My heavens! Deanna Durban does have her devoted fans.
You might be surprised that after all these years, Durbin would provoke such sustained interest and strong reaction. After all, the former Edna May Durbin — the belle of Winnepeg, Alberta (her Canadian birthplace in 1921) — had a movie career that was over in 13 years, a relatively moderate span for a big juvenile star of the period. (Mickey Rooney’s career is still going.)
And since Deanna hung it all up more than 60 years ago — and has been living in a small village in north central France ever since — it’s somewhat surprising that she’s remembered today as the more than a historical footnote.
But remembered she certainly is . Hi, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to publish our second full blog devoted to Deanna Durbin. Our inspiration was a marvelous, almost scholarly missive received the other day from what may well be her most informed fan — our correspondent Mark. He has lots to say, so here he is:
“Thank you for your kind comments on my earlier post. I’m flattered that you thought enough of it to cite it as inspiration for a separate blog on Deanna Durbin (“Who Was Deanne Durbin”, Oct. 7).
I hope, therefore, that you won’t mind if I offer a few corrections to your summary of Deanna’s career. These are based purely on my own avocational research, and I welcome others’ input on my information:
— Deanna Durbin was signed by MGM at the age of 13 in November 1935. Although Louis B. Mayer was out of town at the time, she so impressed studio executives that they had her sing to Mayer over the telephone and, based on her “performance,” he ordered his associates to sign her to a contract immediately;
— Like Judy, approximately one week after her signing by Metro, Deanna made her national radio debut on MGM’s THE SHELL CHATEAU HOUR singing the title song from Columbia’s ONE NIGHT OF LOVE. Temperamental Metropolitan Opera soprano Grace Moore, who had introduced the song, caught Deanna’s performance, and reportedly commented: “That little girl is a better singer than I am.”
— Deanna actually spent two years, not one, as a member of Eddie Cantor’s radio show cast. She made her debut on September 20, 1936, and created an immediate sensation. Such was her success that by July 1937, she was awarded the “Favorite New Artist of the Year” award by the editors of RADIO GUIDE magazine with a remarkable five million votes.
— Among those who were impressed with Deanna’s radio performances were the directors of the Metropolitan Opera, who requested a meeting with the young soprano to discuss signing a contract with the company. It was widely reported that Deanna met with the Met board on her 15th birthday, December 4, 1936, and turned down their offer of an audition, citing her lack of experience on the operatic stage and her commitment to Universal under her studio contract. Rumors of Deanna’s “impending debut” with the company continued to thrive throughout the 1940s, until she herself put a stop to them.
— Following the completion of her contract with Cantor, Deanna was offered her own radio show by CBS at a reported weekly salary of $5,000 a week. She (or, more likely, her parents, since she was a minor at the time) turned the offer down, citing her already overstuffed schedule as a Universal film star.
TALK ABOUT CLIFFHANGERS: We end today’s blog at this early stage in Durbin’s career. We’ll continue Mark’s fascinating exegesis in tomorrow’s posting.
Coming attractions: the real story of Deanna versus Judy, plus Durbin’s amazing international fan base — including a brutish European dictator and an American military hero. Stay tuned.