What is it about Deanna Durbin?

Whenever we publish blogs about her, we unfailingly we get at least a passionate response or two, plus submissions with new information about this great singing star of the 1930s and 40s.

Here’s what we have published on her so far: A Deanna Durbin Quiz (March 13) and the Answers (March 23); Who Was Deanna Durbin? (Oct. 7) and — most especially — two blogs based on contributions from faithful reader and avid Durban fan, MarkNeed To Know Deanna Durbin – A Reader Authoritatively Tells All (Nov. 10) and Deanna Durbin – Rival To Judy? (Nov. 11).

Well, Mark has done it again, this time unearthing and bringing to our attention a skillfully written article by Frank S. Nugent about Universal Pictures misguided attempt to sell Deanna to moviegoers as a “glamorous” star.

Here’s Mark’s intro:

Enjoyed your quiz on Deanna, guys. But don’t forget that even before her first onscreen kiss in (1939’s) FIRST LOVE made headlines, there was almost as big a furor over Universal’s advertising her THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP (also in 1939), as her first “glamorous” role. 

Even THE NEW YORK TIMES took Universal to task for doing so, in the following special editorial:  A UNIVERSAL ERROR ABOUT GLAMOUR – With Special Reference to the Appeal of Deanna Durbin.  By Frank S. Nugent.

The Times’ motion picture editor and critic from 1936 to 1940, Nugent was a prominent member of that rare club — movie critics turned successful screenwriters. He went on to pen more than 20 screenplays, notably 11 for his pal, director John Ford, including those for 1948’s Fort Apache and for 1949’s She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.

In addition, Nugent wrote the script for a movie many of you like (1952’s The Quiet Man) judging by the response we got when we recommended it as superb St. Patty’s Day viewing (What Films to Watch on St. Patrick’s Day — Barry Fitgerald, Anyone?, March 16).

Ok, here’s what Nugent wrote about Universal and Deanna:

Spring seems to be a little late this year, so until it arrives we’ll have to get along with Deanna Durbin, the closest thing to this side of the equinox. A couple of books could be written on Miss Durbin’s singular appeal, but none of them would contain the horrible epithet Universal’s advertising staff fastened on the miss last week.

“Glamorous” was the word they dared employ and we haven’t said a civil word to Universal since.

It doesn’t matter how the dictionary defines it–some literal poppycock about “a charm or enchantment working on the vision and causing things to seem different from what they are.” We know what Hollywood means by glamour and we won’t have our Deanna playing in the same category as Hedy, Marlene, Greta, Joan, Carole, Loretta, Merle and Tyrone.

Glamour indeed!  As if it had not been her very freedom from glamour, Hollywood style, that has endeared her to her millions. Glamour! as if that were a quality more precious than the freshness, the gay vitality, the artful artlessness and youthful radiance she has brought to the screen!

Glamour! as if that were what we wanted of the perfect kid sister (not that there really ever was one). Glamour forsooth! and was it glamour that made Judge Hardy and his brood, or glamour we found in the late Marie Dressler and Will Rogers, or glamour in Mr. Deeds or Zola or Pasteur, or glamour for that matter (though we hate to mention it) which keeps little Mistress Temple as the nation’s four time box office champion?

What is this thing, glamour, anyway, that it has grown so great? 

Deanna, to put an end to the libel, is not the least bit glamorous in her latest delight, Three Smart Girls Grow Up, and she has not grown up so much herself. She leaves that, and the romantic troubles, to the older sisters, contenting herself with being the matrimonial broker of the family.

Usually we dread these Little-Miss-Fixit roles. The brats are all so superior about it all and so right–like George Arlis as Disraeli or somebody. But Deanna manages to make even a half-grown meddler attractive. She is guilty of the most awful —blunders; she quite forgets her manners; she sulks and has tantrums when her plans go agley; and eventually she has to call on father.

And that, of course, is the way it should be, and would be unless the Miss Fix It had been Shirley Temple. No, Deanna is all right, up to par or better, and when Universal next says ‘G…..r’ it had better smile.

Thanks, Mark.  Keep reading us.




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