All Things Must Pass

[17 October 2007]

By tjmHolden

Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day . . .

All things must pass
All things must pass away

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass

Deborah Kerr passed today. As with all people and all things, eventually there comes a passing.

Being of a different generation, I didn’t have intimate awareness of Kerr. But sharing the common cloth that enfolds all generations through pop, I knew of her. In their twenties and thirties, my parents sat in theaters—smiling, chuckling, weeping, fretting in relative reel-time—as Kerr emoted and kissed and sang and danced on-screen. I, probably like you, have only known her from images like the one below, in coffee-table books, or else in scenes flitting across the TV screen or on DVD.

So, when I read the obit here what had been basically just a name and a set of two-hour diversions, became something more substantial; something organic and teeming with life.  For those of you - like me—who really only knew Kerr second hand, it turns out that she had quite a life. Quite a PopMatters kind of life. The kind of life that contributed to the popular, entertainment and artistic currents of our times. The times of your grandparents’ or parents’ lives, sure, but yours, too, Even if you’ve never seen From Here to Eternity or The King and I or An Affair to Remember, or . . . for that matter, Sleepless in Seattle. Because, Kerr was part of the stream—a significant stone in that stream—who helped, in some small way, to shape the popular world of today. The one burbling around us; the one that washes up over us in an incessant torrent—no different that the waves crashing over the lovers in From Here to Eternity . . .

We look for lessons in other’s lives. That is one fascination in reading about other people’s passings. In the case of Kerr, the obit above talked about how she—is “salvaged” the correct word for someone who was currently successful? Well, what she apprehended was that her near future promised an imminent and persistent narrowing; her career course would ever be the “good”, gentile, proper British lady . . . but then, she was offered a role that took her against type. And suddenly, with one film, she was transformed—in the words of tyrannical, much-despised Columbia Studio Head, Harry Cohn, from “that English virgin from Metro” into a disillusioned, lonely, adulterous, steamy wife of an army officer. Whichever path her life took—remaining within or else veering far from type—you had to know that all things must pass. Kerr’s career would ultimately have to conclude. In her case, having been able to play both types may have extended it a bit longer. In the end, though, as with most actresses, her paths became pinched by Hollywood’s iron law of gender: women are either too old for this or too young for that.


Sunset doesn’t last all evening
A mind can blow those clouds away . . .

All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass

Still, stage was available, and it beckoned. And so, while Kerr’s Hollywood life passed, her performance life persisted.

Deborah Kerr’s place in popular memory may have declined with the end of her film career, however it received an unlikely resuscitation with the breakaway success of Sleepless. There, Meg Ryan mooned over Kerr and Cary Grant, sobbing: “Now those were the days when people knew how to be in love.”

In a later interview, when asked about her thoughts on Sleepless, Kerr was quoted as saying: “I think I understand what women see in the movie. There is a sweetness that is appealing and far removed from today’s crudities. It makes them realize that the world has lost something delightful.”

And when I read that I thought again about passing. This time, those things that pass in the life of our society. Such passings are reflected in our popular culture—for instance the passing from “sweetness” to “crudity”. And if that sounds too moralistic, then how about the passage from innocence to worldliness, or sacred to profane. It is an empirical passing, not an imaginary one; and one doesn’t have to be a prude or a kill-joy to pine for an elusive, but alluring romanticism that once prevailed. Was there anything wrong in asking Hollywood’s dream machine to package and serve an alternative reality to us? If only for ninety minutes at a time?


None of life’s strings can last
So, I must be on my way
And face another day . . .

All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
All things must pass away

So, fare-the-well, Deborah Kerr. You and your time. Your kind. With you, and those of your cohort, passes those special ways of thinking and behaving that you all were asked to stand for. In your passing, one wonders, will there ever be anything more than pleasant memories of a by-gone era; reminders of a thought style that once prevailed?

Alas, that time has passed.

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