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Thursday, March 20, 2014

THE REEL REALS: Deanna Durbin

Deanna Durbin

Deanna Durbin was Universal Studios' answer to Judy Garland. Actually, that's reversed. Judy Garland was scooped up by MGM after Universal passed her over for Deanna! This may seem like a bad business decision based on Judy's remaining allure, but Deanna's voice and talent was just as big as that of her contemporary. What Garland had in brass and innocence, Deanna had in grace and surprising sophistication, particularly considering that her onscreen career began at the age of 13.

With an elegant, soprano voice that had a range and power above and beyond her years, Deanna also possessed the intelligence and maturity that would make her a sharp as a whip, though miniature, leading lady. While the youngest member of the cast, she always stole the show in her productions, including the Three Smart Girls films. Audiences responded whole-heartedly to her adorability, her voice, and her personality-- which was part angel, part rebel. While she was always looking to solve a problem, her characters often mucked things up in the process. Still, she always sang people back to her side.

Unfortunately for Hollywood, Deanna grew up. The awkward years between adolescence and adulthood always pose problems for young women in the industry. The studio wanted to maintain her public draw but feared that she would lose her audience if she started becoming a woman and not the innocent teen whom they had fallen in love with. Slowly, she made the transition with films like First Love opposite  Robert Stack, and by the time she starred in It Started with Eve opposite Robert Cummings, she was accepted as classy yet feisty adult, her career continuing undamaged. However, Deanna wanted more out of her career than the standard good girl roles that she had been given. 

Naturally, Hollywood as ever was loathe to allow for any change in her screen persona. As such, Deanna bowed out, determined to experience a full, rich life outside the spotlight. After all, she'd been working since she was a teenager. There was much more to her identity than she had ever been given the privilege to truly exhibit. So, she ditched town and moved to France where she lived out the rest of her days in privacy with her family, passing away just this past April (2013). Her song lives on.

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