John Kerr
John Kerr 1957.jpg
Kerr in 1957
John Grinham Kerr

(1931-11-15)November 15, 1931
New York City, U.S.
DiedFebruary 2, 2013(2013-02-02) (aged 81)
Alma materHarvard University
UCLA Law School
Occupation(s)Actor (1940-1987), attorney (1969-2000)
Years active1940–2000
  • Priscilla Smith
    (m. 1952; div. 1972)
  • Barbara Chu
    (m. 1979)
Parent(s)Geoffrey Kerr
June Walker
RelativesFrederick Kerr (grandfather)
AwardsTony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play
1954 Tea and Sympathy

Theatre World Award
1953 Bernardine

Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor
1956 Tea and Sympathy

John Grinham Kerr (November 15, 1931 – February 2, 2013) was an American actor and attorney. He began his professional career on Broadway, earning critical acclaim for his performances in Mary Coyle Chase's Bernardine and Robert Anderson's Tea and Sympathy, before transitioning into a screen career. He reprised his role in the film version of Tea and Sympathy, which won him the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer, and portrayed Lieutenant Joseph Cable in the Rodgers and Hammerstein movie musical South Pacific. He subsequently appeared in number of television series, including a starring role on the primetime soap opera Peyton Place.

In the 1970s, he largely moved away from acting to become a lawyer, making a few small cameos in Canadian-produced films like Plague and The Amateur. He operated a legal practice in Beverly Hills until 2000, when he retired from the profession.

Early life

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Kerr was born November 15, 1931, in New York City to British-born Geoffrey Kerr and American-born June Walker. Both were stage and film actors,[1] and his grandfather was Frederick Kerr, a British trans-Atlantic character actor [2] in the period 1880–1930; 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 Hampshire;[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.

Acting 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, New York Drama Critics Award, and Donaldson Award for his performance,[5] and he later starred in the film version in 1956.[6] He subsequently starred in stagings of All Summer Long and The Infernal Machine, and both starred and directed a staging of Bus Stop at the Fred Miller Theatre in Milwaukee.

Throughout the 1960s, he was affiliated with a number of non-profit theatre companies in Southern California, including the La Jolla Playhouse, the UCLA Theatre Group. For a time he was an artist-in-residence at Stanford University. He was the producer of a 1964 summer season of the American National Theater and Academy, held at Beverly Hills High School.

Film and television

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.[citation needed]

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.[7]

Kerr starred with Deborah Kerr (no relation) in Tea and Sympathy in 1956, reprising his role from the stage version.[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 alleged 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 instead went to Jimmy Stewart, a WWII veteran himself, who was over 20 years older than Kerr and nearly twice the age of Lindbergh when he made his historic 1927 flight.[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.[citation needed]

In the 1970s, Kerr had a recurring role as prosecutor Gerald O'Brien on The Streets of San Francisco[4] 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.[8]

Legal 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 received his J.D. degree from that 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.[9]

Personal life

Kerr married Priscilla Smith in 1952; the couple divorced in 1972. He married Barbara Chu in 1979.[3] He had two daughters and a son with Smith, as well as a stepson and stepdaughter from his marriage to Chu.[1]

Kerr died of heart failure on February 2, 2013, at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, California.[10] He was cremated and his ashes given to his widow.[11]

Stage credits

Run Title Role Director Theatre Notes
08/5/40 - 08/10/40 Tomorrow and Tomorrow Ruth's Son Arthur Walton The Cape Playhouse
07/19/49 - 07/24/49 O Mistress Mine Michael Brown
10/16/52 - 02/28/53 Bernardine Arthur Beaumont Guthrie McClintic Playhouse Theatre Theatre World Award
09/30/53 - 06/18/55 Tea and Sympathy Tom Robinson Lee Elia Kazan Ethel Barrymore Theatre
Longacre Theatre
48th Street Theatre
Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play
New York Drama Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Play
Donaldson Award for Best Supporting Actor of the Season
09/23/54 - 11/13/54 All Summer Long Don Alan Schneider Coronet Theatre
Booth Theatre
02/03/58 - 03/09/58 The Infernal Machine Oedipus Herbert Berghof Phoenix Theatre
11/25/58 - 12/27/58 Cue for Passion Tony Burgess Elmer Rice Henry Miller's Theatre
04/06/59 - 04/19/59 The Hasty Heart Lachie Fred Miller Theatre
07/23/59 - 07/27/59 The Glass Menagerie Tom Wingfield Lobero Theatre
12/03/60 - 12/28/60 Bus Stop Bo Decker Himself Fred Miller Theatre Also director

Other credits



Year Title Role Director Notes
1955 The Cobweb Steven W. Holte Vincente Minnelli
1956 Gaby Gregory Y. Wendell Curtis Bernhardt
Tea and Sympathy Tom Robinson Lee Vincente Minnelli Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer - Male
1957 The Vintage Ernesto Barandero Jeffrey Hayden
1958 South Pacific Lt. Joseph Cable Joshua Logan Singing voice by Bill Lee
1960 The Crowded Sky Mike Rule Joseph Pevney
Girl of the Night Larry Taylor Joseph Cates
1961 The Pit and the Pendulum Francis Barnard Roger Corman
King of Kings Man at Sermon on the Mount Nicholas Ray Cameo appearance
Seven Women from Hell Lt. Bill Jackson Robert D. Webb
1972 Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues Stockbroker Paul Williams Uncredited
1973 Class of '44 Ford Hotel Bartender Paul Bogart
1974 Only God Knows Health Inspector Peter Pearson
1979 Plague Willis - Security Guard Ed Hunt
1981 The Amateur CIA Agent Emil Charles Jarrott
1987 Australian Dream Frank the Swaggie Jackie McKimmie


