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[i]THREE SMART GIRLS (1936) ON TCM TONIGHT: DEANNA DURBIN'S DEBUT[/i]


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I'll take Jane Powell any day over Deanna

 

Well, she WAS 14 years old when she made this one, with a phenomenally developed voice for that age - AND technology had made giant strides by the time Jane went to MGM. AND if the audiences of the time hadn't taken DD to their hearts, JP (and KG) might never have gotten inside the studio gates. If you've never seen "Can't Help Singing," then you haven't seen what she was really to become. As well, in an entirely different way (dramatically), "Christmas Holiday."

 

Only one year later, "One Hundred Men and a Girl," she (and technology) had made great improvement all around. If Universal could get Leopold Stokowski to co-star with her (granted, he loved publicity!), that was a pretty good stamp of approval on her teenaged efforts.

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I'll take Jane Powell over Deanna any day.

 

I had the opposite reaction. I much prefer Deanna to Jane Powell. I also generally prefer Deanna's Universal films to the films Pasternak made with Jane at MGM.

 

While I do think some of Deanna's work in this first film is raw and some of line readings in the more energetic moments are shrill and over-emphatic, I'm very impressed by the naturalness, spontaneity and confidence she displays overall. I think she displays more self-confidence and assurance as a singer and actress than Jane and most of the others.

 

On the advice of some people whose opinions I respect, I've recently been checking out some of Jane's early recordings and films. I think she was very talented, with a lovely voice, and I like some of her later peformances very much, but I don't think I'll ever completely get past the waspish characters of her early films or her coy and arch acting in them.

 

Anyway, Bill is correct that if it weren't for Deanna, it's doubtful that the careers of Jane, Kathryn Grayson and other movie teen singers would have taken the paths they did. And, as Robert Osborne said in his comments, even MGM continued to want her after she retired, and this was despite the fact that Jane, Kathryn Grayson and Ann Blyth were under contract to the studio at that time.

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> I hate to say this but the only good thing about this

> movie was Ray Milland.

>

> I'll take Jane Powell any day over Deanna

>

> Anne

 

How many of her films have you seen? I am a bit biased because my late Mother and her 2 sisters(all deceased now) were huge fans of Deanna's. In fact, my Aunt Betty was the president of one of her fan clubs in Oregon, and got to meet her on the set of one her later films(Up in Central Park perhaps?) We even have photos that were taken of the 2(Some people said my aunt looked like her, I don't know about that though) Anyway, she was very nice to my Aunt, who continued to be a lifelong fan, unfortunately, she died in the 80's before Deanna's films were released on DVD.

Anyway, as mentioned before, this was her first film, it's very light, but I think you can see she was going to be a star. The best films she made, IMHO are It Started with Eve, a very funny film, with Charles Laughton hamming it up wonderfully, and Robert Cummings as the love interest. I love the fact that Deanna keeps trying to sing for Cummings,(He has no idea she is a good singer) and keeps getting interrupted just as she is about to burst into song...and weirdly enough, there is some sexual chemistry between the 2 leads!(I know, Robert Cummings!) First Love in 1939, a Cinderella type of story, which had her first screen kiss, which amazingly was big news at the time! (And Robert Stack applied the kiss!)One Hundred Men and a Girl is a bit overdramatic at times, but still a very entertaining film as well. In Hers to Hold, she sings a beautiful version of Begin the Beguine(worth the price of admission alone) She was also in a remake of the Good Fairy, called I'll Be Yours in 1947, not as good as the original, but still worth watching.

In fact, most of her films are,(I seem to recall the weakest film was Three Smart Girls Grow Up,) but you can tell towards the end of her Universal career, they were not giving her the budget or scripts she had earlier, and it was wise of her to walk away.

I think all of her films(Except the dark drama she made with Gene Kelly-Christmas Holiday) were released on VHS, and sold very well. But, only a 6 movie DVD set is out right now, (with Three Smart Girls / Something In the Wind / First Love / It Started with Eve / Can't Help Singing / Lady on a Train) and that came out years ago.....

