book review, nonfiction

Deanna Durbin by William Harper

Lovingly written by a fan of the actress, Harper meticulously researched this short but informative book detailing Durbin’s movies and time in Hollywood.

The rumor is my father’s favorite actress was Deanna Durbin. I never spoke to him about her, but he would have been a young man when her movies came out, and I can see her spirited wholesomeness appealing to him.

I enjoyed her movies as a child, and I always considered her something of a legend because, at 29, when she was the highest paid actress in Hollywood, she gave up show business and lived out the rest of her life in obscurity in France.

It took strength to step away from the limelight after 15 years of acting, literally growing up on screen, and spend the next 62 years shrouded in secrecy. I have the feeling she lived a fuller, happier life because of it, and I wonder how many other child stars would be the better had they been able to do the same.

Unfortunately, Durbin’s desire for privacy, even during her public life, means there is very little information about her. Harper does his best, combing through press releases and articles to present the most accurate information, but what results is pretty much descriptions of her movies in chronological order.

However, for a fan there are still morsels to glean.

In 1941, during the height of her career, prisoners in a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines were deliberately told that Deanna had died horrifically in childbirth in order to demoralize them. The prisoners were so saddened by this news that they held a memorial service for the actress.

While little is known of her retirement, two articles written shortly after she left Hollywood showed that she continued to sing, practicing between one and three hours a day. I love to think of her standing beside the piano, singing, while her son learned to play.

Constantly critised for her weight, any reports of Deanna after she left Hollywood always commented on how fat she had become in France. In 1980, Life magazine published a delightful letter from her with accompanying photograph showing that she had kept her svelte figure.

While recent rewatching of her films may have revealed they don’t stand the test of time that well, I still like Durbin as an actress and am fascinated by her as a person. While I enjoyed the tidbits in this book, it has merely left me wishing to know more about the talented and enigmatic woman.

I award Deanna Durbin

Deanna Durbin is available for $10.15 ebook and $29.95 print book on Amazon.

5 thoughts on “Deanna Durbin by William Harper”

  1. I knew she was successful but I had no idea she was the highest paid actress – and I admire her for retiring at the top. In fact, I love hearing about anyone getting out of Hollywood. Do they always end up in France? I have a feeling Jeanette McDonald did the same?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know about Jeanette McDonald, but France is lovely so I can see why they move there. In Deanna’s case she married a French man, so that probably had a lot to do with the move.


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