This blog was started in 2010 as a tribute to Deanna and her films. On this site you will find reviews, photos, articles, video clips, old time radio programs, news and more.


Deanna Durbin had lead roles in 21 films from 1936-1948


Before they were stars, they appeared in one short subject together.


Deanna is often credited with helping to save Universal from bankrupcy.


She was given an Honorary Academy Award in 1938.

December 4, 2011

Happy Birthday Deanna!

Today is Deanna Durbin's 90th birthday! 
There is a wonderful birthday series going on at the blog West End Dumplings:

Go to Part 1: From Winnipeg to Hollywood (1921 - 1936)

Go to Part 2: A smashing career (1936 - 1949)
Go to Part 3: Whatever happened to Winnepeg's Sweetheart?

Deanna's 26th Birthday in 1947 took place on the set of Up in Central Park.Co-star Albert Sharpe (right) looks on as Deanna blows out the candles on her carousel-shaped cake.

December 1, 2011

West End Dumplings: Deanna Durbin, Winnipeg's Sweetheart, Turns 90 !

Click here to read a wonderful 90th birthday post
from Christian Cassidy of the blog West End Dumplings:

West End Dumplings: Deanna Durbin, Winnipeg's Sweetheart, Turns 90 !: December 4, 1947, Winnipeg Free Press On December 4, 1921 Edna Mae Durbin , was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba .

November 27, 2011

"Christmas Holiday" shows this Fri in LA

Thanks Laura for the reminder that Christmas Holiday will be
showing this Friday night at the Aero Theater in Los Angeles,
a great theater (I've been there) that screens classics year-round.

If you live in the Los Angeles/Southern California area, well worth checking out,
and a nice way to celebrate Deanna's 90th birthday!

Check out the link here for more details:


Aero Theatre
1328 Montana Avenue,
Santa Monica, CA 90403

Fri, December 2

Tickets are $11 General Admission, with reduced rates for students and seniors.

October 27, 2011

Time Machine to the Twenties: Visit Deanna Durbin's House - Part 2

Time Machine to the Twenties: Visit Deanna Durbin's House - Part 2: And now, it's back to visit with the lovely Deanna Durbin: Gorgeous Living Room Hear Deanna Play Perhaps She Might Even Sing f...

October 25, 2011

Link: A Visit to Deanna Durbin's House - Part 1 (Time Machine to the Twenties)

Amanda shared some great photos of Deanna's Hollywood home from LIFE. Check them out here:

Time Machine to the Twenties: A Visit to Deanna Durbin's House - Part 1: Welcome to Deanna Durbin's House! The View from the Exterior is Lovely Deanna Humbly Welcomes You Lovely Stonework ...

October 21, 2011

More Deanna artwork

October 19, 2011

Deanna Durbin Compared with Newer Teen Stars

Classic movie fans often bemoan the lack of discretion and innocence in films today. This was also the case in 1987 when Hollywood journalist and reporter to the stars Vernon Scott used Deanna Durbin's public persona as a comparative study with then-sensation teen actress Molly Ringwald. Here is the article:
October 6, 1987


Author: Vernon Scott, United Press International

Edition: FIRST
Page: 71

HOLLYWOOD -- The movies have been a real social barometer in the past
50 years when it comes to sexual sophistication, especially among the

Take the cases of Deanna Durbin, one of the top box-office stars of
the 1930s, and Molly Ringwald, one of today's major young actresses.

Durbin, a musical star of such films as "Three Smart Girls," "Mad
About Music" and "Spring Parade," was a fresh-faced beauty who
specialized in playing sweet, innocent characters.

Ringwald, the star of "Sixteen Candles," "Pretty in Pink" and "The
Breakfast Club," was cast the same way in all three films directed by
her former mentor, John Hughes.

Both actresses epitomized virtue and innocence, until they turned 19.**

In 1939, Durbin received her first screen kiss, from romantic bounder
Robert Stack in "First Love," and it was the smack heard round the

Universal Studios trumpeted the news as if it were the start of World
War II, newspapers and magazines covered the sensational smooch as a
major news event.

Stack became an overnight celebrity and, in fact, can trace much of
his long and successful career to that memorable kiss.

Dissolve to 1987, and it's more than kissing on the screen. In her
new movie, "The Pick-Up Artist" now playing in Boston at the Charles
and suburban cinemas, Ringwald is seduced in the back of an
automobile, a scene handled discreetly through dialogue.

