John Kerr (actor)

John Grinham Kerr (November 15, 1931  February 2, 2013), was an American actor and lawyer.

John Kerr
Kerr in 1957
John Grinham Kerr

(1931-11-15)November 15, 1931
DiedFebruary 2, 2013(2013-02-02) (aged 81)
Alma materHarvard University
UCLA Law School
OccupationActor and lawyer
Years active19531992
Spouse(s)Priscilla Smith (1952-1972; divorced); 3 children
Barbara Chu (1979-2013; his death); 2 step-children

Early life

Kerr's parents, British-born Geoffrey Kerr and American-born June Walker, were both stage and film actors,[1] and his grandfather was Frederick Kerr, a British trans-Atlantic character actor [2] in the period 18801930; Kerr developed an early interest in following in their footsteps.

He grew up in the New York City area, and went to Phillips Exeter Academy in New England;[2] after graduating from Harvard,[3] he worked at the nearby Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts and in summer stock.[4] For some time he pursued graduate studies in the Russian (now Harriman) Institute of Columbia University.

Stage career

He made his Broadway debut in 1953 in Mary Coyle Chase's Bernardine, a high-school comedy for which he won a Theatre World Award.[5] In 1953-54, he received critical acclaim as a troubled prep school student in Robert Anderson's play Tea and Sympathy. In 1954, he won a Tony Award for his performance,[5] and he starred in the film version in 1956.[6]

Film and television career

Kerr's first television acting role was in 1954 on NBC's Justice as a basketball player who believes that gamblers have ruined his success on the court. His mother appeared with him on the series, which focuses on the cases of attorneys with the Legal Aid Society of New York.[7]

He made The Cobweb for MGM, who liked his work so much they co-starred him with Leslie Caron in Gaby (1956), the third remake of Waterloo Bridge, which, in its original pre-Code 1931 version, featured John's grandfather, actor Frederick Kerr.[8]

Kerr starred with Deborah Kerr (no relation) in Tea and Sympathy in 1956.[9][6]

In a widely publicized decision in 1956, Kerr declined to play the role of Charles Lindbergh in The Spirit of St. Louis because he did not respect Lindbergh's early support of the Nazi regime in Germany prior to America's entry into World War II. "I don't admire the ideals of the hero", Mr. Kerr told The New York Post. The part went to James Stewart.[1]

Kerr had a major role in the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific (1958), playing Lt. Joe Cable, the newly arrived marine about to be sent on a dangerous spy mission. In The Crowded Sky (1960), Kerr played a pilot who helps the Captain (Dana Andrews) steer a crippled airliner back to earth. Another film appearance was in Roger Corman's The Pit and the Pendulum (1961). In 1963, Kerr had a continuing role on Arrest and Trial, playing Assistant DA Barry Pine.

During the 1960s, Kerr guest starred on several TV series including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Rawhide, Gunsmoke and Adam-12. He had a regular role on the ABC-TV primetime TV series, Peyton Place, playing District Attorney John Fowler during the 1965-66 season. Also in 1964-65 he appeared as guest star on several episodes of Twelve O'Clock High.

In the 1970s, Kerr had a recurring role as prosecutor Gerald O'Brien on The Streets of San Francisco[4][10] and he made guest appearances in several other TV programs including The Mod Squad, Columbo, McMillan and Wife, Barnaby Jones and The Feather and Father Gang.[11] Kerr's last acting appearance was a minor role in The Park Is Mine (1986), a made-for-TV movie starring Tommy Lee Jones.

Partial filmography

Law career

Kerr took an interest in film directing, and worked as an apprentice with Leo Penn, who was then directing episodes of the television series Run for Your Life but Kerr was quickly disenchanted by the mundane aspects of the work, and applied to and was accepted at UCLA Law School.[4] He graduated from law school, and passed the California bar in 1970. He later pursued a full-time career as a Beverly Hills lawyer,[4] but still accepted occasional small roles in a variety of television productions over the years. He retired from legal practice in 2000.[12]

Personal life

He married Priscilla Smith in 1952; the couple divorced in 1972. He married Barbara Chu in 1979.[3]


On February 2, 2013, Kerr died of heart failure at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, California.[13] He is survived by his wife Barbara Chu; twin daughters Jocelyn and Rebecca, and a son Michael from his first marriage; seven grandchildren; two step-children, Sharon and Chris Chu; and two step-grandchildren.[1] He was cremated and his ashes given to his widow.[14]


  1. Vitello, Paul (February 8, 2013). "John Kerr, Star of 'Tea and Sympathy,' Dies at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  2. Vallance, Tom. "John Kerr: Actor best known as the sensitive college boy seduced in 'Tea and Sympathy'" The Independent, 13 February 2013
  3. "John Kerr, star of ‘Tea and Sympathy,’ ‘South Pacific,’ dies at 81" Variety, February 6, 2013
  4. Weaver, Tom. "The "Pitfalls of Working with Price". The Astounding B .Monster. Retrieved 2009-01-20.
  5. "John Kerr Broadway" Playbill, retrieved August 27, 2017
  6. "Tea and Sympathy", retrieved August 27, 2017
  7. "Justice". The Classic TV Archive. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  8. Pryor, Thomas (29 June 1955). "JOHN KERR TO DO 2D METRO MOVIE: Actor Set in 'Gaby,' Musical Based on R. E. Sherwood's Play, 'Waterloo Bridge'". New York Times. p. 24.
  9. IMDb profile of Tea and Sympathy (film)
  10. "John Kerr". IMDb.
  11. "Stefanie Powers Official Website - Feather and Father Gang".
  12. John Kerr profile at Archived 2013-02-11 at the Wayback Machine
  13. "Obituaries: John Kerr, Garrett Lewis". Los Angeles Times. February 8, 2013. Retrieved February 13, 2013.
  14. Wilson, Scott (17 August 2016). "Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed". McFarland via Google Books.
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