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I respect your opinions, and I'll check out a few more of her movies. I have seen 'First Love' and read about all the publicity of her first kiss, and the fact that Robert Stack was the 'lip' contributor, in fact I think he was stuck with that title for years afterward, "the man who gave Deanna Durbin her first screen kiss". I especially remember her in that corny duel with Judy Garland in that 'Summertime in the Park' thing. I used Jane Powell as an example mainly because they were about the same age when they hit stardom, but I do like Jane, her sweet mannerisms are cute, to me.

 

Anne

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[nobr]Caught glimpses of it, and it looks pretty good (recorded it for later viewing).[/nobr]

 

While have never gone out of my way to watch a Durbin flick (feel she's no Temple or Garland), nevertheless really find myself enjoying them when I see them (e.g. the one with Adolphe Menjou as her musician father).

 

Her effervescence gets to me (in the good sense).

 

S A M

[nobr]527.gif[/nobr]

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While have never gone out of my way to watch a Durbin flick (feel she's no Temple or Garland), nevertheless really find myself enjoying them when I see them (e.g. the one with Adolphe Menjou as her musician father).

 

Well, with all the posting I've done on Deanna in the past, I guess it's no surprise to anyone to find that I think she was very much in Temple's and Garland's class as a child star/performer. I think it's hard to argue that she was as charismatic and charming and as natural an actress as either of them, and as gifted a vocalist as Garland., and her natural, unaffected effervescent quality is absolutely unique.

 

While Deanna may not have sung with the demotic zest Judy injected into her most "upbeat" numbers, she sang in a much wider variety of musical genres than her gifted "pop" MGM "rival" and managed to imbue all of them, including the usually highly stylized classical genre, with an artless ease and naturalness that, for me, is unsurpassed among classically-trained film vocalists. Very few vocalists could do what Deanna Durbin did, as well as she did it. I'm not surprised she remains so highly regarded among many film and music critics, historians, musicians and other performers.

 

On the other hand, I AM somewhat surprised at Robert Osborne's comment, every time he runs a Durbin film, that she has never been interviewed since retiring in 1949. I imagine he (or his staff at TCM) is aware that she has given at least one "official" interview (in 1983 to the late David Shipman) since her retirement. If not, they should be.

 

As for the preference for Jane Powell over Deanna (or vice versa), while Deanna is my favorite movie soprano, and in my opinion, the best singer-actress of the lot, I see no problem with preferring one performer over another. We all have our favorites. That's part of what makes this board so interesting.

 

I had the great pleasure of meeting and briefly chatting with Jane Powell several years ago (as it happened, we talked mostly about Deanna Durbin), and she was absolutely delightful: charming, gracious, still lovely and slim (and, if possible, even more petite than she appears onscreen), and a genuine "star" in the best sense of the word. A marvelous lady!

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[nobr]//her natural, unaffected effervescent quality is absolutely unique.//[/nobr]

 

Can't argue with you there, markus.

 

Probably, what I find not as appealing for me is in fact the singing sequences for I'm not a big fan of soprano singing outside of opera (even though I can recognise Durbin's significant level of talent on that score). But again, I do quite like her acting.

 

Have a similar regard towards Irene Dunne: adore her acting and screen presence, but can do without her singing, talented though she may be; it's just not my cup of tea.

 

 

S A M

[nobr]527.gif[/nobr]

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That's fine, Sam:

 

Subjective impressions are always valid and require no defense or explanation.

 

I enjoy soprano singing, both operatic and "pop," which is undoubtedly one reason I enjoy Deanna's work so much, but I do think, regardless of whether one likes the soprano voice or not, Durbin's voice and musical intelligence is most impressive, very much on a par with Garland's and, talented little performer though she was, quite superior to Temple's vocal endowment. Agree completely with you about her acting. In a role/image that could easily be curdlingly "sweet" and affected, she's very natural. spontaneous and witty.

 

As I hear it, Durbin's singing style also is not as formal or heavily stylized as that of adult soprano contemporaries like Dunne, Jeanette MacDonald, or Grace Moore. She had quite a talent for singing "pop," though, undoubtedly due to the popularity of opera, and other classical vocal pieces at the time (and her ability to sing that repertoire so effectively), she didn't begin to explore this repertoire until later in her career (e.g., SOMETHING IN THE WIND).