However, while Durbin's kiss was headline material in 1939,
Ringwald's loss of innocence has not raised an eyebrow, illustrating
how far -- or how jaded -- we've become as moviegoers.

Stack was charmingly gallant about his stolen kiss back then, but
Robert Downey, the cad who seduces Ringwald, is filled with disbelief
when told of the stir made over Durbin's first kiss.

"A kiss doesn't mean much today," said Downey in an interview at a
Beverly Hills restaurant. "And it's no big deal about Molly losing
her virginity in a movie. She's not supposed to be a virgin when my
character meets her in the story. Or at least she's not a novice.

"Come to think of it, we only have one kiss in the film, and in the
seduction scene we're fully clothed," he said. "Girls at 19 today
must be different on and off the screen compared to what they were 50
years ago. Molly is 19 and the last I heard she was dating Adam
Horowitz, one of the Beastie Boys."

Until "The Pick-Up Artist," Downey, 22, had played secondary roles in
such films as "Weird Science" and "Back to School." In his first
costarring part, he was filled with admiration for Ringwald's

"She's a very fine actress," he said. "Really on top of it. Few young
actors are as focused as she is. You've gotta keep eye contact with
her or you lose it in a hurry.

"Molly is always right on the ball, and if I missed a beat and the
scene dropped, she was aware of it and let me know.

"I was a little paranoid when we started the picture because my part
was so much bigger than I had played before. But I took the pressure
off by telling myself I was a supporting player. It was a trick that
worked for me.

"And I learned a lot watching Molly. She keeps growing as a person
and as an actress."

Downey also is doing some growing also. A onetime regular
on "Saturday Night Live," he will be seen later this year starring as
a drug-addicted teen-ager in "Less than Zero."

At the end of the conversation, Downey still seemed a little confused
about one thing. "I still don't understand what the big deal was
about a girl getting kissed in a movie for the first time," he said.

October 16, 2011

It’s a Date (1940)

Deanna Durbin plays Pamela, the aspiring thespian daughter to Broadway actress Georgia Drake (Kay Francis). Mother and daughter unknowingly vie for the same part in a play and also for the affections of the same man (Walter Pidgeon). It's a thin plot, but Ms. Durbin and the rest are charming as ever.

Director William Seiter held the reigns for It’s A Date. Seiter’s catalog includes directing Shirley Temple films and early Fred Astaire musicals, such as Roberta (1935) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942). Norman Krasna penned the screen play based on original stories by Ralph J. Block, Jane Hall and Frederick Kohner.  Kohner would later write a novel about another charismatic  fictional teen, which would become a series of movies and  a television show – Gidget.
Deanna Durbin and Kay Francis
Ms. Durbin’s costars from First Love (1939) – Lee Howard and Eugene Pallette- reappear  to round out the comic supporting cast. Hungarian character actor S. Z. Sakall shines in this his Hollywood film debut. Sakall would play the baker Teschek in another of Ms. Durbin’s films, Spring Parade(1940).

Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times is enamored of Deanna Durbin and states that it is her winning personality and “young-girlish magic”  which overcome the “slightness and fragility ” of the plot,  and make It’s A Date a “practically compulsory rendezvous.”  The trailer for the movie bears this same sentiment. It simply repeats the star’s name and the title for the show allowing barely a hint at the plot. Ms. Durbin was so popular by this point, the public would gobble up just about anything in which the megastar was featured.
Deanna Durbin and Lee Howard
Songs (Those performed by Deanna Durbin are in boldface):
  • ·         "Gypsy Lullaby" (Unknown)
  • ·         "Love is All" (Tomlin, Tobias)
  • ·         "Loch Lomond" (Traditional)
  • ·         "It Happened in Kaloha" (Freed, Skinner)
  • ·         "Musetta's Waltz Song" (Puccini)
  • ·         "Rhythm of the Islands" (Cherkose, Belasco, Press)
  • ·         "Ave Maria" (Schubert)
Deanna Durbin as Pamela Drake, Kay Francis...Georgia Drake, Walter Pidgeon...John Arlen, Eugene Pallette...Governor Allen, Henry Stephenson...Captain Andrew, Cecilia Loftus...Sara Frankenstein, Samuel S. Hinds...Sidney Simpson, Lewis Howard...Freddie Miller, S.Z. Sakall...Carl Ober, Fritz Feld...Headwaiter, Virginia Brissac...Miss Holden, Romaine Callender...Evans, Joe King...First Mate Kelly, Mary Kelley...Governor's Wife, Eddie Polo...Quarter-Master, Harry Owens and his Royal Hawaiians...Themselves

Further Information

September 17, 2011

Deanna Durbin on DVD and VHS

Are you craving a Deanna Durbin film and wonder if it is available for home viewing?  We've put together a list of Durbin films  and explain which are currently available for home viewing and in what format. (Please note that all DVD information on this post refers to Region 1 DVDs)


Deanna Durbin made 21 feature films for Universal Studios and 1 short subject for MGM. Only 11 Durbin feature films are on DVD.

