WCW: Deborah Kerr


At the peak of her film career, Deborah Kerr was featured in some of the biggest, flashiest frock flicks of the 1950s. While not the most historically accurate, these movies made a huge impact and are genuinely good entertainment! Kerr’s theater training and personal elegance added to every role, so she’s worth remembering this Wednesday.




Gulielma in Courageous Mr. Penn aka Penn of Pennsylvania (1942)

Deborah Kerr - Courageous Mr. Penn aka Penn of Pennsylvania (1942)

She plays the first wife of William Penn, founding father of the Pennsylvania colony. Pretty glam for a Quaker miss!



Lygia in Quo Vadis (1951)

Deborah Kerr - Quo Vadis (1951)

Ah yes, the 1950s sword & sandals era! When Ancient Rome was blinged out & painted up — which is a lot better than the pale nubby linen style later frock flicks go for.

Deborah Kerr - Quo Vadis (1951)

This was the most expensive film ever made at the time & earned MGM a ton of that money back.

Deborah Kerr - Quo Vadis (1951)

According to Wikipedia, Quo Vadis holds the record for the most costumes used in one movie at 32,000.



Princess Flavia in The Prisoner of Zenda (1952)

Deborah Kerr - The Prisoner of Zenda (1952)

Nominally set in 1897, with costumes by Walter Plunkett.

The Prisoner of Zenda (1952)

Questionable fabric choices, but attempting period lines.

The Prisoner of Zenda (1952)

Lots of bright technicolor glory!



Portia in Julius Caesar (1953)

Deborah Kerr - Julius Caesar (1953)

This epic version of Shakespeare’s play was filmed in black & white, so there’s only a few color promo shots showing the costumes.

Deborah Kerr - Julius Caesar (1953)



Catherine Parr in Young Bess (1953)

Deborah Kerr plays Henry VIII’s widow who finally gets to marry her first love — and then her step-daughter Elizabeth has the hots for him.

Deborah Kerr as Catherine Parr in Young Bess (1953)

William Plunkett designed the Tudor costumes, & sure, they have ’50s lines, but they aren’t too bad otherwise.


Anna Leonowens in The King and I (1956)

Deborah Kerr, The King and I (1956)

Everyone loves this musical! (Except me, even tho’ I am a huge fan of musicals in general!)

Deborah Kerr, The King and I (1956)

Kerr looks great in costumes designed by Irene Sharaff, who won an Oscar for this movie.

1956 The King and I

Kerr didn’t sing, however — Marni Nixon dubbed the songs (Nixon also did My Fair Lady).



Sheilah Graham in Beloved Infidel (1959)

Deborah Kerr - Beloved Infidel (1959)

Set in the 1930s, Kerr plays a gossip columnist who has an affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald (Gregory Peck) towards the end of his life.

Deborah Kerr - Beloved Infidel (1959)

Looks more 1950s than 1930s to me.



Ida Carmody in The Sundowners (1960)

Deborah Kerr - The Sundowners (1960)

Supposedly set in rural Australia during the 1920s. Cute roo!


Miss Giddens in The Innocents (1961)

Deborah Kerr - The Innocents (1961)

Psychological horror film set in Victorian England.

Deborah Kerr - The Innocents (1961)

Deborah Kerr plays a governess.

Deborah Kerr - The Innocents (1961)

I love a good ol’ walking-around-in-a-white-nightdress scene!



What’s your favorite of Deborah Kerr’s historical costume movie roles?

25 Responses

  1. Constance

    Nothing much done in her era looks historical to me…but will watch some of these…

  2. florenceandtheai

    Yaaay! I’m so glad she warranted a WCW – I’ve enjoyed her whenever I’ve seen her. She IS elegance. Like, look up “elegance” in the OED and you’ll see a picture of Deborah Kerr.

    • hsc

      It actually is a publicity still from BELOVED INFIDEL, but it’s been cropped (by whoever posted it to the source where it was found) to eliminate Deborah Kerr from the right of the image, for some reason.

      The remaining actors shown are supporting actors Herbert Rudley and Karin Booth.

      Kerr’s clothing and hairstyles in this aren’t even vaguely 1930s, as would have been apparent from the uncropped version of that still.

      Still, I enjoyed the WCW post on Deborah Kerr!

  3. Michael McQuown

    The Sundowners; I felt that there was more heart in that story than some. But the nice Scottish lassie was always memorable. Interesting: three celebrities named Kerr, but each pronounced it differently: Deborah Car, John Cur, and Graham Care.

  4. Roxana

    Quo Vadis put a redhead in Pink??? What were they thinking!!!!
    I know redheads can wear some shades of pink but the image isn’t showing one of them!

  5. M.E. Lawrence

    My whole family, at least the female members, loved Deborah Kerr, especially when she got to cut loose on screen. (The governess in “The Innocents” is pretty neurotic.) She once said that she “came over here [Hollywood] to act, but it turned out all I had to do was to be high-minded, long suffering, white-gloved and decorative.”

  6. Alys

    Looking at the still from The King and I, I think we need a MCM for Yul Brynner

  7. Lily Lotus Rose

    I pretty much LOVE all the costumes pictured here. Deborah Kerr was one of the greats. As a gothic fan, I’ve gotta track down The Innocents. Also, I second the motion for a Yul Brynner MCM!!

  8. Mary

    That first dress from The King and I: I’m trying to imagine the yardage required for the skirt. And I third the motion for Yul Brynner!

    • JLou

      Math/costume geek alert!

      Mary — as an occasional Civil War reenactor, I can give you a quick and dirty estimate of the skirt size. Ms. Kerr is listed on IMDB as a being 5’6″ tall (the same as me!), and in the photo with the green-striped dress, the skirt is roughly the same width as her height. Diameter times pi, the magic of math, and the skirt would be a bit over 17 feet or nearly six yards around. However, to achieve that lovely drape, you would need to make the skirt about seven yards wide. If you had 45 inch wide fabric, you’d need six widths of about 45 inches in length, or 7.5 yards of skirt fabric. Add another couple of yards for the bodice and sleeves. And then a couple of petticoats, a gigantic hoop….

    • Ms. Heather Ripley

      Fourth for Yul, pretty pleeze! Always delightful and elegant, thanks for the WCW on dear Deborah.

  9. Jose

    Fun fact One you forgot is Edward My Son who has most of it’s Story through the 1910’s to the 1930’s and was originally to star Greer Garson just like Young Bess

    • Trystan L. Bass

      The description didn’t have a date other than ‘son died in WWII,’ so contemporary with the film, & all of the costumes in IMDB’s pix looked modern.

  10. Jose

    Actually I’m pretty sure she made some other historical flicks later in life like A Woman of Substance

  11. Badger

    Just because it’s such a wonderful ghost story, I’m voting for The Innocents.