Out of all the actresses in all the world, I aspire to be like Deborah Kerr. Sure, I'd love to sashay like Marilyn Monroe, hang loose like Ava Gardner or let 'em have it like Barbara Stanwyck, but Deborah Kerr inspires me to be a better woman, wife and person. I want to be Deborah Kerr when I grow up.
Kerr possesses an understanding of human frailty and weakness that no other actress, save Lillian Gish, could ever muster. From Hannah Jelkes coaxing the mental demons out of Richard Burton's tarnished Priest in Night of the Iguana to Terry McKay's noble disappearance from Cary Grant's life in An Affair to Remember, Kerr's characters always know how to handle life's uncertainties, imbalances, distraught relationships and lovers.
In my heart I know that I possess a similar understanding of human frailty and weakness, but I am a verbal clam. I am a feeler and not much of a thinker. If a friend pours their heart out to me, I will sit there silently, listening to every word, feeling so deeply for their problems, wishing I could help, but I never have anything helpful to say. I can't articulate my feelings verbally or apply them to their problems in any meaningful way. It is the greatest struggle of my life, one that makes me shake with rage and disappointment in myself, especially considering how often I am in the midst of such situations.
Deborah Kerr never has that problem. She is always in the middle of the deepest emotions, the most sincere melodrama, and she always has an answer for everything. Kerr makes it look easy. Even if someone flies off the handle and acts like a cruel bastard, such as Burton's character in Night of the Iguana or her husband, Bill, in Tea and Sympathy, she never takes it personally and always finds a way to reason and relate to the troubled souls. If her husband violently punched walls or consistently waxed poetic on his inevitable suicide, she would know exactly what to say and how to help. Deborah Kerr is not only noble and eloquent, she is also flat out incapable of apathy and viciousness. It's another reason I admire her so much.
However, we all have our limits. Instead of emotionally exploding, going into hysterics or even having a tizzy, Kerr's characters simply walk away when the time is right or she's had enough. After David Niven says possibly the cruelest thing a man can ever say to a woman at the end of Bonjour Tristesse, she doesn't confront him. Kerr gets in her car and has an “accident” that doesn't even occur onscreen. No muss, no fuss. No tears, no tissues. It takes a lot of strength to walk away, even more to have an “accident,” which makes the fact that she is almost always leaving or has already left the narrative at the end of her films all the more commendable.
I doubt that I'll ever reach Deborah Kerr's level of dignity and verbal distinction, but she makes me want to keep trying. I'll always be grateful for that.