In today’s film industry, the phrase “child star” is a term associated with downward spirals and dead-end careers. But memories of Hollywood’s golden 1930s are paved with sprightly, beloved young faces: our Shirley Temples, our Mickey Rooneys, and of course one young lady whose movie career granted her designation as the world’s richest woman and Winston Churchill’s favorite performer: Deanna Durbin.
The Depression’s teen star, an actress and singer alike, who headlined films like One Hundred Men and a Girl and First Love, has died at age 91, as reported by her son Peter H. David in the Deanna Durbin Newsletter (via The New York Times). David confirmed that Durbin “died a few days ago,” choosing not to elaborate further.
Canada-born Durbin’s big screen career began when she was 15, with the 1935 feature Three Smart Girls, a musical comedy about three sisters who quest from Switzerland to New York City to stop their divorced father from marrying a nefarious socialite. Stories with this plucky, innocent charm carried through Durbin’s career via films from Mad About Music to For the Love of Mary (her final film, in 1948, in which she starred at age 26).
Following this White House-set comedy, Durbin quit acting and moved to France with her third husband, filmmaker Charles David (who, incidentally, directed Durbin’s film Lady on a Train). Prior to David, Durbin was married to assistant director Vaughn Paul, and then screenwriter Felix Jackson.
Durbin’s career earned her the honors of an Oscar nomination for her second movie, One Hundred Men and a Girl, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s favor (he allegedly screened aforementioned film following military victories), and stature as the richest woman in the world at the time of her official retirement at age 29.
The actress, who also lent her vocal abilities to a number of films, avoided the public eye during the remainder of her life. She is survived by son Peter and daughter Jessica Louise Jackson.
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