A sensitive, boy-next-door leading man of American films and television in the 1950s and 60s, John Kerr was the son of actors who made a big splash in the Broadway (1953) and film (1956) versions of "Tea and Sympathy." His best known TV roles were as lawyers, a profession he opted to pursue in 1970, retiring from acting except for occasional appearances.
Kerr broke into showbiz just months after his 1952 graduation from Harvard in the Broadway production of "Bernadine." The following year, he created what is perhaps his most memorable role, Tom, the prep school lad whom his classmates believe to be a homosexual and who is eventually bedded by the schoolmaster's wife "to save him" from such a life. Kerr earned a Best Supporting Tony for his work and was whisked to Hollywood. He made his feature debut playing a suicidal patient in a mental institution in "The Cobweb" (1955). In "Gaby" (1956), he played a World War II soldier having an affair with Leslie Caron. That same year, he co-starred opposite Deborah Kerr in the film version of "Tea and Sympathy." Two years later, Kerr was the doomed Lt. Cable romantically paired with island girl France Nuyen in the musical "South Pacific." After these high profile features, he found himself by 1961 in the more modestly budgeted (to say the least) version of "The Pit and the Pendulum," produced by Roger Corman and co-starring Vincent Price. Kerr's film career effectively ended that year, although he played a few bit roles in features after receiving his law degree.
Instead, there was a decade of television work. Kerr had begun on the small screen in 1953, guest-starring on an episode of "Summer Studio One" (CBS). Throughout the 50s and into the 60s, he continued to appear in productions. He finally hooked onto a regular series with "Arrest and Trial" (ABC, 1963-64), a show that now appears to be a prototype for "Law & Order," splitting the action between the cops and the prosecutors, one of whom Kerr played. He again played a district attorney on "Peyton Place" (ABC), where his character was prosecuting Rodney Harrington (Ryan O'Neal) for murder. Since passing the California bar in 1970, Kerr has acted only occasionally. He was in the TV-movie Western "Yuma" (ABC, 1971) and from time-to-time appeared on episodes of "The Streets of San Francisco" as a detective in one or two scenes. By the 80s, he was rarely seen, although one could catch him as a ferry captain in "Bay Coven" (NBC, 1987).
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Made Broadway debut in "Bernadine"
Starred on Broadway as sensitive schoolboy Tom in "Tea and Sympathy"
Made feature film debut in "The Cobweb"
Reprised role of Tom opposite Deborah Kerr in film version of "Tea and Sympathy"
Co-starred as Lt. Joseph Cable in "South Pacific"
Played an assistant D.A. on "Arrest and Trial" (ABC)
Played District Attorney Fowler on "Peyton Place" (ABC)
Admitted to California Bar; became practicing attorney in Beverly Hills, CA
Appeared in TV movie "Yuma" (ABC)
Landed recurring role as a prosecutor on "The Streets of San Francisco" (ABC)
Made final TV movie appearance in "The Park Is Mine" (HBO)