Monday, June 13, 2011

The Girl is...thinking about Deanna Durbin

In The Girl is Murder, teen sleuth, Iris Anderson, and her friends are obsessed with actress Deanna Durbin (born 1921), so much so that Iris belonged to her fan club and her former best friend kept a scrap book of clippings about the actress. So who was Deanna Durbin and why were so many young women drawn to her?

Durbin was a child star known for playing the “ideal teenage daughter” in films like Every Sunday and Three Smart Girls. Like Judy Garland, she was also a singer and frequently sang in her films.  In 1939 she shared the Academy Awards Juvenille Award with Mickey Rooney for ""for their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players, setting high standards of ability and achievement." There was a large variety of merchandise sold to cash in on her, including Deanna Durbin dolls and dresses. In fact, by the time she turned twenty-one, she was the highest-paid woman in the United States and highest-paid female film star in the world.

Take that, Lindsay Lohan.

As Durbin entered the 1940s, she yearned to become a woman on film just as she was becoming a woman in real life, but like many child stars she had a hard-time transitioning into more sophisticated roles since her fans preferred her in light, comedic parts. She ultimately ended up retiring from acting in 1949, when she was only 28 years old. In her only interview after her retirement, granted in 1983, she explained that while she loved performing and working in film,  "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.” She also bemoaned the bad quality of the films she was making in exchanging for so much money. You can read the whole interview here.

Durbin inspired one of the largest, most devoted fan clubs in history (and fans are still out there -- just take a look at the comments on the youtube clips featuring her). Among the teenage girls who worshipped her was Anne Frank, who had a picture of the actress hanging in the room where her family hid during World War II. Durbin was also fictionalized in two novels, where the actress was a Nancy Drew-like character. She was also Winston Churchill's favorite actress.

Here's a clip of fifteen year old Deanna singing "I Love to Whistle" in the 1938 film Mad About Music.

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