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HAPPY 84TH BIRTHDAY, DEANNA DURBIN!


d120421
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Universal songbird Deanna Durbin turns 84 today. In addition to being the only performer in film history to be publicly credited with singlehandedly saving her studio (Universal) from bankruptcy and sustaining it as a Hollywood power duirng its' darkest economic days, she was also popular culture's first "Teen Idol," the first adolescent film superstar, the first great cinematic child star to make the transition from child to adult star without losing her popularity, and, practically from the time of her film debut, one of the highest paid performers in the world. It is undisputed that in 1945 and 1947 Deanna Durbin was the highest paid woman in the United States, but several sources indicate that she achieved this accolade for the first time as early as the late 1930s.

 

In addition, Durbin was a spectacularly gifted natural singer actress. With almost no professional expereince to speak of, aside from two years of vocal lessons, she became a superstar with her first film, THREE SMART GIRLS, and retained that status until she chose to retire from public performing in 1949. She was said to have the biggest fan club in the world, and, during her career, introduced millions of fans and admirers, including Dame Joan Sutherland, Mel Torme, Rita Moreno, Angela Lansbury and Mel Torme to the joys of singing and classical music. Her success was so immediate and so spectacular, that she started other studios scrambling to develop other talented young adolescent stars, including Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell, and, at Deanna's own studio, Gloria Jean and Ann Blyth. In contemporary interviews, Garland herself publicly thanked Deanna for creating interest in Hollywood for leading roles for adolescent girls.

 

After a spectacularly successful career, and despite several subsequent tempting offers which included the female lead in the film version of KISS ME KATE and the original Broadway production of MY FAIR LADY, Deanna Durbin chose to retire from public life in 1949 and devote herself to her family. Shortly after, she married French director Charles David (her third marriage), a union which endured for 49 years until Mr. David's death in March, 1999.

 

Hopefully, she's had a wonderful day celebrating with family and friends. She certainly deserves it!

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Thank you for that informative tribute! I had no idea today was her birthday... it's a shame TCM hasn't programmed any of her films today. I realize they don't own her movie catalogue, but surely they could've licensed ...?

 

I only hope the rest of her movies get released on DVD someday soon. Universal doesn't seem to remember how much they owe to Deanna Durbin!

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You're welcome. On the issue of TCM showing some of Deanna's movies, here's a tribute TCM host and HOLLYWOOD REPORTER did to Deanna on the occasion of her 80th birthday i 2001. It appears that Mr. Osborne is a great admirer of Deanna's talent and legacy, even if TCM as a corporation and its' programmers may not be:

 

A half-century later, still no showbiz regrets

 

NEW YORK -- Today marks the birthday for many showbiz notables,

including Jeff Bridges and Marisa Tomei, but one who deserves an

extra drumroll is Deanna Durbin, who on this Dec. 4 celebrates her

80th natal day. (Deanna Durbin 80? Unimaginable!) For those who might

not be aware of Durbin's name or work, let's just say you've been

shortchanged. She was, without question, one of the most infectious

and likable personalities and singers Hollywood both developed and

exploited; she also became the industry's highest-paid woman star at

a time the film world was swarming with provocative females. Durbin's

films not only turned Universal from a second-class company to a big

gun but actually saved the studio from bankruptcy with her first two

features (1936's "Three Smart Girls" and 1937's "100 Men and a

Girl"), after which she starred in not musicals per se but a stream

of brightly written, neatly executed Universal comedies (and a drama

or two) in which music was a predominate feature but not the focus.

Durbin received a special Academy Award in 1938 "for bringing to the

screen the spirit and personification of youth." She was considered

Exhibit A as "the big one that got away" from MGM. At age 14, the

Canada-born Edna Mae Durbin had been recommended to MGM by a talent

scout and was promptly cast in a musical short, "Every Sunday," along

with another potential contractee, 13-year-old Judy Garland. MGM,

figuring it had room for only one singing juvenile, picked Garland to

stay and waved goodbye to Durbin. Universal immediately snapped her

up and, within months, was making a fortune because of her. (It was

another seven years before Garland's boxoffice potency or fame began

to equal Durbin's.) But at age 27, at the top of her game, Durbin did

the unthinkable. She bolted. After 12 years of being Universal's top

boxoffice draw, Durbin did a Garbo. She left Hollywood, moved to

France, married third husband Charles David and never looked back.

Nor has Hollywood ever been able to lure her back. Not for other

films (Joe Pasternak offered her the moon to do "Kiss Me Kate" in

1953), nor for passage on a "Love Boat," not to pick up a plaque at

any award party. So completely has Durbin dissociated herself with

the film industry that she has not given an interview in the past 53

years. And long ago she began signing her letters to chums not as

Deanna but by her pre-Hollywood name, Edna Mae. Durbin will be

celebrating this natal day in Paris in her spacious Left Bank

apartment, one with a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower, and one

she has shared with her husband lo these many years. Said Garland

many years ago, "She was the smartest one of us all."

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