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Apparently, if it weren't for Deanna Durbin, Universal Studios would have gone belly up in the late Thirties. See "The Genius of the System" by Thomas Schatz.

 

Also, I was in Moscow in the summer of 1995. One movie theater that showed classic movies was the Illuzion Theater, and I went there several times. You had to wait in the lobby until five minutes before showtime. One wall of the lobby had photos of Russian/Soviet directors, one wall was non-Russian Soviet directors. One wall had Russian/Soviet stars, and the other had non-Russian stars.

 

On that wall, between the photos of Clark Gable and Carry Grant was a photo of Deanna Durbin. I was amazed, but then I remember that during WWII, hers were about the only American films shown in the USSR. Apparently the Americans wanted the Soviet to show Hollywood films, and the Soviets told the U. S. Ambassador (Admiral Standley I think) that they only wanted films with no propaganda. Standley thought that Deanna Durbin's movies were the most empty-headed movies he had ever seen, and so he assured the Soviets they were propaganda free.

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Hi Mike:

 

On that wall, between the photos of Clark Gable and Carry Grant was a photo of Deanna Durbin. I was amazed, but then I remember that during WWII, hers were about the only American films shown in the USSR.

 

I'm not sure about Admiral Standley's opinion, but I don't think Deanna's films were about the only American films shown in Russia during World War II, as Bette Davis, Spencer Tracy, Olivia de Havilland, Charlie Chaplin, Mickey Mouse and other American film stars/characters are also listed as popular attractions in Russian cinema houses during that period, but it does appear that Durbin may have been the most popular and beloved of them all. The tremendous interest the Russian people had in Deanna and her films is refernced/acknowledged in articles published in American newspapers and periodicals of the period such as TIME Magazine and THE NEW YORK TIMES, including several that have nothing to do with movies or musicals in general. It does seem clear that Russian audiences much preferred classical singing to American "pop" as other popular films of the period included The Great Waltz with Miliza Korjus and the MacDonald/Eddy films.

 

However, both Durbin and her films are commented on with admiration and respect in Russian film criticism and, from what I've read she has attained a near-iconic status in Russia since her films were first released there in the late 1930s. In 1991, Goergi Skorochodow, a lecturer at the Moscow Film Institute wrote the following letter to Deanna on the occasion of her 70th birthday:

 

"On the silver screens of our country, we have seen your films since 1939. First we got to know you in 100 MEN AND A GIRL. The followed SPRING PARADE, which was released here as SPRING WALTZ, then at the end of the War HIS BUTLER'S SISTER. All these pictures were great successes and were shown until their licenses expired. They were in the original version with Russian subtitles. For each performance, all tickets were sold out. At the end of the 1940s we had some more of your films, the titles of which were changed. FIRST LOVE became THE FIRST BALL; IT STARTED WITH EVE was COMPULSORY MARRIAGE and MAD ABOUT MUSIC appered as SECRET OF THE ACTRESS.

 

I give lectures and the most popular are on your films. During these pictures, I show scenes from your films, starting with the very first, EVERY SUNDAY. The lectures always end with the showing of one of your films, full length. This year, in June and July, we had a retrospective of your films. Each ended with a discussion about your part and how you played it. The cinema was packed every time.

 

"All this shows that you are very well-remembered and very much loved in our country. Let me wish you the best and express to you greetings from Moscow and your innumerable fans."

 

She also was reportedly one of FDR's favorite actresses and reportedly was often requested to sing at his birthday parties. (She is one of the Guest Performers selected to perform on some of the Radio Birthday Tributes given to FDR). She was unquestionably Prime Minister Winston Churchill's favorite star. He not only reportedly insisted on being permitted to screen her films privately before they went into general release in Britain, but reportedly ran her 1937 film One Hundred Men and a Girl to celebrate British victories during the War. He is on record as calling her "a remarkable talent."

