The above photo symbolizes the way I always picture actress Deanna Durbin: a young girl standing very straight and singing her little heart out. This photo is from the 1937 film One Hundred Men and a Girl, in which Durbin persuades conductor Leopold Stokowski to lead a large symphony orchestra performance that will somehow save her musician father's career. I haven't seen the film -- few of the Durbin movies are available on DVD in this country -- but it also stars Adolphe Menjou as her dad, and the supporting cast includes some of the best character actors of the Thirties: Alice Brady, Eugene Pallette, Mischa Auer (hey, weren't they all in My Man Godfrey?).

Deanna Durbin was born on this day in 1921, and the Canadian actress and singer is still alive today, although she has granted very few interviews in the past half-century. She and Judy Garland appeared together in a 1936 short film for MGM, Every Sunday, and then their respective careers took off. MGM let go of Durbin, who went to Universal ... and the success of her first feature, Three Smart Girls (which is available on DVD), is often credited with saving the studio from serious financial difficulties. Durbin starred in a long string of musicals where she was the young woman who fixed everyone's problems, romantic or financial or whatnot, by the end of the film. While Garland was singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" for MGM, Durbin was singing an aria from La Traviata (in One Hundred Men and a Girl). Durbin was extremely popular in her day, and albums of her vocal performances sold like hotcakes, as well as Deanna dolls for little girls. Eventually her stock character was allowed to grow up and date boys, and even starred in some minor film noir, such as Robert Siodmak's Christmas Holiday in 1944 (with Gene Kelly, oddly enough).

Durbin's last film was For the Love of Mary, in 1948. She was still a film star, but disliked the public life of a celebrity. After marrying her third husband and moving to Paris, she retired entirely from acting and distanced herself from Hollywood and filmmaking as much as possible. Now how often does that happen?

categories Features, Cinematical