Deanna Durbin

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Deanna Durbin
Deanna Durbin - still.jpg
Publicity photo, c. 1940s
BornEdna Mae Durbin
(1921-12-04)December 4, 1921
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Diedc. April 20, 2013 (aged 91)[1]
Neauphle-le-Château, France[2][3]
Years active1936–1948
Spouse(s)Vaughn Paul
(m.1941–1943; divorced)
Felix Jackson
(m.1945–1949; divorced)
Charles David
(m.1950–1999; his death)
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Deanna Durbin
Deanna Durbin - still.jpg
Publicity photo, c. 1940s
BornEdna Mae Durbin
(1921-12-04)December 4, 1921
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Diedc. April 20, 2013 (aged 91)[1]
Neauphle-le-Château, France[2][3]
Years active1936–1948
Spouse(s)Vaughn Paul
(m.1941–1943; divorced)
Felix Jackson
(m.1945–1949; divorced)
Charles David
(m.1950–1999; his death)

Deanna Durbin (born Edna Mae Durbin; December 4, 1921 – c. April 20, 2013)[4] was a Canadian singer and actress, who appeared in a number of musical films in the 1930s and 1940s, her singing voice being variously described as being light but full, sweet and unaffected. With the technical skill and vocal range of a legitimate lyric soprano, she performed everything from popular standards to operatic arias.

Durbin made her first film appearance with Judy Garland in Every Sunday (1936), and subsequently signed a contract with Universal Studios. Her success as the ideal teenage daughter in films such as Three Smart Girls (1936) was credited with saving the studio from bankruptcy.[5] In 1938, at the age of 17, Durbin was awarded the Academy Juvenile Award.

As she matured Durbin grew dissatisfied with the girl-next-door roles assigned to her, and attempted to portray a more womanly and sophisticated style. The film noir Christmas Holiday (1944) and the whodunit Lady on a Train (1945) were, however, not as well received as her musical-comedies and romances had been.

Durbin retired from acting and singing in 1949, and withdrew from public life. She married film producer-director Charles Henri David in 1950, and the couple moved to a farmhouse near Paris.

Early life[edit]

Born Edna Mae Durbin at Grace Hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, The daughter of James Allen Durbin and his wife Ada (née Read), who were originally from Manchester, England, she was taken to Hollywood when just a year old and began to sing children's songs as soon as she could talk. Her parents would become U.S. citizens after moving their family from Winnipeg to Southern California in 1923. By the time she was ten, her parents recognised that she had definite talent and took her to a singing teacher, leading her to sing in local entertainments.

She was given the professional name Deanna at the beginning of her association with Universal Studios in 1936, when she was still 14 years old. Durbin had an older sister named Edith, who recognized Deanna's musical talents at an early age and helped Deanna to take singing lessons at Ralph Thomas Academy. This led to her discovery by MGM in 1935.

In late 1936, Cesar Sturani, who was the General Music Secretary of the Metropolitan Opera, offered Deanna Durbin an audition. Durbin turned down his request because she felt she needed more singing lessons. Andrés de Segurola, who was the vocal coach working with Universal Studios (and himself a former Metropolitan Opera singer), believed that Deanna Durbin had an excellent opportunity to become an opera star. De Segurola had been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to watch her progress carefully and keep them advised. Durbin started a collaboration with Eddie Cantor's radio show in 1936. This collaboration lasted until 1938 when her heavy workload for Universal Studios made it imperative for Durbin to discontinue her weekly appearances on Cantor's radio show.[6]


Durbin signed a contract with MGM in 1935 and made her first film appearance in a short subject, Every Sunday (1936), with another young contract player, Judy Garland. The film was to serve as an extended screen test for the pair as studio executives were questioning the wisdom of having two female singers on the roster. Ultimately Louis B. Mayer decreed that both girls would be kept, but by the time that decision was made, Durbin's contract option had elapsed.[7] Durbin was quickly signed to a contract with Universal Studios and made her first feature-length film Three Smart Girls (also 1936). The film was an immediate success and established Durbin as a star. (Ironically, upon seeing Every Sunday with Garland and Durbin, producer Joe Pasternak at Universal was casting Three Smart Girls and wanted to borrow Garland from Metro. However, Garland was not available at the time. When Pasternak found out that Durbin was no longer with MGM, he cast her in the film instead.) It would take Garland three more years to become a star at MGM after the release of The Wizard Of Oz in 1939. This prompted a bit of a rivalry between the two singers for many years, mostly on Garland's part. According to Christopher Finch author of Garland's biography Rainbow: The Stormy Life Of Judy Garland, Garland "regarded her rival as a rank amateur, however talented" and was known to do a cruel imitation of Durbin's singing posture at parties. When she appeared on such television talk shows as The Jack Paar Program and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the 1960s, Garland would tell humorous anecdotes about Durbin's "one eyebrow". It was never revealed how Durbin felt about Garland. However, in the early 1950s when Garland was performing in England, she telephoned Durbin in France. When Durbin asked her what she was up to, Garland told her she was in Great Britain singing in concerts. Upon hearing that, Durbin was reported to have said, "My God, girl, are you still at it?".

