Deanna Durbin was the singing film star who with assurance and poise captured motion picture audiences in the 1930s and '40s.
Durbin was born in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1921. Her parents, who had emigrated from England, soon moved to Los Angeles with their two daughters, 10-year-old Edith and 1-year-old Deanna.
Durbin's voice first attracted attention when she sang at a school recital attended by studio agent Jack Sherrill. Sherrill was looking for a girl to play the role of a young Madame Schumann-Heink, the well-known opera singer. The studio signed her to an optional contract but, within two months Schumann-Heink was dead and Durbin's contract was not renewed. Sherrill, undaunted, took her next to Universal Pictures.
It was her unusual singing voice and acting ability that registered a phenomenal hit with her initial film, “Three Smart Girls.” The film starred Charles Winninger as Judson Craig, Durbin’s father.
Her next film, “One Hundred Men and a Girl,” with conductor Leopold Stokowski and Adolphe Menjou was even more successful.
In 1938, Durbin, who had had top billing ever since her first film, was paid $129,675 by Universal Pictures.
Durbin’s 1943 film “Hers to Hold,” was a smash hit with publicists, critics and the public — they loved her in the delightful romantic comedy that starred Joseph Cotton and Charles Winninger.
“The present is so much richer and fuller in its possibilities, in the variety of things that it offers in my work. In my next picture, 'Christmas Holiday' from the Somerset Maugham original, I will make my dramatic debut, and a film of the western type will follow that with a great deal of music written by American composers,” she told The Times.
In 1949 Durbin ended her 13-year movie career to marry French film director Charles David, her third husband, and retire to Neauphle-le-Chateau, France. "I was never happy making pictures," she said. "They never allowed me to grow up as a normal child."
Durbin's death was reported April 30, 2013. She died in the village of Neauphle-le-Chateau, France, where she had lived since 1949. She was 91.