Hello, everybody. Your classic movie guys noting that we have probably received more (and more impassioned) emails about the late Deanna Durbin than any other star we’ve written about.
And we’ve written about her nearly a dozen different times, the latest blog (Farewell Deanna, May 7) occasioned by her death on April 30 at the age of 91 .
For those who may have forgotten, the Canada-born Deanna rivaled Judy Garland at MGM — both a mere 13 when they started at the studio — and then moved to Universal where her huge popularity in a series of movies literally saved the studio. Her movie career comprised 21 titles, and crested in 1946 when she became the second-highest-paid woman in America (Bette Davis was first).
The New York Times obituary described the onscreen Deanna as everyone’s kid sister or spunky daughter, a wholesome, radiant, can-do girl who…was always fixing the problems of unhappy adults. That pretty much was Durbin’s image off screen as well, generously talented but essentially homespun wholesome. A very good girl.
Then there is the matter of Joseph Cotten and Deanna (pictured above), the Virginia gentlemen and the wunderkind from Winnipeg. In 1943, the pair were costarring at Universal in the musical drama, Hers To Hold.
According to Cotten’s most readable 1987 autobiography, Vanity Will Get You Somewhere, the two coincidentally slept over one night — separately — in their respective studio quarters, arriving at the lot an hour apart from each other.
Shortly after the powerful Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper’s phone rang, and an item appeared in her column the next day that Cotten and Durbin, married to others at the time, were indeed an item.
Cotten was furious, denied that he was sleeping with Deanna, and personally phoned the columnist with this statement: If you mention my name in your column personally again, I’ll kick you in the ass.
Cut to a swanky dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel soon after, where Cotten delivered on his threat. Hedda was sitting in a cane-bottomed chair, and contact (of the kick) was positive enough to disturb the flower garden on top of one of the outrageous hats for which she was renowned, the actor wrote.
After a moment of stunned silence a “group of gentlemen” surrounded the Cotten, carrying him from the room on their shoulders to the bar, where I was toasted in champagne by all.
All this makes a comment made in the mid-Eighties by Orson Welles — Cotten’s close lifelong friend and colleague (Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Journey Into Fear, Touch of Evil) — especially interesting. As quoted in the newly-published My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles (Henry Holt and Company, Metropolitan Books), Welles speaks directly about the Durbin-Cotten affair.
What Hedda was doing was printing that (Cotten) was balling Deanna Durbin, which he was. In cars, in daylight, where everybody could see.
About the derrier-kicking, Wells added, the truth is that Joe Cotten was a Southern gentleman, with extremely good manners…the last man in Hollywood that you’d think would behave that way to a woman.
In any case, never happy making pictures, Durbin retired in the late Forties and set up residence with her third husband, French director Charles David, in a small village (Neauphle-le-Chateau) outside Paris. There she raised her two children, avoided reporters at all cost and supposedly sang in her signature soprano for an hour each day right up until her death.
There’s lots more to tell, and we do so in what we have published so far: A Deanna Durbin Quiz (March 13, 2012) and the Answers (March 23, 2012); Who Was Deanna Durbin? (Oct. 7, 2011) and — most especially — three blogs based on contributions from faithful reader and avid Durban fan, Mark: Need To Know Deanna Durbin – A Reader Authoritatively Tells All (Nov. 10, 2011); Deanna Durbin – Rival To Judy? (Nov. 11, 2011); and Deanna Durbin – A Glamour Puss? How Insulting (Nov. 10, 2012).