 

Deanna's 1943 film, His Butler's Sister was also the first American film to be screened in Japan following the Japanese Surrender in World War II. Chosen by Douglas MacArthur, it was retitled Prelude To Spring and was an enormous hit, in part because the War had abolished and caused many Japanese to question centuries-old dictums on decorum such as the ban on public displays of affection and many Japanese watched the film to study on the art of "kissing in public."

 

Anyway, from what I've read on her, it does seem that Durbin truly did have an enormous international appeal that cut across cultural differences and language barriers.

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As one who putzed around with a soprano voice all her life, I have huge respect for Deanna Durbin's voice, particularly in regards to the mature nature with which she used her instrument and conducted herself.

 

Still, there's something very disconcerting about that young, pixie-faced girl - which they liked to capitalize on - opening her mouth and suddenly the adult voice took over. And take over, it did! It was difficult to buy into the character once she sang something.

 

Seeing the two together, as TCM showed the short with Deanna and Judy immediately following "Three Smart Girls," was fascinating. As I understand it, Judy seemed to think she was nowhere near as talented, not having that HUGE voice, yet you could understand why the choice would have been made to keep Judy and release Deanna. In fact, the stupid studio should have kept them both!

 

I would have thought Deanna Durbin would be hugely popular throughout Eastern and Western Europe, where there was more interest in operatic performance in the culture than had been cultivated here in the U.S. Her voice may well have been better appreciated by those who understood the difficult mechanics of such vocal stylings.

 

Still, as marvelous as was her voice, she seemed, to me, to be caught up in characters that were border-line annoying - and often slipped over that border. Not her fault when the goal was to show off the voice and how you got into and out of a musical moment didn't really make a lot of difference!

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Hello,

 

Do you have any details on the interview Miss Durbin gave to David Shipman?

 

Was it a videotaped interview or a written interview released to the newspapers?

 

Is it available on line -- or via a magazine article? If the latter, do you know the name of the magazine and the date?

 

I discovered Deanna thru tv back in the early 1960's and always enjoyed her films. The only thing in print I ever saw was a very small paragraph to the effect that Deanna was happily retired and living in France and had no intention on returning to the movies. The article was short and left a kind of wry taste in my mouth.

 

Of all the famous film stars of the 30's and 40's, I always wondered about Miss Durbin...how she was doing, hoping for a current picture. Please don't misunderstand...she is certainly more than entitled to retire in any way she pleases...its just that one likes to hear how such a talented and gracious singer is doing in the "current time"...and that's why I was curious about the Shipman interview. Thanks very much!

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Glad to see there are still some Durbin fans! :) I can see how she can be an acquired taste (Like Nelson and Jeanette) to folks that are under say, 80 because of the singing, but there is gold in them thar films if you give them half a chance. I'd like to see Christmas Holiday again(Boy was that ever the wrong title for that film!) That ran years ago, I think on tbs back when TNT was the main old movie outlet in the Turner empire. My Mom hated that film, so taped over it. :( But I seem to recall her singing a beautiful version of Silent Night.

AMC ran many of her films back in the early 90's, right around the time they came out on VHS/Laserdisc for the first time. Showtime Ran First Love perhaps a year or two before that. But other than that, the films haven't been show much at all. My Aunt that was the head of a branch of the Deanna Durbin Fan Club, taped some very poor copies that ran on TV in L.A. the early 80's. Unwatchable really.

I feel that with her earliest roles, that either Universal's sound equipment couldn't quite record her voice properly since they didn't record a whole lot of sopranos. Could be the next round of releases on DVD will sound better....

Anyway, like I said before, give her best films a shot, It Started with Eve (And give it more than 10 minutes, since it starts with Robert Cummings father being quite ill, the comedy doesn't start till about the 15 minute mark) or First Love. When Eugene Pallette finally grows a backbone, you are cheering!

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Would love TCM to now show Three Smart Girls Grow Up.

 

As far as how I feel about Deanna Durbin as a singer or for that matter any of the other song birds of the 1930's, 40's, and 50's these people that win todays Star Search that get so much attention and millions of viewers could not hold a candel to the like of Durbin, Garland, Dinah Shore, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Lynn and on and on. They had real talent.

