William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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JOHN KERR – John Kerr has died at 81.  Now, that name may not mean anything to our younger readers, but for those of us of a certain generation, it has a ring.  John Kerr was one of the major "new" male stars and heartthrobs of the 1950s.

He won a Tony award for "Tea and Sympathy" on Broadway, and then was given the role of Lt. Joe Cable in the film production of "South Pacific," which made him internationally famous.

Another type of fame came in a different way, and won him applause.  From The New York Times:

He was offered the Charles Lindbergh role in 1956 for the Warner Brothers film “The Spirit of St. Louis,” about Lindbergh’s historic trans-Atlantic flight. His decision to turn it down was widely publicized.

“I don’t admire the ideals of the hero,” Mr. Kerr told The New York Post, referring to statements Lindbergh had made sympathetic to Nazi Germany before America’s entry in World War II. The part went to James Stewart, despite studio concerns that he was too old for the part. (Mr. Stewart was 23 years older than Mr. Kerr.)

Kerr's film career faded with the coming of the new anti-heroes in the early sixties, and he worked mostly in television.  Then, he essentially quit Hollywood, which he had never liked, and went to law school, beginning a three-decade career as a Los Angeles lawyer.

The man had a great streak of independence, which he never gave up to the Hollywood machine.  His son is quoted as saying his father could never stand the boredom and waiting around in the film industry.  Having worked in that business, I know what he meant.  It's an industry in which wasting time is a fine art, and for good reason:  In Hollywood, no one ever gets fired for doing nothing.  You only get fired for doing something.

So we remember John Kerr as an independent, thoughtful actor, who not only became a lawyer, but actually played one on TV.  And we remember him especially for the classic "South Pacific."

February 9,  2013