The huge success of Durbin's films was reported to have saved Universal from bankruptcy.[8] In 1938 she received a special Academy Juvenile Award, along with Mickey Rooney. Joe Pasternak, who produced many of the early Deanna Durbin movies, said about her:

Deanna's genius had to be unfolded, but it was hers and hers alone, always has been, always will be, and no one can take credit for discovering her. You can't hide that kind of light under a bushel. You just can't, no matter how hard you try!

In 1936, Durbin auditioned to provide the vocals for Snow White in Disney's animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but was ultimately rejected by Walt Disney, who declared the 15-year-old Durbin's voice "too old" for the part.[9]

The five-year association of Deanna Durbin, producer Joe Pasternak and director Henry Koster ended following the film It Started With Eve (1941), a film in which her lilting voice and piano work bring billionaire Mr. Reynolds up from his death bed. After Pasternak moved from Universal to MGM, Durbin went on suspension between October 16, 1941 and early February 1942 for refusing to appear in They Lived Alone, scheduled to be directed by Koster. Ultimately, the project was canceled when Durbin and Universal settled their differences. In the agreement, Universal conceded to Durbin the approval of her directors, stories and songs.[10]

Universal continued to cast her in musicals, and two sequels to her first film with the studio, Three Smart Girls, were produced. Following Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939), the second sequel was a wartime story called Three Smart Girls Join Up, but Durbin issued a press release announcing that she was no longer inclined to participate in these team efforts and was now performing as a solo artist. The Three Smart Girls Join Up title was changed to Hers to Hold. Joseph Cotten, who played alongside Deanna Durbin in Hers to Hold, praised her integrity and character in his autobiography.[11] Rodgers and Hammerstein's original Broadway production of Oklahoma! in 1943 might have showcased Deanna Durbin as original Laurie, but Universal refused to accept the proposal.

Can't Help Singing (1944), her only Technicolor film, features some of the last melodies written by Jerome Kern plus lyrics by E. Y. Harburg. A musical comedy in a Western setting, this production was filmed mostly on location in southern Utah. Her co-star was Robert Paige.[12]

Durbin on the cover of
Yank Magazine, January 1945

Durbin tried to assume a more sophisticated movie persona in such vehicles as the World War II story of refugee children from China, The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1943), directed in part by Jean Renoir, who left the project before its completion; the film noir Christmas Holiday (1944), directed by Robert Siodmak; and the whodunit Lady on a Train (1945), but her substantial fan base preferred her in light musical confections. Such was Durbin's international popularity that diarist Anne Frank pasted her picture to her bedroom wall in the Achterhuis where the Frank family hid during World War II. The picture can still be seen there today.

In 1946, Universal merged with two other companies to create Universal-International. The new regime discontinued much of Universal's familiar product and scheduled only a few musicals. Durbin stayed on for another four pictures, but her last two releases, Up in Central Park (1948), a film adaptation of the 1945 Broadway musical, and a project announced as For the Love of Mary and finally released as Something in the Wind (1947), saw her box-office clout diminish. In private life, Durbin continued to use her given name; salary figures printed annually by the Hollywood trade publications listed the actress as "Edna Mae Durbin, player." In 1946 she was the second highest paid woman in the United States, just behind Bette Davis,[4] and in 1947 Deanna Durbin was the top-salaried woman in the United States. Her fan club ranked as the world's largest during her active years.[13]

