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Deanna Durbin


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Recently I have heard that the movie "It Started With Eve" is one to watch. So, I wanted to buy it on DVD and came across the Deanna Durbin sweetheart pack on DVD. I bought it, but I really don't know much about her! However, she looks interesting. I would appreciate any information or opinions on her. What movies or songs do people like of hers? Hopefully I will get to watching her movies soon!

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I don't know a lot about her, but that she was a contemporary of Judy Garland. The only movie I have seen with her is "Lady on a Train". I liked it. I think I first saw it on TCM and you can rent it from Netflix.

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Hi, MMFan!


I'm a big fan of Deanna's, but, like you, don't know a whole lot about her; at least, not as much as I do about other actors and actresses I like. As far as I know she really doesn't have any interest in writing her memoirs or authorizing another author to write her biography, which is disappointing, but understandable. For a lot of good info about Deanna, there is a thread that was started a few months ago about her either in one of the other forums. There are also some older threads you can find in the archives with a lot of great information.


Probably my favorite Deanna Durbin film is "It Started With Eve," which is in the Sweetheart Pack. I also enjoyed "Christmas Holiday" with Gene Kelly; it's the only real drama she did and both her and Gene are so out of their typical screen characters, it's a little unnerving--especially Gene's character.


Well, I hope you enjoy watching Deanna's movies, and good luck in finding the info you want!


Carrie, aka harlow1085

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Hi MarilynMonoreFan:


I like all the movie sopraons but Deanna is my favorite. In fact, I have a Group on Yahoo! dedicated to her, so I can probably answer all (or most) of your questions, assuming you're still interested given that your post was ten days ago.


Here's some information on her background which you might find interesting, as it often gets short shrift in biographical write-ups on her:


Deanna was born Edna May (not "Mae" as it's often spelled) Durbin on December 4, 1921, the second child of James and Ada (Read) Durbin in Winnipeg Canada. The couple's other child, Deanna's sister Edith, was eleven years older. The family had emigrated to Canada from Britain and would subsequently move to California when Deanna was just over a year old when Mr. Durbin's health concerns necessitated they find a more temperate climate. However, before the family moved, Edna May was awarded a plaque for the "Loudest Crying Baby" at the Winnipeg Fair, which I guess one could say was the first manifestation of her remarkable voice;


Although Edna May's remarkable singing voice began to manifest itself when she was quite young, she was not able to begin formal vocal study until after Edith had graduated from school and begun her career as a teacher, using her earnings to finance Deanna's lessons at the local Ralph Thomas Academy, beginning in 1933. A local actor turned agent, Jack Sherrill, heard Edna May perform "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes" at a student voice recital and took her to Walt Disney studios for an audition for the voice of Snow White. The thirteen year-old Edna May ultimately failed to get the role because Disney thought she "didn't sing like a child.";


Sherrill subsequently heard that MGM was looking for a young girl to play the renowned opera singer Eva Schumann-Heink as a child in a projected film biography of the diva and brought Edna May to the studio for an audition. Deanna later recalled that she "must have sung for at least ten" different studio executives but the audition was successful and she was placed under contract to the studio at $100 a week. Although L.B. Mayer was out of town at the time of the audition, his stand-in, Metro executive Sam Katz, was so impressed with Edna May's voice that he had her sing to Mayer over the phone and Katz was immediately given authority sign her without a screen test.;


A few weeks after signing her contract with MGM, Edna May made her national radio debut on the MGM sponsored SHELL CHATEAU HOUR in late December 1935. Although she was a few weeks past her fourteenth birthday, she was introduced by host Wallace Beery as "thirteen year-old Edna May Durbin." Her performance of the title song from the Columbia smash, ONE NIGHT OF LOVE prompted the star of that picture, temperamental Metropolitan Opera star Grace Moore to comment: "That little girl is a better singer than I am!";


The proposed film biography of Mme Schumann-Heink was cancelled when the elderly diva passed away and, Edna May's contract was not renewed by MGM when her six month option came up in June 1936. Whether this was by accident or design is not clear. However, Rufus LeMaire, who had been at MGM during Edna May's tenure with the studio and had recently moved over to Universal as a casting director, remembered "the beautiful blue-eyed youngster with the blue white diamaond of a voice" and immediately had her signed to a contract by Universal in mid-June 1936. Reportedly, a clause in Edna May's contract stated that the studio could not drop her before she had appeared in at least one feature film. Some sources state that LeMaire was so impressed by Edna May that he placed her under personal contract at $300 a week prior to negotiating the deal with Universal. A July 1, 1936 report in the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER stated that Universal had changed "Edna Mae's" first name to "Deanna";