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I was trying to see if I could find a copy of the Shipman interview - haven't yet - and came across this link to the Deanna Durbin Page:

 

http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Academy/5228/ddpage.html

 

It will open up to several different categories, etc. I haven't gone far enough to see if the interview is there. All I've seen so far is that she vigorously asserted her right to privacy.

 

Bill

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Hi erzbet:

 

Here's a transcript of the interview Deanna gave to David Shipman. It was published in the December 1983 edition of the now-defunct British magazine, Films and Filming:

 

NOSTALGIA: DEANNA DURBIN

 

BY DAVID SHIPMAN

 

PARIS. No exclamation point. I?ve had Paris. I lived there for five years and what I disliked about the city - the traffic and the prices-can only have increased. Still, I had never seen the Centre Pompidou nor the lady I had come to meet, despite a correspondence that goes back several years. She was once one of rhe most famous women in the world, which didn?t exactly fit in with her conception of the life she wanted to lead. She was Deanna Durbin and she is now Deanna Durbin David: but recent showings of her films on British and American television and reissues of six LP records have persuaded her to become Deanna Durbin again-for just one evening. The British season came about when a BBC radio programme devoted to the public?s comments on the corporation?s output, established that it received overwhelmingly more requests for her films and records than for those of any other star.

 

She became famous overnight in Three Smart Girls, a run-of-the-mill feature whose budget was doubled after studio executives had screened the result of her first few days work. The studio was Universal, threatened with closure for some years, but re-established as a major studio because of her popularity. That popularity was due to her ?fetching naturalness?, as the News Chronicle put it. There was also the mature soprano voice. She sang operatic arias and songs such as ?Beneath the Lights of Home? and ?It?s Foolish But It?s Fun?, which became Hit Parade records. Her first screen kiss received more press coverage than any of Elizabeth Taylor?s marriages, and the transition to adult roles was so successful that, as she left her teens, British cinema managers voted her the biggest draw for three years running.-indeed in 1942 the Odeon Circuit throughout the country offered a Durbin Festival, a different film on each of the week?s seven days, and that has been done for no other star.

 

However, the poor quality of her later films caused her to retire. She had made just 21 films in all, and her career had lasted just thirteen years. Like Garbo, she turned her back on Hollywood: both of them were still young women and both of them refused to even consider further offers. Living since then in a beautiful old farmhouse, just outside Paris with her French husband, she has, during these thirty odd years, refused to see th press-and Monsieur David, champion of gaurdians, has been the intermediary, paitently explaining that she really isn?t interested in show business, and certainly not publicity. She is finally breaking her silence because she is deeply touched by the reaction of old?and new fans. I doubt whether any other stsar of her generation has held the love of her fans quite so surely: so many people, hearing that I was about to visit, became emotional and all-too-serous as they made me promise to mention their affection.

 

?I knew that sooner or later I would give an interview and decided that I would do it with you. I liked your two books on the stars and such statements you made as, ?the system was firmly rigged against the individual in favor of the machine?. I admire you as one admires a scientist who, with a few bones, manages to reconstruct an entire dynosaur. So I am curious to see what you?ll make with the bits and pieces I offer you today??Why did I give up my career? For one thing, just take a look at my last four films and you?ll appreciate that the stories I had to defend were mediocre, near impossible. Whenever I complained or asked for story or director approval, the studio refused. I was the highest paid star with the poorest material-today I consider my salary as damages for having to cope with such complete lack of quality.?

 

?I did not hate show business. I loved to sing. I was happy on the set. I liked the people with whom I worked and after the nervousness of the first day, I felt completely at ease in front of the camera. I also enjoyed the company of my fellow actors, the leading men who were so much older, like Herbert Marshall, Melvyn Douglas, Franchot Tone, Walter Pidgeon, Joseph Cotton, Vincent Price and Robert Cummings. I did two films with my special friend, Charles Laughton. Working with these talented men helped me so very much and I grew up much faster than the average teenager. 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.?