On August 22, 1948, two months after the latter film was finished, Universal-International announced a lawsuit which sought to collect from Durbin $87,083 in wages the studio had paid her in advance.[14] Durbin settled the complaint amicably by agreeing to star in three more pictures, including one to be shot on location in Paris. Ultimately, the studio would allow Deanna's contract to expire on August 31, 1949, so the three films were not produced. Durbin, who obtained a $200,000 ($1,962,238 as of 2014),[15] severance payment[16] chose at this point to retire from movies. Her former producer Joe Pasternak tried to dissuade her. She told him: "I can't run around being a Little Miss Fix-It who bursts into song – the highest-paid star with the poorest material."[17] She had already turned down Bing Crosby's request for her to appear in two of his projects for Paramount Pictures, Top o' the Morning and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

Between December 15, 1936 and July 22, 1947, Deanna Durbin recorded 50 tunes for Decca Records. While often re-creating her movie songs for commercial release, Durbin also covered independent standards, like "Kiss Me Again", "My Hero", "Annie Laurie", "Poor Butterfly", "Love's Old Sweet Song" and "God Bless America".

Personal life[edit]

Durbin married an assistant director, Vaughn Paul, in 1941; the couple divorced in 1943. Her second marriage, to film writer-producer-actor Felix Jackson in 1945, produced a daughter, Jessica Louise Jackson, but a divorce followed in 1949.

In Paris on December 21, 1950, shortly after her 29th birthday, Deanna Durbin married Charles David, the producer-director of both French and American pictures who had guided her through Lady on a Train (1945). Durbin and David raised two children: Jessica (from her second marriage to Felix Jackson) and Peter (from her union with David).

Over the years, Durbin resisted numerous offers to perform again, including MGM's offer to appear in the film versions of Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate (1953) and Sigmund Romberg's operetta The Student Prince (1954). In 1951, Durbin was invited to play in London's West End production of Kiss Me Kate, and was reportedly Alan Jay Lerner's first choice to portray Eliza Doolittle in the 1956 Broadway cast of My Fair Lady. Suggestions that Durbin sing at major Las Vegas casinos also went unfulfilled.

In 1983, film historian David Shipman was granted a rare interview by Durbin. In the interview, she steadfastly asserted her right to privacy and maintained it until the end of her life, declining to be profiled on websites.[18]

Durbin made it known that she did not like the Hollywood studio system. She emphasized that she never identified herself with the public image that the media created around her. She spoke of the Deanna "persona" in the third person, and considered the film character "Deanna Durbin" to be a by-product of her youth and not her true identity.[19]

In her heyday, she lived near W.C. Fields, who was no fan of her music. Hearing her practice her singing infuriated the curmudgeonly comedian.

Durbin's husband of more than 48 years, Charles David, died in Paris on March 1, 1999.

On April 30, 2013, a newsletter published by the Deanna Durbin Society reported that Durbin died "in the past few days", quoting her son, Peter H. David, who thanked her admirers for respecting her privacy. No other details were given.[4] In a subsequent report, the Associated Press quoted a family friend who said Durbin had died on or about April 20.[3]



Short subjects
1936Every SundayEdnaCo-starring Judy Garland
1939For Auld Lang Syne: No. 4Herself
1941Friend Indeed, AA Friend IndeedHerselfFor the American Red Cross
1943Show Business at WarHerself
1944Road to VictoryHerself
Feature films
1936Three Smart GirlsCraig, Penelope "Penny"Penelope "Penny" Craig
1937One Hundred Men and a GirlCardwell, Patricia "Patsy"Patricia "Patsy" Cardwell
1938Mad About MusicHarkinson, GloriaGloria Harkinson
That Certain AgeFullerton, AliceAlice Fullerton
1939Three Smart Girls Grow UpCraig, Penelope "Penny"Penelope "Penny" Craig
First LoveHarding, Constance "Connie"Constance "Connie" Harding
1940It's a DateDrake, PamelaPamela DrakeA short subject, Gems of Song, was excerpted from this feature in 1949.
Spring ParadeTolnay, IlonkaIlonka Tolnay
1941Nice Girl?Dana, Jane "Pinky"Jane "Pinky" Dana
It Started with EveTerry, AnneAnne Terry
1943Amazing Mrs. Holliday, TheThe Amazing Mrs. HollidayHolliday, Ruth KirkeRuth Kirke Holliday
Hers to HoldCraig, Penelope "Penny"Penelope "Penny" Craig
His Butler's SisterCarter, AnnAnn Carter
1944Christmas HolidayLamont, JackieJackie Lamont / Abigail Martin
Can't Help SingingFrost, CarolineCaroline FrostDurbin's only film in Technicolor
1945Lady on a TrainCollins, NikkiNikki Collins / Margo Martin
1946Because of HimWalker, KimKim Walker
1947I'll Be YoursGinglebusher, LouiseLouise Ginglebusher
Something in the WindCollins, MaryMary Collins
1948Up in Central ParkMoore, RosieRosie Moore
For the Love of MaryPeppertree, MaryMary Peppertree


