Sunday, February 10, 2013

Farewell, Lieutenant Cable

One of the things that disturbs me about reading news on the internet is the speed with which certain stories vanish. Oh, they're still out there, but the listings of the various stories on the news services change very quickly on a busy news day. If you don't happen to catch a headline when it appears, it may soon be gone. Sometimes, it takes awhile to catch up with a story, or to even find a story you didn't have time to read when it was first listed. This morning, while catching up with the New York Times, I found one of those stories that got by me.

The actor John Kerr has passed away. He was once a fairly well known name on Broadway, winning the 1954 Tony award for his performance in Robert Anderson's then daring play "Tea and Sympathy". It was a florid little pot boiler which co-starred Deborah Kerr (no relation). They both reprised their roles in the movie version. 

Due to the censorship restrictions of the time, the script of the movie suffered a bit. On stage John Kerr's character, 17 year old student Tom Lee, was tormented by classmates who found him less than manly. He knew how to sew. He read books. He liked classical music. Somewhere between Broadway and the MGM sound-stage, he changed from being a suspected homosexual to being a suspected "sister boy". Etc. At the play's conclusion,  older woman Deborah Kerr helps the young man's opinion of himself by starting to unbutton her blouse while uttering the now famous line, "When you speak of this in future years - and you will, be kind". Curtain.

(Just as a by the by, in the movie version there is no doubt about the outcome of that final stage scene as a framing device was used to tell the story in flashback.) 

John Kerr then took on the role of Lieutenant Cable in the movie version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein WWII musical "South Pacific". Cable falls in love with an Island girl, but refuses to marry her due to the racial prejudices of his family. It is the Lieutenant who, full of self loathing, sings the message song of the show:

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!            

Mr. Kerr was offered the starring role in a major biopic of Charles Lindbergh. Stating, “I don’t admire the ideals of the hero,” (who had been a Nazi sympathizer) he turned it down. It affected his career. He still got occasional roles in B movie fodder like the 1961 Roger Corman drive-in epic "The Pit and the Pendulum". He turned up on tv from time to time as a guest star, and played a recurring role for a season on the mid 1960's soap opera "Peyton Place". He took up the study of law and was admitted to the bar in California in 1970. While practicing law he accepted occasional acting jobs on stage and tv. His last appearance as an actor was in 1986. He passed on February the 2nd, at the age of 81. 

Rest in Peace, sir.
Rest in Peace.


Anonymous said...

An actor with morals.....I hope somebody wrote that down somewhere.

sdt (a.k.a. stevil) said...

Not only did he have morals, but the two major roles he picked both fought against prejudice.