 

I thought it ungentlemanly to ask about money, but asked whether it was true that her father had handled her investments. ?Yes, he did before my first marriage, but he was not a broker or a businessman as the publicity department always made him out to be. My father-Lancashire born and raised-had taken his family to Winnipeg, where he worked as a blacksmith for the Canadian Pacific railway. As the cold Canadian winters ate up all the summer savings, he took us all to California where he worked as a welder and held a variety of manual jobs. His clever hands, combined with my mother?s intelligent housekeeping got us all through the Depression. But my father started having trouble with his health. I remember when he came to pick up mother and me from the studio where I had gone for an audition. Dad looked pale and sick. He had fainted twice and the doctor had told him that he had to stop working for quite a while. He was desperate. ?Would it help Dad, I asked, if I brought home a hundred dollars a week? The studio wants you to come back tomorrow and sign a contract for me. I?ll never forget the look on his face, the happy tears in his eyes.?

 

?I had been singing since the age of goodness-knows. Some neighbors knew an agent, not one of the important ones, and he got a try out for me at the Disney studios for the voice of Snow White, which I didn?t get for they said I didn?t sing like a child. Then he took me to MGM and I sang for one executive who went out and got another executive and I sang again, and I sang again. Each time I sang there was a lot of whispered consultation and someone else was sent for. I must have sung about ten times in all.?

 

MGM put her into a short with Judy Garland, Every Sunday, and this particular Hollywood legend is true, that when Louis B. Mayer said ?drop the fat one? he meant Garland, not Durbin.

 

?For me this was the end. My dog Tippy and I went for a long walk. I was crying bitterly and decided that I?d kill myself-I couldn?t go back to school a failure. Not many months later, returning from my first publicity trip for Three Smart Girls in New York, I saw huge posters of me all over Hollywood. I had become a star. I was tired, but happy and alive!?

 

?Judy soon entered her own period of triumph. Right from the start Judy had an immense talent. She was a professional and had been on the stage since she was two. Her later story is tragic, but I?m certain she could never have given up. She needed an audience as she needed to breathe.?

 

There is no need to comment on the difference between their two fates since Deanna exudes happiness. She goes on, ?I understood Judy, though. I did some vaudeville with Eddie Cantor when I was beginning in pictures and between our weekly radio show. Eight shows a day! It was very exciting. Contact with a live audience is heady stuff, like the evening I walked in to sing at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City when the entire audience rose to its? feet. She laughs. I should have done more live shows?. I point out she did sing extensively for the troops during the War, but that, she says, was a very different emotional experience, remembering one evening when she was lifted on the back of a truck and sang without accompaniment to soldiers about to embark for overseas.

 

?I hated being in a goldfish bowl. If I went to New York, I had to stay in my hotel room or go everywhere under guard, whisked away in a big black limousine, terrified that the fans running alongside would get hurt in the traffic. My mother and I were once mobbed in Texas: the police lost control of the crowd and my mother suffered two broken ribs from people trying to reach me. I have never been so frightened. They put me in the town jail for safety and to avoid the mob still waiting at the station, they flagged the train down in the middle of nowhere, where I got on safely.?

 

Realizing that at fifteen Deanna ahd the world at her feet, I wondered aobut her upbringing. ??very ?proper?. It was drummed into me that I must never have sex with a man before I was married, and then the next day I was off to the studio where a very different set of rules prevailed.-I must admit that it was lovely to be asked and even lovelier to be able to say no?or yes, - Part of the fun of being asked meant that I wasn?t a little girl anymore?and that is why I wanted to look glamourous. I couldn?t wait to wear low cut dresses and look sultry. I remember the day when Philippe Halsman from LIFE magazine came to my home. He said he was going to photograph me ?looking like an angel?. I aswered that I may not know how I did want to be photographed, but if there was one way I certainly did not want to be photographed it was looking like an angel! He laughed and the picture he took more than satisfied me. I?ll admit that for some of my public all of this must have been hard to understand.?

 

?My two broken marriages were not an asset either. When my first marriage failed everyone said that I could never divorce. It would ruin the ?image?. How could anyone really think I was going to spend the rest of my life with a man I didn?t love, just for the sake ?of an image??!?

 

?The second divorce was traumatic, for there was a child involved. Being the child of a movie star can mean a life even more unreal than that of the parent, and at that point I knew that I didn?t want my daughter to grow up in Hollywood.?