  • Universal released The Sweetheart Pack in 2004. It is a set of six Deanna Durbin films on DVD: Three Smart Girls, Something in the Wind, First Love, It Started With Eve, Can't Help Singing and Lady on a Train. You can buy it at Universal Studio's website, TCM.com, Amazon.com or in stores.

  • In August 2010, Universal banded together with Turner Classic Movies to release another set of Durbin films in the Deanna Durbin: The Music and Romance Collection. Five DVDs are in this set: Mad About the Music, That Certain Age, Three Smart Girls Grow Up, Because of Him and For the Love of Mary. These films are available as a set or individually at TCM.com and on Amazon.com.


VHS cover for 3 Smart Girls
Although there are only 11 official Durbin DVDs, there are 18 feature length Durbin movies on VHS. Some movies are available in both formats.

In 1995, Durbin's movies were made available for home viewing for the first time. According to this Washington Post article from January 24, 1995, Universal released four Durbin movies on VHS : Three Smart Girls, One Hundred Men and a Girl, Three Smart Girls Grow Up and It Started With Eve. Universal would later release more Durbin films throughout the late 1990s. They are available  for purchase at Amazon.com. 

Universal Studios owns the rights all Deanna Durbin feature films except one. After leaving Universal to work at MGM Studios, producer Joseph Pasternak bought Ms. Durbin's light comedy It's A Date (1940) from Universal and used it in a remake for his new employer. On September 1, 1998, MGM/UA released It's A Date (1940) on VHS.

VHS - MGM's release of It's a Date

Contact Universal for more information and to request that the remainder of Durbin's films be released on DVD.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
100 Universal City Plaza Universal Studios, CA. 91608
General Phone: 818.508.9600

Contact MGM about It's a Date (1940)
MGM Studios
10250 Constellation Boulevard Los Angeles, CA. 9006
Phone for DVD Questions: 888-223-2369

Just for the sake of clarity, the following is a list of all Durbin films (and the short subject), whether they are officially available for home viewing and in what format: DVD or VHS. Click the titles for more information on the movie.


VHS cover for 100 Men & a Girl
Deanna Durbin's 11 minute short subject is owned by MGM and co-stars Judy Garland; you'll find it on the two following Garland films.

Available on DVD? Yes.  A bonus feature on For Me and My Gal (1942)
Available on VHS? Yes.  A bonus feature on Summer Stock (1950)


Available on DVD? Yes. In the Sweetheart Pack released in 2004
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1995

Available on DVD? No.
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1995.

Available on DVD? Yes. Released in TCM's Deanna Durbin:The Music and Romance Collection in 2010.
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1996.

Available on DVD? Yes. Released in TCM's Deanna Durbin:The Music and Romance Collection in 2010.
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1997.

Available on DVD? Yes. Released in TCM's Deanna Durbin:The Music and Romance Collection in 2010.
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1995

VHS cover for It Started With Eve
Available on DVD? Yes. In the Sweetheart Pack released in 2004
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1996.

IT’S A DATE(1940)
Available on DVD? No.
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MGM/UA in 1998.

Available on DVD? No.
Available on VHS? No.

NICE GIRL?(1941)
Available on DVD? No.
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1997.

Available on DVD?Yes. In the Sweetheart Pack released in 2004
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1995

Available on DVD? No.
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by Universal in 1999.

Available on DVD? No.
VHS cover for His Butler's Sister
Available on VHS? No.

Available on DVD? No.
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1996

Available on DVD? No.
Available on VHS? No.

Available on DVD? Yes. In the Sweetheart Pack released in 2004
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1997.

Available on DVD? Yes. In the Sweetheart Pack released in 2004
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1996.

Available on DVD?Yes. Released in TCM's Deanna Durbin:The Music and Romance Collection in 2010.
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by Universal in 1999.
VHS cover for Up In Central Park

Available on DVD? No.
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by Universal in 1999.

Available on DVD?Yes. In the Sweetheart Pack released in 2004
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1998.

Available on DVD? No.
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1998.

