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Deanna Durbin

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Deanna Durbin was the second child of British immigrant parents who moved the family to Southern California when she was still an infant. She demonstrated a singing talent at an early age and eventually began to study voice at Ralph Thomas' Academy in Los Angeles. In 1935, while only in her early teens, she successfully auditioned for a part in a proposed film biography of opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink to be made by MGM. The studio first put her in a short, Every Sunday, in which she co-starred with Judy Garland, another young, aspiring singer/actress, who was six months her junior. There is a story -- probably apocryphal -- that MGM decided to keep only one of the two and that Durbin was dropped by mistake. Actually, the studio did not renew her contract when the Schumann-Heink film was canceled. At this point, Rufus LeMaire, the casting director who had brought her to MGM and subsequently moved to Universal, signed her and convinced his new studio to put her in the film Three Smart Girls. While it was being made, Durbin became a regular on Eddie Cantor's radio show, and just before it was released, she began recording for Decca Records; she was just turning 15 years old. Three Smart Girls was a big hit and Durbin became a star. She made an additional 20 films for Universal through 1948. In each, she usually sang a few songs, including a mixture of newly written material and arias from operas. Frequently, she made studio recordings of the same material for Decca. (The day of the original soundtrack album did not arrive until late in her career.) Unfortunately, her movies vastly overshadowed her recordings. Of her recordings, only "My Own" -- a song she also sang in the 1938 film That Certain Age -- made the charts. By the mid-'40s, Durbin had become disillusioned with Hollywood, especially after the commercial disappointment of Christmas Holiday (1944), an adaptation of a Somerset Maugham novel that marked her attempt to become a serious actress. Although she was the movie industry's highest-paid female star in 1947, she gave up filmmaking in 1948 at the age of 26. In 1950, she married her third husband, Charles David of Pathé Films, and moved to Normandy, France, where she remained out of the limelight. Nevertheless, her films continued to be shown on television and were made available on video. Many of her recordings, drawn from her films and radio appearances as well as the Decca catalog remained in print. ~ William Ruhlmann

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Birth Name:

Edna Mae Durbin


04 December 1921 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Years Active:

'30s, '40s

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