Year Title Role Notes
1953 Lux Video Theatre Tony Episode: "The White Gown"
You Are There Jesse James Episode: "The Capture of Jesse James"
Horace Mann's Miracle Young Pizzi Television film
Danger Episode: "Operation Nightmare"
1953-54 Suspense Derek Howard 2 episodes
1953-57 The Big Story Howie Madden 2 episodes
Studio One 2 episodes
1954 Justice Episode: "The Scandal That Rocked the Town"
1955 Repertory Theatre George Avery Episode: "The Bold and the Brave"
The Elgin Hour Pvt. Foster Episode: "Combat Medics"
The Alcoa Hour Jamie Hallock Episode: "Undertow"
1955-57 Climax! Various 3 episodes
1956 The Corn Is Green Morgan Evans Television film
1956-62 The United States Steel Hour 3 episodes
1957 Fireside Theatre Tom Parr Episode: "Killer's Pride"
1957-58 Playhouse 90 David McAdam / Capt. Neil Dameron 2 episodes
1958 Alcoa Theatre Flight Lt. Upton Episode: "Strange Occurrence at Rokesay"
General Electric Theater Freddie Episode: "A Question of Romance"
1959 Berkeley Square Peter Standish Television film
Riverboat Jefferson Carruthers Episode: "The Barrier"
1960 The Magical World of Disney Martin Didler Episode: "Elfego Baca: Friendly Enemies at Law"
Rawhide Bert Eaton Episode: "Incident of the Last Chance"
1961 Checkmate Wilt Kamens Episode: "The Crimson Pool"
1962 Gunsmoke Lute Willis Episode: "Half Straight"
Bus Stop Jim Carmody Episode: "Verdict of 12"
The Lloyd Bridges Show David Episode: "The Miracle of Mesa Verde"
The Defenders Jonathan Winthrop Episode: "The Apostle"
1963 The Virginian Oliver Smith Episode: "The Judgement"
Wagon Train Jim Whitlow Episode: "The Jim Whitlow Story"
1963-64 Arrest and Trial Barry Pine Recurring role
1964-65 Twelve O'Clock High Maj. Herrick / Lt. Ray Thacker 2 episodes
1965 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Glendon Baker Episode: "An Unlocked Window"
The Long, Hot Summer Duane Galloway Episode: "The Homecoming"
1965-66 Peyton Place John Fowler Main cast
1966 Run for Your Life Alex Ryder Episode: "The Day Time Stopped"
1967 Flipper Keller 2 episodes
The High Chaparral Creed Hallock Episode: "Sudden Country"
1967-70 The F.B.I. Gary Morgan / William Converse
/ Doug Parker / Clayton McGregor
7 episodes
1969 Adam-12 Father Joe Episode: "Log 93: Once a Junkie"
1969-70 The Name of the Game Father Billy Keaton / Stuart Clark 2 episodes
1970 The Bold Ones: The Lawyers Dr. Philip Blackburn Episode: "The Verdict"
1971 The Young Lawyers Andrew Rogers Episode: "False Witness"
Yuma Capt. White Television film
Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law Clay Arnold Episode: "Men Who Care: Part 2"
Columbo Col. Roger Dutton Episode: "Dead Weight"
1972 The Longest Night Agent Jones Television film
The Rookies Price Episode: "Time Is the Fire"
1972-73 The Mod Squad Dr. Freilich / Dr. Eggers 2 episodes
1973 Incident on a Dark Street Gallagher Television film
Alias Smith and Jones George Sterling Episode: "Only Three to a Bed"
Search Senator Gordon Episode: "The Mattson Papers"
1973-76 Police Story Various 5 episodes
1973-77 The Streets of San Francisco Gerald O'Brien Recurring role
1974 Barnaby Jones Dr. Lincoln Episode: "Programmed for Killing"
1975 The Invisible Man Kirk Episode: "Eyes Only"
Medical Story Dr. Barrett Episode: "A Life in the Balance"
1976 The Blue Knight Episode: "Throwaway"
1977 McMillan & Wife Richard Valentine Episode: "Affair of the Heart"
The Feather and Father Gang Martin Stoddard Episode: "The Mayan Connection"
Washington: Behind Closed Doors Ashton Miniseries; 1 episode
1982 Seeing Things Episode: "In the Eyes of the Law"
1983 Sons and Daughters Police Officer Episode #1.278
1985 The Park Is Mine Reporter Television film
1989 The Magistrate Miller Miniseries; 2 episodes


  1. ^ a b c Vitello, Paul (February 8, 2013). "John Kerr, Star of 'Tea and Sympathy,' Dies at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Vallance, Tom (February 13, 2013). "John Kerr: Actor best known as the sensitive college boy seduced in 'Tea and Sympathy'". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 2022-06-13.
  3. ^ a b "John Kerr, star of ‘Tea and Sympathy,’ ‘South Pacific,’ dies at 81" Variety, February 6, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d Weaver, Tom. "The "Pitfalls of Working with Price". The Astounding B .Monster. Retrieved 2009-01-20.
  5. ^ a b "John Kerr Broadway" Playbill, retrieved August 27, 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Tea and Sympathy" Turner Classic Movies, retrieved August 27, 2017.
  7. ^ 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'". The New York Times. p. 24.
  8. ^ "Feather and Father Gang". Stefanie Powers Official Website. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  9. ^ John Kerr Chronology Fitweb Archived 2013-02-11 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Obituaries: John Kerr, Garrett Lewis". Los Angeles Times. February 8, 2013. Retrieved February 13, 2013.
  11. ^ Wilson, Scott (17 August 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons (3d ed.). McFarland. p. 403. ISBN 978-1476625997.