Deanna Durbin Has Died

The original '30s & '40s girl next door

Deanna Durbin

Deanna Durbin, one of the shining lights of Hollywood during the ‘30s and ‘40s, has died. She was 91.

Born in Winnipeg Canada — her parents were actually from Manchester — Durbin emerged as the dictionary definition of the girl next door, with a clear, light singing voice that belied her technical prowess (she had the vocal range of a soprano) and a sweet, cheerful, wholesome persona that could make apple pie look un-American.

She debuted in Every Sunday with Judy Garland in 1936, then signed a contract for Universal and began a ran of films that was generally considered to have saved the studio from bankruptcy; Three Smart Girls (1936), One Hundred Men And A Girl (1937), Mad About Music (1938), Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939), First Love (1939) and It’s A Date (1940). Her astonishing talents and joie-de-vivre — she won an Academy Award for “embodying youth” in 1939 — did much to cheer up America in the early stages of the war.

In the early stages of her career, Durbin was guided by producer Joe Pasternak. Following For The Love Of Mary (1948), she told Pasternak, "I can't run around being a Little Miss Fix-It who bursts into song – the highest-paid star with the poorest material" but her career never really thrived in adult fare; The Amazing Mrs. Holiday (1943) was partly directly by Jean Renoir until he quit; Robert Siodmak’s Christmas Holiday (1944) was a misguided foray into film noir.

Still, in 1947, she overtook Bette Davis to become the highest paid woman in America and had the world’s largest fan club membership at her height. She could count Anne Frank as one of her fans — a picture of Durbin remains on the wall of Frank’s house in Achterhuis — and Indian auteur Satyajit Ray admitted in an Oscar acceptance speech that he had once penned a fan letter to the actress. She retired in 1949 and settled in France, marrying producer Charles David, who remained her husband for over 48 years until his death in 1999.

On April 30 2013, a newsletter published by the Deanna Durbin Society reported, with the support of Durbin’s son Peter H. David, that Durbin had died “a few days ago”. No other details were given.