When she was 13 she became a singing sensation--funny enough she and Garland tried out together. Nobody remembers Deanna because she didn't die tragically or party too hard.
I met her one spring break on a TCM Deanna Durbin Birthday celebration when they showed a bunch of her movies in a day, starting with Three Smart Girls. Instead of reading on the beach or in the hot tub (my favorite Florida vacation staple), I stayed in by myself all day and listened to her sing. It was perfect.
Not even close to pop sounding, she was very operatic. But from 13-27 she was the highest paid actress in Hollywood. Then in 1948, at 27, she quit everything, and went to live in Switzerland. Not many people remember her.
But in college, they did a chat and showing of It Started With Eve (one of my favorites), and I was hooked again. I bought a VHS copy and took it up to Grandma's. And that is when I started my Deanna collection. She loved it. I brought a few new movies each time, and Grandma was in heaven. She remembered going to the picture show years ago and watching "the singer," and she loved her.
I loved the sweetness and cheer that got the country through the last few years of the depression and all of WWII. From Girls (the original parent trap), to 100 Men and a Girl (which made my Grandpa cry) and had her singing with 100 out-of-work musicians, jumping over chairs in Eve, the semi-noir of Lady on a Train, the days of radio in Something in the Wind, or the ridiculousness of the entire supreme court messing with your love life in For Love of Mary. There is a Cinderella story, a mother-daughter story, sisters stories, rags to riches, a snobby senator's daughter crossing the plains, and plenty of singing--only a few in color. I found out a few years ago that she was still alive and living in Switzerland and seriously contemplated writing a fan letter.
Today, my heart hurt a little when I saw the notice that she died. Partially because I will miss her, but partially because that means that I've lost a little bit of Howard and Dawna Larsen again. College weekends with just us (or sometimes with A) watching a Deanna in their living room. A Deanna for Grandma and an action movie for Howard. Those were my Saturday nights in Fish Haven, ID--once a month in college. I love them dearly. And I love her, too. It made me feel like we would have been friends if we grew up at the same time. And I knew that for a short time, I was their fourth daughter. The singer lived a long, full life, Grandma. I think Dawna'd be pleased.
Thanks, Deanna, for years of delightful movies. You can still catch them on TCM, or sometimes Youtube, and Amazon has the first collection for cheap, but the second group (the one I don't have on DVD) is always a little too pricey for me. Someday. I'm still trying to get His Butler's Sister on DVD somehow. Watching a pack of butlers fall for her charms is super darling. How can you not find her a treat?
Here are a few musical moments to sample.