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Deanna Durbin: Less-Than-Rosy Hollywood Memories

Deanna DurbinDeanna Durbin: Three Husbands with Universal Pictures background

[See previous post: “Deanna Durbin: Highest Paid Actress in the World.”] By the time the 26-year-old Deanna Durbin's film career was over, the movies' personification of girl next door wholesomeness had been married twice: Durbin's union with Universal Pictures assistant director Vaughn Paul ended in 1943. Two years later, she married another Universal employee, 43-year-old German-born writer-producer Felix Jackson, among whose screenwriting and/or producing credits were the James Stewart / Marlene Dietrich Western hit Destry Rides Again (1939), the well-regarded Ginger Rogers / David Niven comedy Bachelor Mother (1939), and several Deanna Durbin star vehicles, including Mad About Music, Hers to Hold, and Lady on a Train. Jackson, in fact, produced nearly all of her post-Joe Pasternak films of the mid-'40s, the one exception being The Amazing Mrs. Holliday. The last Jackson-Durbin collaboration was the 1947 critical and box office misfire I'll Be Yours, which came out as their marriage was crumbling.

Deanna Durbin would become a two-time divorcee in 1949, the year after she quit films.

“When my first marriage failed, everyone said that I could never divorce. It would ruin the 'image,'” she would recall during her interview with David Shipman. “How could anybody really think that I was going to spend the rest of my life with a man I found I didn't love, just for the sake of an 'image'?"

Not caring about her public image, Durbin married for the third (and, as it turned out, last) time in 1950. Her husband was the German-born, French-raised (his place of birth is now French territory) 46-year-old Charles David (a.k.a. Charles-Henri David), her Lady on a Train director and a fellow music enthusiast.

According to the IMDb, David's only other directing credit was another 1945 Universal release, River Gang, starring Gloria Jean – groomed as a younger Deanna Durbin clone, though, much like Universal's Susanna Foster and Peggy Ryan, ultimately without ever getting near Durbin's popularity.

Deanna Durbin and Charles David: Protection from mosquitoes, spiders, dinosaurs, reporters

Following her marriage to Charles David, Deanna Durbin left her Pacific Palisades estate and retired with her husband to a farmhouse in the village of Neauphle-le-Château, outside Paris. Durbin, whose money had reportedly been invested wisely, would live there for the next six decades, generally refusing to grant interviews or discuss her years in Hollywood.

“When we married, we made a deal,” Durbin told author David Ragan in 1976. “My husband would protect me from spiders, mosquitoes and reporters. My job is to protect him from lions, tigers and dinosaurs. It has worked. I have not had to give an interview or pose for pictures for years and my husband can't remember last when a dinosaur breathed down his neck.”

The old studio system 'firmly rigged against the individual in favor of the machine'

Deanna Durbin's feelings about her Hollywood days weren't exactly positive. At about the time she quit films, Durbin told Eddie Cantor, “I don't want to have anything to do with show business ever.” And in a letter sent to the press in the late '50s, she stated, “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.”

Unlike most of her contemporaries, who usually chose to reminisce about the past through rose-colored glasses, Durbin agreed with David Shipman that Old Hollywood's studio “system was firmly rigged against the individual in favor of the machine.”

That statement may sound like bitterness on Durbin's part, but the facts bear her out. During the studio era, from the 1920s to the 1950s, Durbin's brief 12-year stardom was the rule, not the exception, no matter how talented or determined the individual. Once a star became identified with a big-screen persona, it was nearly impossible to transcend it. For the most part, studio bosses couldn't care less; if the public got tired of the same old star vehicles featuring Kay Francis or Greer Garson, there would always be a Bette Davis or a Deborah Kerr waiting in the wings.

Deanna Durbin's Hollywood years: Life in a goldfish bowl

As for those who believe that rabid fan worship is a new phenomenon reserved for the likes of Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez, Deanna Durbin's experiences indicate otherwise.

“I hated being in a goldfish bowl,” she told Shipman. “If I went to New York, I had to stay in my hotel room or go everywhere under guard, whisked away in a big black limousine, terrified that the fans running alongside would get hurt in the traffic.” At a train station in Texas, the police lost control of a crowd of fans trying to reach Durbin, which resulted in her mother suffering two broken ribs. “I have never been so frightened. They put me in the town jail for safety and to avoid the mob still waiting at the station.”

Yet, Durbin would also admit that the actual film work had been a positive experience:

“I did not hate show business. I loved to sing. I was happy on the set. I liked the people with whom I worked and after the nervousness of the first day, I felt completely at ease in front of the camera. I also enjoyed the company of my fellow actors [the usual “older men” Franchot Tone, Robert Cummings, Walter Pidgeon, etc.] … I did two films with my special friend, Charles Laughton. Working with these talented men helped me so very much and I grew up much faster than the average teenager. What I did find difficult was that this acquired maturity had to be hidden under the childlike personality my films and publicity projected on me.”

[“Deanna Durbin: Third Marriage and Less-Than-Rosy Hollywood Memories” continues on the next page. See link below.]

Deanna Durbin publicity shot: Universal Pictures.

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1 Comment to Deanna Durbin: Less-Than-Rosy Hollywood Memories

  1. kiridashi

    It started with eve, was the one movie that had me finding who this pianist was….My grandmother listened to music like this….from what I heard arent chateau's places where French Castles are located….Ken.bye