Deanna Durbin - Actors and Actresses

Nationality: American. Born: Edna Mae Durbin in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 4 December 1921; family moved to southern California in 1923. Education: Studied singing with Andres de Segurola. Family: Married 1) Vaughn Paul 1941 (divorced 1943); 2) Felix Jackson, 1945 (divorced 1948); 3) the director Charles David, 1950. Career: 1936—appeared in Every Sunday , musical short for MGM with Judy Garland; upon seeing it, the head of the studio, Louis B. Mayer, decided to keep both youngsters, but through a misunderstanding, Durbin was dropped; she then signed with Universal

Deanna Durbin in Can't Help Singing
Deanna Durbin in Can't Help Singing
Studios where she made her first feature film Three Smart Girls , and signed a radio contract with Eddie Cantor; 1948—retired from screen acting; 1950—moved to France. Awards: Special Academy Award (with Mickey Rooney), "for their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement," 1938.

Films as Actress:


Every Sunday ( Every Sunday Afternoon ) (Feist—short); Three Smart Girls (Koster) (as Penny Craig)


100 Men and a Girl (Koster) (as Patricia Cardwell)


Mad about Music (Taurog) (as Gloria Harkinson); That Certain Age (Ludwig) (as Alice Fullerton)


Three Smart Girls Grow Up (Koster) (as Penny "Mouse" Craig); First Love (Koster) (as Constance Harding)


It's a Date (Seiter) (as Pamela Drake); Spring Parade (Koster) (as Ilonka Tolnay)


Nice Girl? (Seiter) (as Jane Dana); It Started with Eve (Koster) (as Anne Terry)


The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (Manning) (as Ruth); Hers to Hold (Ryan) (as Penelope Craig); His Butler's Sister (Borzage) (as Ann Carter); Show Business at War (De Rochemont—doc, short) (as herself)


Christmas Holiday (Siodmak) (as Jackie Lamont/Abigail Martin); Can't Help Singing (Ryan) (as Caroline)


Lady on a Train (David) (as Nikki Collins)


Because of Him (Wallace) (as Kim Walker)


I'll Be Yours (Seiter) (as Louise Ginglebusher); Something in the Wind (Pichel) (as Mary Collins)


Up in Central Park (Seiter) (as Rosie Moore); For the Love of Mary (de Cordova) (as Mary Peppertree)


By DURBIN: articles—

Interview with J. H. Seidelman, in Film Weekly (London), 9 April 1938.

Interviews in Photoplay (New York), 11 November 1938.

Films and Filming (London), December 1983.

On DURBIN: articles—

Picturegoer (London), 6 March 1937 and 2 April 1938.

"Bringing Up a Breadwinner," in Picturegoer (London), 4 February 1939.

Universal Outlook , Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter 1940, and Summer 1941, "the magazine for all interested in Deanna Durbin." Current Biography 1941 , New York, 1941.

Photoplay Film Monthly (New York), May 1971.

"Deanna Durbin," in Films in Review (New York), November 1976; letter in February 1977 and April 1978 issues.

Shipman, David, "Nostalgia—Deanna Durbin," in Films and Filming (London), December 1983.

Everson, William K., "Deanna Durbin and Jean Renoir," in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1986; see also October 1987.

Sesonske, Alexander, " The Amazing Mrs. Holiday ," in Films in Review (New York), June/July 1987.

Lane, Conrad, "The Short and Happy Career of Deanna Durbin," in Classic Images (US), August 1995.

Sesonske, Alexander, "Jean Renoir in America: 1942, This Land is Mine," in Persistence of Vision (Maspeth), 12–13 1996.

* * *

Deanna Durbin's appearance in an MGM short with Judy Garland is a precious document, highlighting two remarkable talents. (Louis B. Mayer was apparently furious when, after putting Garland but not Durbin under contract, Durbin became such a huge success so quickly, for another studio.) Garland went on to become a legend, her films frequently revived; Durbin, who when she grew up suffered from a weight problem, as did Garland, retired from the movies—from performing altogether—in her mid-twenties, and has none of the cult following of her teenage rival. Contemporary viewers are often puzzled to learn that Deanna Durbin is credited with having saved Universal from bankruptcy with her feisty adolescent nature and her sweet voice. In a series of films directed by Henry Koster, she was indeed sensationally popular in the United States and England.

Durbin's sweet voice and sound musical instincts take on particular value when she is compared to her 1940s counterparts, the "legit" sopranos Jane Powell and Kathryn Grayson. Like Garland, Durbin was also a very talented actress with an individual, recognizable style. That style, related to her musical discipline, is perceived in her fluent, rapid-fire, but utterly clear delivery of dialogue, in a diction with irresistible impetus and energy, in irony that never smacks of brattishness but rather, of real intelligence, and in a warmth of personality that echoes her singing/speaking voice. One of her first "grown-up" roles, in It Started with Eve , pits her against the formidable Charles Laughton, and the modulations of their relationship is one of the joys of this romantic comedy. Her dramatic roles in Christmas Holiday and Lady on a Train suggest that at a different studio—and perhaps with a different level of ambition on her part—Durbin's career would not have been truncated so abruptly. Her pluckiness remains a significant image of America in the late 1930s.

—Charles Affron

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