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Deanna Durbin: 'The Last Rose of Summer'

Deanna Durbin todayDeanna Durbin: Ephemeral fame (image: Deanna Durbin in 1981)

[See previous post: “Deanna Durbin: 'Sweet Monster.'“] Unlike Greta Garbo, whose mystique remained basically intact following her retirement in 1941, Deanna Durbin's popularity faded away much like that of the vast majority of celebrities who were removed – or who chose to remove themselves – from public view. Despite the advent of home video and classic-movie cable channels, Durbin remains virtually unknown to the vast majority of those who weren't around in her heyday in the '30s and '40s.

Yet, although relatively few in number, she continues to have her ardent fans. There are a handful of websites devoted to Deanna Durbin and her film and recording careers, chiefly among them the appropriately titled “Deanna Durbin Devotees.”

Fade Out

Charles David, Deanna Durbin's husband of 48 years, died in March 1999, at the age of 92; Institut Pasteur medical researcher Peter H. David is their only son. Durbin also had a daughter, Jessica, from her marriage with Felix Jackson. Concern for her daughter's emotional welfare, in fact, was one of the reasons Durbin opted to leave Hollywood for good.

Felix Jackson died age 90 in December 1992. Durbin's first husband, Vaughn Paul, died in June 1999, at age 83.

Joe Pasternak would call Durbin whenever he was in Paris: “Are you still happy?” “Yes.” “Damn. Well, I'll try again next time.” Pasternak, who continued producing movies until 1968, died in 1991, six days before his 90th birthday. Henry Koster, whose last directorial credit was The Singing Nun (1966), a Debbie Reynolds star vehicle that could easily have gone to Deanna Durbin a couple of decades earlier, died at age 83 in 1988.

Slim, 'always smiling' Deanna Durbin

In an October 1979 column, The Glasgow Herald's Gordon Irving wrote that Deanna Durbin lived “modestly in her small estate where the flowers come alive in the summer,” was a Barbra Streisand fan who at times sang Streisand and Beatles songs, and remained “beautiful (if now somewhat plumpish).” Durbin's weight gain seems to have been the general (mis)perception at the time.

In the picture above, Durbin proves herself to be anything but “plump.” Charles David took the picture in 1981 and sent it to film archivist William K. Everson. According to several online reports, around that time another Durbin photo was published in Life magazine – only poor reproductions are available online – showing the world that the former Universal star, who continued to do quite a bit of exercise (see quote below), had not turned fat. To the best of my knowledge, these two are the most recent Deanna Durbin photographs made public.

Also in his column, Gordon Irving quoted a Neauphle-le-Château resident who explained:

“To us she's not Miss Durbin but Madame David. She walks the quarter mile to the shops in the village.

“She's still beautiful, blue-eyed, always smiling.”

Deanna Durbin: 'The Last Rose of Summer'

Wrapping this up, below is Deanna Durbin singing Thomas Moore and John Stevenson's “The Last Rose of Summer” to Charles Winninger in Three Smart Girls Grow Up. (The song was also used in Michael Moore's 2009 documentary Capitalism: A Love Story.) And below that, is Turner Classic Movies' moving, classy “TCM Remembers” segment in honor of Deanna Durbin's passing.

Escape from reality” or no, “synthetic” Universal Pictures concoction or no, watching – and especially listening to – Deanna Durbin in the clip below, it becomes crystal clear why those familiar with her work have remained devoted admirers throughout the decades.

Deanna Durbin movies

Every Sunday (1936 short), with Judy Garland; Three Smart Girls (1936), with Binnie Barnes, Charles Winninger, Alice Brady, and Ray Milland; One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937), with Leopold Stokowski and Adolphe Menjou; Mad About Music (1938), with Herbert Marshall and Gail Patrick; That Certain Age (1938), with Melvyn Douglas, Jackie Cooper, and Nancy Carroll; First Love (1939), with Robert Stack; Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939), with Charles Winninger, Robert Cummings, and William Lundigan.