Available on DVD?Yes. Released in TCM's Deanna Durbin:The Music and Romance Collection in 2010.
Available on VHS? Yes. Released by MCA/Universal in 1998.

August 31, 2011

Deanna Durbin's 3rd Wedding Venue is a Perfect Fit

After her retirement from films in the late 1940s, Deanna Durbin married for the third time on December 21, 1950 to director Charles Henri David (Lady On A Train). The ceremony was held in city hall in the French village of Sarreguemines. The Pittsburgh Press remarks about the relative stillness of the proceedings for the movie star, contrasting it with the “showy Hollywood style weddings” seen around postwar France. However, the venue was the perfect beginning for the couple’s new life together.
Pittsburgh Press Announces Durbin Marriage Dec 21, 1950

Ms. Durbin states in a 1952 interview for the Syracruse Herald-Journal,
“I gave a good chunk of my life to the movies and missed a normal girlhood. I am going to run a real home for my own …children.” 
The star further states that same year in the Corpus Christ Times that 
“… I can see how much Jessica [her first child] missed by not having [me around]. When she was a baby, I was at the studio from 6 in the morning until 8 at night. During that time she was in the care of a nurse, and heaven knows what would happen to her while I was at the studio.”
Ms. Durbin and Charles David envisioned a different life for themselves, a quieter existence. Their marriage ceremony reflects the choice and  the town’s history parallels somewhat the bride‘s own life up to that point.

Merdian Daily Journal mentions the engaged couple's plans - Dec 16, 1950

The tranquil town of Sarreguemines, which lies about 47 miles from David’s birthplace, borders Germany at the confluence of the Blies and the Sarre rivers. Much like Deanna Durbin’s multiple and converging talents in the modern movie business, the convenient and vivacious place became very attractive to tradesmen by the end of the 13th century.

The village changed hands between warring states more than once, and was often a possession  of oppressive forces, not unlike a film star with her handlers. City officials note that in the 14th century “Sarreguemines threw off its feudal yoke and became governed by an autonomous municipal body,” much like Ms. Durbin’s move from a profitable but abusive movie star life to a more liberating suburban existence after retiring.

Though the Pittsburgh Press marvels that Ms. Durbin‘s wedding “attracted little attention from the residents….,” and  that “no crowds gathered to cheer or toss rice,” Sarreguemines suits the couple’s resolution to bring sanity and peace to their new family. The village’s history of determination through as series of ups and downs seems a fitting place for Universal Studios’ moneymaking movie phenomenon to throw off the bonds of stardom and march resolutely toward a married life away from Hollywood.
Durbin and David with son Peter, early 1950s

Further Resources

July 30, 2011

It Started With Eve (1941)

Arguably Deanna Durbin’s best movie is It Started With Eve (1941). In addition to near perfect casting, the script brings the romantic comedy genre up a notch or two.

Unable to find his fiancée in time, business tycoon Johnny Reynolds (Robert Cummings) pays struggling singer Ann Terry (Durbin) to pretend to be his fiancée for a few moments to please his fatally ill father, Reynolds Sr. (Charles Laughton).  The deceit goes awry when Reynolds the elder regains his health the next morning and expects the two to marry soon. Johnny’s actual, gold-digging fiancée Gloria Pennington (Margaret Tallichet) is not happy with this arrangement.

It’s difficult to explain how this standard plot is better than that of many other romantic comedies. Perhaps it is the genuine warmth communicated between Reynolds and the woman he believes is his potential daughter-in-law. When Johnny thinks of a scheme to undo the lies he’s perpetuated - stating that he and his fiancée quarreled and parted ways - Reynolds the elder looks absolutely crushed, as if she had broken up with him personally.

Perhaps the movie is a success because the older person is not scripted as a buffoon or idiot - a  common occurrence among romcoms where juveniles arrange everything themselves. He is not just an obstacle to the young man’s plans but one who catches on to the scheme and begins manipulating the situation to bring about what is ultimately best for everyone.

The film stands squarely above the rest due to Laughton’s well-established reputation as a dramatic actor.  The script helps him out as well. In addition to the early deathbed scene that instantly brings the audience on Laughton’s side emotionally,  Ms. Durbin’s romantic lead, Cummings, is not allowed to show very much affection for Ann until Gloria is out of the picture. This leaves Durbin’s character to play out the deeper, heartfelt moments with Reynolds Sr..Laughton is Ms. Durbin’s equal in screen presence, a rarity among her leading men.