  • "Alice Blue Gown"
  • "Alleluia" [From 100 Men and a Girl]
  • "Always" [From Christmas Holiday]
  • "Adeste Fideles" ("O Come All Ye Faithful)"
  • "Amapola" [From First Love]
  • "Annie Laurie"
  • "Any Moment Now" [From Can`t Help Singing]
  • "Ave Maria" [From Mad About Music]
  • "Ave Maria" [From It's a Date]
  • "Be A Good Scout" [From That Certain Age]
  • "Because" [From Three Smart Girls Grow Up]
  • "Begin the Beguine" [From Hers to Hold]
  • "Beneath the Lights of Home" [From Nice Girl]
  • "The Blue Danube" [From Spring Parade]
  • "Brahms' Lullaby" [From I'll Be Yours]
  • "Brindisi" ("Libiamo ne' lieti calici)" [From 100 Men and a Girl]
  • "Californ-I-Ay"
  • "Can't Help Singing" [From Can't Help Singing]
  • "Can't Help Singing" (Deanna Durbin & Robert Paige)" [From Can't Help Singing]
  • "Carmena Waltz"
  • "Chapel Bells" [From Mad About Music]
  • "Cielito Lindo" ("Beautiful Heaven)"
  • "Ciribiribin"
  • "Clavelitos" (J. Valverde) [From It Started with Eve]
  • "Danny Boy" [From Because of Him]
  • "Embrace Me"
  • "Every Sunday" (with Judy Garland)
  • "Filles de Cadiz" ("The Maids of Cadiz") [From That Certain Age]
  • "Gimme a Little Kiss, Will Ya, Huh?" [From Lady on a Train]
  • "God Bless America"
  • "Goin' Home" [From It Started With Eve]
  • "Goodbye" [From Because of Him]
  • "Granada" [From I'll Be Yours]
  • "A Heart That's Free" [From 100 Men and a Girl]
  • "Home! Sweet Home!" [From First Love]
  • "Il Bacio" ("The Kiss") [From Three Smart Girls]
  • "I'll Follow My Sweet Heart"
  • "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen" [From For The Love of Mary]
  • "I'll See You In My Dreams"
  • "I Love to Whistle" [From Mad About Music]
  • "(I'm) Happy Go Lucky and Free" [From Something in the Wind]
  • "(I'm) Happy Go Lucky and Free" [From Something in the Wind] (duet with Donald O'Connor)
  • "In the Spirit of the Moment" [From His Butler's Sister]
  • "Italian Street Song"
  • "It's a Big, Wide, Wonderful World" [From For The Love Of Mary]
  • "It's Dreamtime" [From I'll Be Yours]
  • "It's Foolish But It's Fun" [From Spring Parade]
  • "It's Only Love" [From Something In The Wind]
  • "It's Raining Sunbeams" [From 100 Men and a Girl]
  • "Invitation To The Dance" [From Three Smart Girls Grow Up]
  • "Je Veux Vivre" (from Roméo et Juliette) [From That Certain Age]
  • "Kiss Me Again"
  • "La Estrellita" ("Little Star)"
  • "Largo Al Factotum" (from The Barber of Seville) [From For The Love Of Mary]
  • "The Last Rose of Summer" [From Three Smart Girls Grow Up]
  • "Loch Lomond" [From It's a Date]
  • "Love At Last" [From Nice Girl]
  • "Love Is All" [From It's a Date]
  • "Lover" [From Because of Him]
  • "Love's Old Sweet Song"
  • "Make Believe (Jerome Kern song)"
  • "Mighty Like a Rose" (From "The Amazing Mrs. Halliday")
  • "Molly Malone"
  • "More and More" [From Can`t Help Singing]
  • "More And More/Can't Help Singing" [From Can`t Help Singing]
  • "Musetta's Waltz" (from La bohème) [From It's a Date]
  • "My Heart Is Singing" [From Three Smart Girls Grow Up]
  • "My Hero"
  • "My Own" [From That Certain Age]
  • "Nessun Dorma" (from Turandot) [From His Butler's Sister]
  • "Never in a Million Years/Make Believe"
  • "Night and Day" [From Lady on a Train]
  • "O Come All Ye Faithful"
  • "Old Folks at Home" [From Nice Girl]
  • "The Old Refrain" [From The Amazing Mrs. Holiday]
  • "On Moonlight Bay" [From For The Love Of Mary]
  • "One Fine Day" (from Madama Butterfly) [From First Love]
  • "One Night Of Love"
  • "Pace, Pace, Mio Dio (La forza del destino)" [From Up In Central Park]
  • "Pale Hands I Loved (Kashmiri Song)" [From Hers to Hold]
