Yes, Cukor distilled the essence of some top star ladies onscreen. But he did well with men too. James Stewart for The Philadelphia Story, Ronald Colman for A Double Life and Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady all took home Best Actor Oscars for those films directed by George Cukor.
Cukor directed Deborah Kerr to the first of her six Best Actress Academy Award nominations. After 1949's Edward, My Son, she would be nominated for From Here To Eternity (1953), The King and I (1956), Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), Separate Tables (1958) and The Sundowners (1960). After six Oscar nominations and no win, Deborah Kerr was awarded the Honorary Oscar in 1994 for her long, distinguished film career. Kerr did not get a nomination for the film role that so many females loved -- including my mother and women in Sleepless in Seattle -- her role opposite Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember (1957). Nor did she get one for her work as the conflicted nun in an exotic, sensual location in the British classic, Black Narcissus.
Think about it. Kerr got six Oscar nominations and then was given the Honorary Oscar. Amy Adams, a relative screen newcomer compared to Kerr's long career, already has five Oscar nominations.
Kerr is Edward's mother in the George Cukor film, married to Spencer Tracy's character. We meet them when husband and wife are happy and Edward is a baby. She is a loving, spirited, proper wife and mother. The father's dream to assure a good life for his son becomes a ruthless, uncontrollable hunger that takes its toll on the marriage and friendships. Edward's father becomes a real bastard. People die because of him.
Deborah Kerr just had that little something extra from the beginning of her film career in Great Britain. She has a supporting role as Salavation Army worker Jenny Hill in David Lean's 1941 religion vs. money satire, Major Barbara, written by George Bernard Shaw and starring Wendy Hiller in the title role. Kerr doesn't try to be showy in her performance but she just had that quality that made you remember her the way you did the star of the film. She's very good as the raped daughter who also endures an emotionally abusive father in 1942's Hatter's Castle. James Mason played the one man who seems to care and respect the sweet, troubled young woman.
Kerr and 1941's Major Barbara star, Wendy Hiller, would both get Oscar nominations for 1958's Separate Tables. Hiller would win Best Supporting Actress.
If Hollywood had wanted to give Deborah Kerr and Oscar nomination before Edward, My Son, all it had to do was look at the three roles she did in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, another British classic in gorgeous color from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. We start at the World War 2 years in a men's steam room and go back over 40 vivid years in the life of a British officer. Deborah Kerr is wonderful in this film, one of Martin Scorcese's favorites.
Edward, My Son is similar to Hitchcock's Rebecca and Mankiewicz's A Letter to Three Wives in that we constantly hear about a character but we never see that character. We never see Rebecca. The three wives and talk about the town's glamourous vamp, Addie Ross. We hear Addie narrate some of the story but we never see her. In Cukor's 1949 drama, there's constant talk about Edward, but we never see him.