However, Cummings is not an also-ran here. He’s asked to do the heavy lifting  in the comedy department and he does it well. From pretending he’s in love with a girl that he’d rather strangle [“If you hear something snap, don‘t turn around it‘ll be your neck”] to the awkwardly sensual game of tag that Ann and Johnny play, Cummings will have you in stitches throughout the film.
The movie’s supporting players carry their own weight as well, of course  - the running gag of Walter Catlett as the attending physician who himself is comically ill with mysterious symptoms; Clara Blandick as the fastidious nurse who will not leave Reynolds Sr. in peace; Leon Belasco’s hilarious solemnity as the couturier who lays out Gloria‘s prematurely-bought mourning clothes.

It Started With Eve is a charming and sophisticated comedy that will please a wide range of audience members.

Further Resources

  • Charles Laughton and Susanna Foster in It Started With Eve from 

The Lux Radio Theater November 20, 1944.
Listen to the radio program now: (Flash player required)
(Duration: approximately 50 minutes)

July 10, 2011

The Amazing Mrs Holliday (1943)

Deanna plays a schoolteacher in China who must flee with a group of orphans after the Japanese attack her village.

In a more dramatic role that usual, Deanna Durbin is wonderful in her role as Ruth, a young missionary who rescues a group of orphans from war-torn China during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The film begins with Ruth - an orphan herself - and the children arriving in San Francisco on a lifeboat after their ship was torpedoed by the Japanese, killing the elderly captain - Commodore Tom Holliday. A sailor aboard the ship (Barry Fitzgerald) is the only other survivor of the attack, and he accompanies Deanna and the children to shore. He also leads them to help at the Holliday Mansion - and provides some comic relief along the way.

Ruth poses as Holliday's widow and attempts to shelter the children in the mansion, but has to fool all of the residents including the butler (Arthur Treacher) and the Commodore's grandson (Edmund O'Brien). Barry Fitzgerald is funny as he conjures up an impromptu tale about their marriage.

The film was nominated for an Oscar for
Best Music Score. 
As you can imagine, there are some adorable sequences featuring the children. Deanna also sings a few lullabies to them. During a fundraising event, Deanna sings "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca.

For awhile it almost felt like an autobiographical film, though this film is not based on any one missionary in particular. Though there are some humorous moments of mistaken-identity typical of a Deanna film, there are some sad flashback scenes that are reminders of the harsh realities of war, and I was reminded of the work and devotion of overseas missionaries like the one Deanna plays in the film. By the end of the film, though, I was reminded that this is a Hollywood story.

More photos from the movie can be found here at Deanna Durbin Devotees.

Read more about the child actors in the film in another review of this film from Laura at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings.

May 22, 2011

Deanna on the big screen in Palo Alto, Califonia

The Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, California will be showing Three Smart Girls on June 22-24 at 7:30 PM. The Stanford is located on 221 University Avenue, near the campus of Stanford University. If you live within driving distance this would be a great chance to see Deanna on the big screen! The movie is part of a summer series devoted to Hollywood Musicals of the Golden age: see the full calendar here.

May 17, 2011

1981 Photo of Durbin by Charles David

Deanna Durbin has notably shunned the spotlight since her retirement from film in the late 1940s. Since then, any interview, missive or photo of the star has been increasingly rare. Below is one I had not seen before. This photo was taken in 1981 by her husband Charles David (director of Lady On A Train). It was later sent to NYU Cinema Studies professor William Everson. 

Scrawled at the bottom of the photograph are these words:
Dear Will Everson
In gratitude for your invitations I thought I'd send you this snapshot I took of Deanna a year ago.
                       Charles David

Enjoy, film fans.
Copyrights belong to their respective owners

May 5, 2011

Durbin's "Certain Age" Co-Star, Jackie Cooper, has Died

Actor/Director, Jackie Cooper died on May 3, 2011. He was 88. Cooper began his show business career as a child actor, gaining popularity in Hal Roach's Our Gang series. For his work in Skippy (1931) at the age of nine, Cooper holds the record as the youngest actor to garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Later, the teen would famously date Judy Garland and co-star with Deanna Durbin in That Certain Age (1938), with whom he also claims to have had a romantic interest.

From his autobiography, Please Don't Shoot My Dog (William Morrow and Co., 1981):
"[I] had a brief on-the-set fling with Deanna Durbin, when we did a picture together. It is an old Hollywood custom for leading man and leading lady to fall for each other. In That Certain Age I kissed her on screen,  and I gave her a few off-screen kisses, too. We had problems finding privacy on the bustling movie set and finally took to a tactic which I imagine has stood romantically inclined couples on movie sets in good stead for many years. We would duck behind the backdrops and find a few precious— although musty— moments of quiet and togetherness. Then, when the call came for the first team to report back, she would go one way and I would go the other way."