 

?Donald O?Connor once said that I was a professional, which, coming from him, pleased me, but that at the time we worked together I was unapproachable??in a funk? as he put it. With my second marriage breaking up at that time, I?m sure he was right.?

 

In 1950 she left for France where she married Charles David who had directed her in LADY ON A TRAIN. Since then she has resisted some tempting scripts: ?I would have had to go through all the paraphenalia?the pre-recording of songs, wardrobe fittings, publicity and so on, not to mention the time this would have taken me away from my family.?

 

Joe Pasternak, who produced her early movies, used to telephone whenever he was in Paris. ?Are you still happy?? he would ask, and when she answered ?yes?, he would say, ?daman, well I?ll try again next time? and hang up.

 

?Just once was I seriously tempted, by the prospect of My Fair Lady on Broadway. It was still in an embryonic state just a few songs completed when Alan Jay Lerner came to my home to play them for me. I loved them?but I had my ticket to Paris in my pocket and anyway, Julie Andrews was great and so was Audrey Hepburn in the film.?

 

So she brought up her children: Jessica returned to America to marry while Peter, her son by Charles David, is working there in medical research. I sense rather than see her pride in them and the reason I don?t see it is because her radiance is absolutely undimmed by the years. She speaks with the directness and vitality of the young Deanna, but again I sense an extra enthusiasm when she says that bringing up the children and seeing them happy represents no sacrifice. Now she and her husband indulge their passions for music and travel, combining both with regular visits to the United States, Salzburg, Florence, Prague, Vienna, Glyndebourne and London. They speak enthusiastically about certain of their favorite singers such as Victoria de Los Angeles, Kiri Te Kanawa, Gundula Janowitz, Frederica von Stade and Teresa Stratas?

 

Deanna herself still sings. She is grateful to her second film, One Hundred Men and a Girl, for introducing her to Mozart. At the age of fifteen she sang Mozart?s Alleluja with the Philidelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting.- It is impossible not to say that I would like to hear her sing, which receives a crisp ?thank you? She did not want to continue making films when she left films because the required publicity would have destroyed the privacy she longed for. I wonder, without asking her, whether she might be tempted now. She does turn down all requests to appear on TV shows and does not want a biography done. I did not suggest that any other form of comeback could be considered, even with the children grown up, for I could not imagine her ever being more contented than she now is ? and we were talking, one or the other of us, for more than five hours. The waste of her talent is in the past, even if, at a cheerfully admitted sixty-one she looks a mere thirty-five, slim and so attractive that it is a relief when she puts on glasses and looks maybe forty. Because of this youthful appearance, and because I doubt whether she has even glimpsed a beautician since she left Hollywood ? she is not only like the young Deanna but uncannily like: candid sensible, completely without affectation, concerned and captivating company. Like all great stars, and despite her particular qualities, she is mysterious. She is Deanna Durbin ? one of the best-loved of all stars. It is to return that love that she has given her first interview in so many years.

 

I assure her that many people who asked me to convey messages of affection were not even born when she quit movies. She smiles, too much of a realist to be surprised. And when you?ve been smiled at by Deanna Durbin you stay smiled at, even when the car won?t start, even when another car has gone into its rear on the Avenue de La Chapelle, even on the rainy drive to Boulogne and find the Hovercraft isn?t running.

 

There was a small color photograph of Deanna (taken by her husband, Charles David) published with the interview. It is online somewhere. If I can recall the location, I'll post the link here. Of course, even this photo (of Deanna at age 61) is now over 23 years old, but, as far as I know, it's the most recent one of her that's been made available to the public.

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Hi Casey:

 

Still, there's something very disconcerting about that young, pixie-faced girl - which they liked to capitalize on - opening her mouth and suddenly the adult voice took over. And take over, it did! It was difficult to buy into the character once she sang something.

