Deanna Durbin Dies: 1930s Child Star Dead at 91
These days, being a child and teen star is packed with serious perils. But Deanna Durbin -- a world-famous young movie actress during the 1930s and 1940s -- managed to do it right. One of Hollywood's biggest and most highly-paid stars during her heyday, Durbin died "a few days ago" at age 91, her son Peter H. David said in a fan club newsletter published on Tuesday, April 30. Offering no additional details on his mother's passing, David thanked Durbin's fans for respecting her privacy.
Unlike her peers Shirley Temple, Judy Garland and others during the time, Durbin escaped completely from the public eye after 1949, when she retired from Hollywood to live in a French village with her third husband, director Charles David. But during her Hollywood reign, Durbin, in a series of hit comedies and musicals, held as much clout as modern-day movie stars -- practically rescuing her studio, Universal Pictures, from financial ruin, with box office smashes like Three Smart Girls, First Love, Spring Parade and many others.
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and raised in Southern California, the singer and actress was discovered in junior high school, and landed her first role in a one-reel short, Every Sunday, opposite Judy Garland herself.
She even won a miniature 1938 Academy Award (alongside Andy Rooney) for her "significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth." Durbin struggled to outgrow her spunky little girl persona, with negative reactions to more mature, intense roles in films like Christmas Holiday and Lady on a Train.
In 1946, she was paid more than $320,000 from Universal -- making her one of the highest paid women in Hollywood. In 1949, after starring in 21 films, Durbin opted to retire for good, explaining that she "hated being in a goldfish bowl." In a 1958 letter to reporters written from her exile in France (as reported by the New York Times), she explained: "I was never happy making pictures. I've gained weight. I do my own shopping, bring up my two children and sing an hour every day."
In addition to son Peter David, the star is also survived by daughter Jessica from her second marriage. Lady on a Train director Charles David died in 1999, just before the couple's 50th wedding anniversary.