Deanna Durbin, teenage movie star, dies at 91
Deanna Durbin, who has died at the age of 91, did not maintain the kind of reknown that still attaches itself to her exact contemporary Mickey Rooney, but in the 1930s she was one of the biggest stars on the planet. In 1939, she and Rooney managed the unusual honour of receiving special Oscars “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”. Few contemporaneous stars radiated such luminous freshness. But, as is so often the case in Hollywood, she eventually ended up in conflict with unimaginative studio bosses who wished her to remain in the box they had prepared for her. Born in Winnipeg, she moved with her parents to California when still an infant. By the age of eight, she was being taught how to warble in the fashionable style. MGM picked her up – then rapidly dropped her – when she was 14. Universal Pictures, then slightly more downmarket than the company is today, saw her potential and cast her in a stream of hits such as One Hundred Men and a Girl, Mad About Music and Three
Smart Girls Grow Up. In the 1940s, however, she became disillusioned with the industry and, after two failed marriages, moved to France. “I did not hate show business,” she said in a 1983 interview. “What I did find difficult was that this acquired maturity had to be hidden under the childlike personality my films and publicity projected on me.” Her subsequent marriage to Charles David was a long and happy one.
Golden girl: Hollywood star Deanna Durbin with her first husband, Vaughn Paul, in 1939.