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John Kerr: SOUTH PACIFIC, Love and Racism

John Kerr South Pacific France NuyenJohn Kerr: South Pacific (with France Nuyen) and other post-Tea and Sympathy movies

[See previous post: "John Kerr and Deborah Kerr: Tea and Sympathy."] Curtis Bernhardt's Gaby (1956) was a poorly received remake of Waterloo Bridge, with Kerr and Leslie Caron in the old Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh roles (and even older Douglass Montgomery and Mae Clarke roles). Jeffrey Hayden's The Vintage (1957), with Kerr and Mel Ferrer as Italian brothers, also failed to generate much interest. Pier Angeli played Ferrer's love interest, while the more mature and married Michèle Morgan (shades of Tea and Sympathy) became Kerr's object of desire. (Image: South Pacific John Kerr, France Nuyen.)

Also in the mid-'50s, John Kerr turned down the opportunity to play the young Charles Lindbergh in Billy Wilder's The Spirit of St. Louis (1957) because he didn't "admire the ideals of the hero." Lindbergh had been accused of having Nazi sympathies, but that didn't stop James Stewart – about twice Kerr's age – from making it known that he wanted the role. Stewart was eventually cast as Lindbergh and the $6m-budgeted The Spirit of St. Louis turned out to be one of Warner Bros.' biggest bombs of the late '50s, earning only $2.6m.

Joshua Logan's 1958 film version of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's 1949 Broadway musical South Pacific became a major blockbuster, but that was basically an ensemble piece. Also, John Kerr's plot thread, that of an American soldier whose romance with Pacific Islander France Nuyen is doomed by racism, was secondary to those of Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi. (In the singing sequences, Kerr was dubbed by frequent Disney voice actor Bill Lee. See also: "John Kerr, Mitzi Gaynor in South Pacific" and "John Kerr, Mitzi Gaynor, France Nuyen at 2010 South Pacific screening.")

John Kerr: Movie career over at 30

By the early '60s, John Kerr was getting cast in supporting roles in lesser fare such as Joseph Pevney's The Crowded Sky (1960), toplining fading stars Dana Andrews and Rhonda Fleming, and the B World War II prison camp drama Seven Women from Hell (1961), with Cesar Romero, Patricia Owens, and Denise Darcel. Kerr's last film appearance of note was in Roger Corman's Pit and the Pendulum (1961), starring Vincent Price; in this adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's story, Kerr investigates the suspicious death of his sister (Barbara Steele). Kerr was then 30 years old and his film career was virtually over.

As per the IMDb, John Kerr would be seen in only two other minor feature films, both times in uncredited roles: as a stockbroker in Paul Williams' Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues (1972) and as a hotel bartender in Paul Bogart's Class of '44 (1974).

John Kerr on television

Besides his stage and film work, John Kerr was also featured in dozens of television productions from the early '50s to the mid-'80s. One of Kerr's most notable TV appearances was is the part of another "different" young man, the young Welsh miner in The Corn Is Green (1956), co-starring Eva Le Gallienne as Miss Moffat and with Joan Lorring reprising her 1945 movie role as the flirty Bessie Watty.

In the early days of television, Kerr also played a different type of "different" young man: Jesse James in the "The Capture of Jesse James" episode from the series You Are There. James Dean played Robert Ford.

Additionally, Kerr guested in dozens of TV series, and had recurring roles in Arrest and Trial, Peyton Place, The F.B.I., and The Streets of San Francisco.

Following a stint directing and producing stage productions, and June Walker's death in 1966, Kerr decided to switch careers. He studied Law at UCLA, going into private practice in the '70s. According to the IMDb, John Kerr's last appearance in front of the camera was a bit as a reporter in the TV movie This Park Is Mine (1986), starring Tommy Lee Jones.

Reminiscence by John Kerr

At first, John Kerr reportedly wanted to become a writer; acting was a way to make some money. A few years ago, he wrote a brief (and highly readable) essay, "Reminiscence by John Kerr," in which he recalls his distant relationship with his parents. Curiously, Kerr, like Tea and Sympathy's Tom Lee, also went to a New England prep school. "Reminiscence by John Kerr" can be found here.

Also worth checking out is a Tea and Sympathy essay found at altscreen.com.

South Pacific John Kerr, France Nuyen photo: 20th Century Fox.

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2 Comments to John Kerr: SOUTH PACIFIC, Love and Racism

  1. altfilmguide

    This article is a follow-up to two previous pieces on John Kerr. (See first line, top paragraph.) That's why the focus is on his career.

    Now, this is mere speculation, but one possibility John Kerr's film career ended so soon was that apart from "South Pacific" (and perhaps the low-budget "Pit and the Pendulum") his films didn't perform all that well at the box office. He turned to TV and local theater in the '60s, and later in the decade switched careers altogether.

  2. Lori1

    I thought this would be an article about the racial themes in South Pacific but turned into a piece about John Kerr's career. I think you could have delved into those themes more and how it relates in today's world.

    The racial themes in South Pacific are relevant. Just took me for a loop but it was good reading about Kerr because I didn't know his career ended so soon. Wonder why? Was it that Hollywood wasn't interested or he wasn't good enough, bad agent, ticked off the studios? I'd like to know.


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