Singer-actress Deanna Durbin, who was the highest paid actress of 1947, has died at the age of 91. Her son, Peter H. David, made the announcement in a newsletter to her fans, saying she died ‘a few days ago’.
Deanna started acting at the age of 14. She soon signed a contract with the struggling Universal and her first film, Three Smart Girls, saved the studio from bankruptcy. Her subsequent films were huge successes and she became a studio marketing tool. There were Deanna dolls, dresses and even books. In 1939, Durbin and fellow teen star Mickey Rooney were presented with Juvenile Academy Awards for their ‘significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth’.
She was a favorite of Winston Churchill and Benito Mussolini and Anne Frank had pictures of her on the wall while she and her family were hiding from the Nazi’s. As Deanna became an adult, she tried hard to lose her ‘girl next door’ image. But the studio fought her on this and the public did not accept her in these roles. In the meantime she had been married twice and had a little girl.
Deanna had always struggled with the publicity that she felt invaded her privacy, saying she ‘hated being in a goldfish bowl’. She realized she did not want her daughter to grow up in Hollywood and she had become desillusioned with showbusiness. She became involved with director Charles David and they had a son. In 1948 she made what was to be her last film, For the Love of Mary. In 1949, at the age of 29, the still very succesful Deanna married David, moved to France and never returned to the limelight again.
She gave one interview in the subsequent years, in 1983, in which she explained why she had left Hollywood, made it clear that she was a very happy woman and that she would not search the limelight again. Still, her fanbase grew over the years, keeping her Hollywood legacy alive.