 

I respectfully disagree with this assessment. For example, it's not generally reflected in contemporary reviews and commentary on Deanna and her films, such as THE NEW YORK TIMES' 1939 review of Three Smart Girls Grow Up:

 

THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP: "With the singular muddleheadedness of

their tribe, the advertising geniuses at Universal have been

ballyhooing THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP as the occasion of Deanna

Durbin's 'first glamorous role' - as if that were what we wanted of

Miss Durbin, Praise be, it isn't so, and we have never contradicted

an advertiser with greater relief. For Miss Durbin, in her new film,

is still her delightful self, a joyously half-grown miss with a fresh

young voice, clear eyes a coltish gait and the artless art of being

as lovely, refreshing and Springlike as nature has made her.

 

To suggest that this 'teenish miss is glamorous, with a leer ringing

the word, is not only simply stupid but obscene; if we had any

authority over the matter we'd wash the culprit's mouth out with soap

and make him wait an hour for a rinse. Deanna is as glamorous as a

field of daisies, or a morning breeze freshening the waters of the

bay, or-or a tomato plucked at dawn with the night-chilled dew upon

it and the pungent scent of the vine to give it flavor. That-

gentlemen of Universal-isn't glamour, but it's the quality that makes

Miss Durbin the nicest person on the screen today.

 

It is, if you must have it, a Little Miss Fixit role, and we all know

(we who have seen Jane Withers and Shirley Temple playing tourist

guide on the life journeys of their elders) how annoying a meddling

brat can be. But Miss Durbin's Miss Fixit doesn't get on the nerves.

She makes mistakes and they're funny ones; she loses her temper when

her plans go agley, she has tantrums and crying spells, and her ruses

are as transparent as the plot itself. - Have we forgotten to mention

that Miss Durbin sings? She does, and quite well, but not at all

glamorously. We like that about her too.

 

Note that the reviewer is concerned primarily with Deanna and her performance, and mentions her voice only in passing in the final lines of the review. Although audiences undoubtedly were enchanted by Deanna's voice and singing, and it unquestionably was a major factor in her appeal, I think the real secret of her success (as was, I think, the case with Judy Garland), lay in her ability to sing her repertoire so effortlessly and artlessly that it complimented the natural and unaffected qualities she projected as an actress/personality. More recent commentators have noted the manner in which Deanna's musical and non-musical talents complimented each other, as in Professor Bernard F. Dick's comment on her appeal in his history of Universal:

 

Whether Durbin sang a popular ballad or an aria, she made it seem that such art was within everyone?s reach. But that was Durbin; she was the girl next door whose wholesomeness belied her talent. For her, performing ?Un bel di? in First Love (1939) was as natural as singing ?Silent Night? over the telephone to her father in the comedy mystery Lady on a Train (1945) one of her best movies..

 

Still, as marvelous as was her voice, she seemed, to me, to be caught up in characters that were border-line annoying - and often slipped over that border. Not her fault when the goal was to show off the voice and how you got into and out of a musical moment didn't really make a lot of difference!

 

Once again, I think Deanna's special appeal lay largely in the fact that, although her characters had "brattish" qualities, she never came across as "bratty" herself, and audiences undoubtedly responded to her characters' pro-active and indepent efforts to sort out everyone's problems and devise a "happy ending" for all concerned. Charles Affron's appraisal of Deanna is particularly insightful on the manner in which her musical and dramatic talents complimented and, perhaps, influenced each other:

 

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 [Judy] 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.

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I referred elsewhere to a quality that Deanna displays that touches on this point. In many of her roles she is extremely willful. Not really bratty as she is often doing what she feels is best for those involved; but she makes plans and carries them out with a tunnel vision that leads to all kinds of unforeseen consequences. This strength of conviction and character is a powerful component of her characters right up there with her outstanding voice and "sweet" nature (which I think is often exaggerated). She is seldom a "Shrinking Violet" and the character in which she most displays that trait (in "First Love") is one of my least favorite roles for that very reason.

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I love Deanna's independent and resourceful characters. Her films may be contemporary fairy tales, but she really works for those happy endings. I agree that in FIRST LOVE, she's more subdued, but even in this film, she decides to stick it out after meeting her snobbish relatives and quickly wins herself over with the household staff (who ultimately help her to get to the ball). I love the scene in the movie when her mirror reflection berates her for having romantic notions about Robert Stack!

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