He occasionally acted on TV in the 1970s, notably as a district attorney on “The Streets of San Francisco.” He retired a few years ago.

12 comments

    • ru4reel

      Oh god, South Pacific was such a wonderful, beautiful movie !! I'll never forget John Kerr's Lt. Cable singing "Younger than Springtime" to France Nuyen. I've seen the movie so many times, and it still moves and haunts me. John Kerr was so wonderful in that film. And in "Tea and Sympathy". I am so sorry he is gone. RIP.

  • Deborah

    Yes, I remember him as Lt. Gable in S. P. though he did not actually sing the songs–they were dubbed. The only actors to actually sing were Mitzi Gaynor and Ray Walston (sp?). Even the actress who played Bloody Mary on Broadway and in the movie, had her singing dubbed. He was wonderful in the movie,
    so good-looking. Also, recall him in Peyton Place on TV. Saddened to hear of his passing.

    • John Smith

      I remember John Kerr as Tom Lee and Lt. Cable since we can know the man only through the characters he played, He will live in the memories of future generations by virtue of his superlative performances in treasured and life-altering movies. He made the most of his talents throughout his life. I hope he left us with all his ambitions and dreams
      fulfilled.

  • E.E.S.

    As a fourteen year old seeing "South Pacific," I too fell in love with John Kerr as Lt. Joe Cable, and I remember crying and feeling incredibly sad when his character died. Now, all these years later, I am again saddened, this time hearing that John Kerr has passed away.

    • Mollie

      I was out of my teens when I saw "South Pacific" with someone I loved and have never forgotten how much I loved the film and John Kerr,also. Lt. Cable was young and in love,too. I felt badly when I read about his death. Memories came swarming back. I ordered the collectors DVD and can't wait to see and hear John Kerr again and remember how young I was, and how good-looking he was doing Younger than Springtime. Enjoyed reading your comment. I feel the same way

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