Also: Spring Parade (1940), with Robert Cummings; It's a Date (1940), with Kay Francis and Walter Pidgeon; Nice Girl? (1941), with Franchot Tone and Robert Stack; It Started with Eve (1941), with Charles Laughton and Robert Cummings; The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1943), with Edmond O'Brien and Barry Fitzgerald; His Butler's Sister (1943), with Franchot Tone and Pat O'Brien; Hers to Hold (1943), with Joseph Cotten.

And: Christmas Holiday (1944), with Gene Kelly; Can't Help Singing (1944), with Robert Paige; Lady on a Train (1945), with Ralph Bellamy; Because of Him (1946), with Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone; I'll Be Yours (1947), with Tom Drake and William Bendix; Something in the Wind (1947), with Donald O'Connor and John Dall; Up in Central Park (1948), with Dick Haymes and Vincent Price; For the Love of Mary (1948), with Edmond O'Brien, Don Taylor, and Jeffrey Lynn.

Deanna Durbin article sources

Besides the sources previously mentioned in this multi-part Deanna Durbin article (Part 1: Deanna Durbin: Remembering One of Hollywood's Top Stars Ever), the following were also helpful: Clive Hirschhorn's The Universal Story, Colin Larkin's The Virgin Encyclopedia of Stage and Film Musicals, Ed Gould's Entertaining Canadians: Canada's International Stars, 1900-1988, and various undated / untitled articles found at Deanna Durbin Devotees.

And last but certainly not least, a big Thank You to Anthony Slide for the Deanna Durbin quotes found in her letter in reference to his Films in Review article.

Slim Deanna Durbin 'today' photo via NYU's William K. Everson Collection.

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Continue Reading: Movie Stars of the 1930s Still Alive: Oscar Winners Luise Rainer, Olivia de Havilland

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7 Comments to Deanna Durbin: 'The Last Rose of Summer'

  1. Mike Pasqua

    I was home with the flu when a local Los Angeles television station began to show her movies. Needless to say, I thought the were great and began to do research. Through a contact at Universal, I got her home address and sent a note about the revitalization of her movies. I received a note back that she appreciated how much her movies continued to reach a younger generation (she apologized for not have a secretary and her typing was not great). Later, I sent her a still (plus postage) which she returned signed to me. She was a “class act” all the way.

  2. Bob Locke

    I have been enjoying a lengthy fiesta of Deanna Durbin films thanks to Amazon, 10 (count them ten) films of utter joy, and my appreciation for a great star who is sublime when she sings and is smart, sassy, clever, honest and inspirational when she speaks every line with such a sense of humor and brilliance, just keeps growing.

  3. Mark

    I enjoyed your article very much. While Deanna's contemporary fanbase may be relatively small (but, as you noted, fiercely devoted) compared to those of stars who remained in the spotlight throughout their lives, and, perhaps most importantly, whose films have been readily available for public broadcast through the years, evidence of her enduring popularity to those who HAVE seen her work is most impressive. For example, when Deanna's films were released on VHS format in the mid-1990s almost 50 years after Deanna announced her retirement, they became the best-selling “series” of films in the history of MCA/UNIVERSAL home video, outselling sets devoted to other better known contemporaries such as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, and her old studio mates, Abbott & Costello, among many others. The BBC also reported for many years it received more requests for her films and recordings than for those of any other star of Hollywood's Golden Age. Remarkable considering that Deanna's films have not been available for regular public broadcasts for over 40 years.

  4. Bob Logie

    I'm at a loss for words to comment on any of her songs but I must say her “Because” sends shivers up and down my spine! I understand the movie “Three Smart Grow Up” is one of her favourits'.

  5. Bob Logie

    Iam a Devotee and collecting both movies and cd's and being entertained royally by this lovely lady. My wife Patricia would encourage my devotion being an artist herself of much renown!

    Bob Logie

  6. Amilcar Santana

    What a fascinating story. Thank you for showing me the life of a very interesting person. I asked a friend to show one of her movies, looking forward to watching it.

  7. tom scott

    I often watch Deanna singing on youtube. Did she ever see any youtube clips of herself? It would be interesting to know what she thought of everything that happened in the world while she was in seclusion.