Producer Joe Pasternak and director Henry Koster, newly arrived from Universal's recently shut down European branches, were looking for a "young Mary Pickford" to play a small but key role as one of a trio of sisters who re-unite their divorced parents in a minor family comedy they planned to produce called THREE SMART GIRLS. According to Pasternak's memoir (and most biographical accounts on both Deanna and Judy Garland), Pasternak was told by Rufus LeMaire of both Durbin and Garland and LeMaire arranged for an exhibitor's reel of a series of tests of Durbin and Garland to be sent to Universal for Pasternak and Koster to view. Pasternak recalled that they first saw Judy's film (an acting/singing test) and were immediately enchanted with both her voice and personality and wanted her for the role only to be told that she was not available by LeMaire.


Although momentarily dejected, Pasternak recalled that he eventually acquiesced to LeMaire's entreaties that he view Deanna's film. Although this was only a singing test, Pasternak and Koster were immediately struck by Deanna's remarkable voice, presence and charm and immediately sought to engage her for the film.


Nevertheless, several contemporary sources suggest that Pasternak (who also reportedly was considering child star Edith Fellows) did not have final approval in casting the role, that Universal always had signed Deanna with a view to casting her in the film and imposing her on Pasternak and Koster and that Universal (which had recently undergone a coporate takeover by its' investors and was on the verge of bankruptcy) had no intention of permitting Pasternak to go outside the studio roster to sign Judy Garland (an MGM contract player) for the part. Several sources indicate that it was actually Rufus LeMaire who instigated Deanna's being cast in the film.


In any case, Deanna was ultimately signed to a contract by Universal, however, as THREE SMART GIRLS was not yet ready to begin production, MGM chose to exercise a clause in her MGM contract which allowed the studio to recall her for up to sixty days following the contract's termination providing she wasn't working on a film at her new studio. Thus, in early July 1936, Deanna found herself back on the MGM lot filming the short that would become EVERY SUNDAY opposite Judy Garland. Although most sources on Durbin and Garland characterize this short as a "

sort of screen test" to help MGM decide which of its' talented girl singers to keep under contract, the fact that Deanna had already been signed by Universal by the time the short went into production makes this version somewhat suspect. This also might explain why EVERY SUNDAY seems slanted to favor Judy in several scenes, since it seems unlikely that MGM would go to the trouble of working up a prominent role for a performer under contract to a rival studio as Deanna was at that time.


Following completion of her EVERY SUNDAY assignment, Edna May returned to Universal. As THREE SMART GIRLS was still not ready to begin production, Sherill arranged for Deanna to audition for a featured role on showman Eddie Cantor's top-rated radio show, TEXACO TOWN. Amazed by Deanna's poise, charm and remarkable soprano voice, Cantor signed her on the spot and twenty-five years later would recall: "I knew she would be a great star from the moment I heard that voice. It was a thrill to present her."


Deanna created an immediate sensation when she debuted on the program on September 26, 1936. When Cantor "inadvertently" failed to introduce her by her full name it resulted in CBS being flooded with 5,000 letters from captivated listeners demanding to know more about her. By the end of 1936, Deanna had been universally hailed as "The Radio Discovery of the Year," a fact later acknowledged by RADIO GUIDE Magazine when she won their "Favorite New Artist of the Year Award" with a remarkable 5,000,000 votes.


When production began on THREE SMART GIRLS in September 1936, studio executives, screening the first few days' rushes, were amazed by Deanna's poise and charm and immediately began re-writing her small featured role to the main role of the film, now envisioning it as a star vehicle for the film neophyte. Advertising for the film was now geared to focus exclusively on Deanna, "Radio's Sensational Songbird!" and, in December 1936, when the film was ready for release (it would not go into general release until January 1937), Deanna was instantly acclaimed as a new superstar by prominent newspapers like THE NEW YORK TIMES and periodicals like TIME Magazine. The film, which billed her in the opening credits as "Universal's New Discovery," was also nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award and Deanna received several prizes for her debut performance including a "Best Actress" Award from the Screen Actor's Guild.

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