John Kerr, the stage and film actor whose credits included “Tea And Sympathy” and “South Pacific”, has died of heart failure. He was 81 years old.
Kerr was well-known for his role as Tom Robinson Lee, a student suspected of being a homosexual, in the 1953 Broadway production of “Tea And Sympathy”. He later played the character once more for the film version, which was considered very risque in those days and dealt with a topic many would have preferred to sweep under the rug. The film ended with a very famous last line: “Years from now, when you talk about this – and you will – be kind.”
Playwright and screenwriter Bob Anderson once said of the story, “I have always seen the play basically as a love story…Of course the meanings of the play are various, the chief one being that we must understand and respect differences in people. Along with this is the whole concept of what manliness is. I attack the often-fostered notion that a man is only a man if he can carry Vivien Leigh up a winding staircase. I stump for essential manliness which is something internal, and consists of gentleness, consideration, other qualities of that sort, and not just of brute strength.”
The role of Tom Lee gave Kerr a sudden career boost and earned him critical acclaim. He went on to star in over 75 titles, including films and television.
Image: John Kerr’s website