  • "Perhaps" [From Nice Girl]
  • "Poor Butterfly"
  • "The Prince"
  • "Russian Medley" [From His Butler's Sister]
  • "Sari Waltz (Love's Own Sweet Song)" [From I'll Be Yours]
  • "Say a Pray'r for the Boys Over There" [From Hers to Hold]
  • "Seal It With a Kiss"
  • "Seguidilla (from Carmen) [From Hers To Hold]
  • "Serenade to the Stars" [From Mad About Music]
  • "Silent Night" [From Lady On A Train]
  • "Someone to Care for Me" [From Three Smart Girls]
  • "Something in the Wind" [From Something in the Wind]
  • "Spring in My Heart" [From First Love]
  • "Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year" [From Christmas Holiday]
  • "Swanee - Old Folks At Home" [From Nice Girl]
  • "Summertime" (from Porgy And Bess)
  • "Sweetheart"
  • "Thank You America" [From Nice Girl]
  • "There'll Always Be An England" [From Nice Girl]
  • "The Turntable Song" [From Something in the Wind]
  • "Two Guitars" [Две гитары - Russian Gypsy Folk song (Lyrics - Apollon Grigoriev, music - Ivan Vasiliev), from His Butler's Sister (1943)]
  • "Two Hearts"
  • "Un bel di vedremo" (from Madama Butterfly) [From First Love]
  • "Viennese Waltz" [From For The Love Of Mary]
  • "Vissi d'arte (from Tosca) [From The Amazing Mrs. Holiday]
  • "Waltzing in the Clouds" [From Spring Parade]
  • "When April Sings" [From Spring Parade]
  • "When I Sing" [From It Started with Eve]
  • "When The Roses Bloom Again"
  • "When You're Away" [From His Butler's Sister]
  • "You Wanna Keep Your Baby Looking Nice, Don't You" [From Something in the Wind]
  • "You're As Pretty As A Picture" [From That Certain Age]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Some sources cite April 20, although her death was not announced until April 30, with no specific date or cause provided.
  2. ^ Luther, Claudia (May 2, 2013), "Deanna Durbin dies at 91; wholesome star of Depression-era films", Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company), retrieved May 4, 2013 
  3. ^ a b "Deanna Durbin, child star from Hollywood's golden age, dies", Entertainment Weekly (Entertainment Weekly Inc.), May 2, 2013, retrieved May 4, 2013 
  4. ^ a b c Harmetz, Aljean (May 1, 2013), "Deanna Durbin, Plucky Movie Star of the Depression Era, Is Dead at 91", The New York Times (The New York Times Company), retrieved May 1, 2013 
  5. ^ Clarke, Gerald (2001). Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-50378-1.
  6. ^ Interview with David Shipman, 1983.
  7. ^ Clarke, Gerald (2001). Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-50378-1. 
  8. ^ Clarke 76
  9. ^ Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Media notes). Walt Disney Studios. 2008.
  10. ^ Thomas F. Brady "Some Hollywood Highlights", New York Times, February 8, 1942
  11. ^ Cotten, Joseph: Vanity Will Get You Somewhere: An Autobiography by Joseph Cotten (Avon Books (Mm) July 1988), ISBN 978-0-380-70534-4
  12. ^ Bob Dorian on American Movie Classics
  13. ^ Carmel Dagan "Deanna Durbin, Plucky Movie Star of the Depression Era, Is Dead at 91", Variety, April 30, 2013
  14. ^ The New York Times, August 23, 1948
  15. ^ Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2013. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  16. ^ Thomas F. Brady, "Hollywood Digest", The New York Times (June 19, 1949)
  17. ^ cited by Michael Freedland Obituary: Deanna Durbin, The Guiardian, 1 May 2013
  18. ^ "NOSTALGIA: Deanna Durbin" San Francisco Chronicle profile
  19. ^ Private letter to film historian/critic William K. Everson in the late 1970s
  20. ^ Plagiarist Poetry Archive
  21. ^ "The Song of Slava", The Washington Post, 1983

External links[edit]