Although there are no kissing scenes in the final film, Cooper's admiration of Ms. Durbin is unmistakable in the role of  boy-next-door for the Universal Studios star.

Here are Further Resources on Jackie Cooper:

April 22, 2011

Lady On A Train (1945): A Leslie Charteris Premise with a Lucille Ball Twist

Deanna Durbin’s film career can be divided into three overlapping eras: the adolescent years, from which comes the perky (and profitable) Durbin formula of youthful tenacity and pluck; the post-adolescence/struggle era, where the now-grownup star fights for mature material and sometimes wins; and the resignation years, when Universal’s movie veteran - weary over the struggle for challenging scripts - essentially gives in to whatever work is offered.

Lady On A Train comes near the end of the post-adolescence/struggle era. During this time, there is a definite schism within some of Ms. Durbin’s films, trying ever to balance maturity and childlike vivacity, drama and screwball. One of Ms. Durbin’s earlier works, It Started With Eve (1941), finds a near perfect balance in her relationship with Charles Laughton’s mentor-like character. Train, however, swerves wildly from one to the other.

Train follows Nicki Collins (Durbin), a San Francisco socialite, traveling by train to visit relatives in New York for the Christmas holidays, when she witnesses a murder occurring in a building while pulling into Grand Central Station. The police do not believe her, so Nicki decides to solve the murder alone. The amateur sleuth becomes involved with the victim’s family and ultimately becomes a target for murder herself.

It’s an interesting premise -an original story proffered by the author of the Simon Templar novels, Leslie Charteris- but the final product sometimes offers  the kind of zany misadventures that Lucy Ricardo might find herself in. Nicki retrieves the victim’s bloody slippers which leads her chaperon (Edward Everett Horton) to believe that the debutante has invited a man into her rooms. To put him off the scent, Nicki invents a supposed bromide about finding lucky shoes… and it works! So that she may take a performer's place onstage, Nicki tricks the singer into a (soon-to-be-locked) closet by tossing the lady’s flowers inside... and it works! And there’s a mystery writer (David Bruce) of whom Nicki seeks help, but manages to get them both into scrapes instead (there‘s even a running gag about his jealous fiancée).

It’s no wonder Train may seem like a sitcom at times since the two credited screenwriters- Edmund Beloin and Robert O'Brien - would later excel in writing scripts for movies and television shows featuring comedians Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. The silliness in parts of their Train script require a comic professional’s deft touch to be effective and a practiced vacuity that is at odds with Ms. Durbin’s desire to project worldliness.
David Bruce and Deanna Durbin

But it’s not all fun and games. Train’s cinematographer Elwood Bredell and director Charles David (later, Ms. Durbin‘s 3rd husband) give us truly frightening noir images of a would-be murderer chasing a terrified woman in a dark warehouse. Further, there is a strange, unexplored relationship between the victim’s nephew Jonathan Waring (Ralph Bellamy) and Aunt Charlotte (Elizabeth Patterson) who has been “more than an aunt.” The dark scenes and eccentricities are so far removed from the comedy, it’s as though two separate movies converged on the same reels of film.

Nicki may be child-like in the comic scenes, but she sobers up quickly for mature moments . As Pauline Kael puts it in 5001 Nights at the Movies,

“One minute she is just a little girl in pigtails lost in a great big raincoat, and the next minute she is a many-curved siren crooning ‘Give Me a Little Kiss, Will You, Huh?’ ….”
 Ms. Durbin’s maturity and sensuality are so pronounced in this film - with tight-fitting skirts and come-hither stares - one wonders whether the “Daddy,” to whom she coos over the phone, is actually her father or some guy with whom she has a secretly-arranged relationship.

By this time, film noir and crime dramas were in full swing; Basil Rathbone had already donned his famous deerstalker and embodied one of the world’s most famous sleuths; William Powell and Myrna Loy had cornered the market on sophisticated, witty American murder mystery teams; and Alfred Hitchcock had made innocuous train compartments the stuff of bad dreams. Though it has stiff competition, Train works as a murder mystery; you’re not exactly sure “whodunit” until the end. What doesn’t work are the disconnected episodes of comedy and drama in Train, which -though enjoyable in and of themselves- are like oil and water; each needs its own separate vehicle.

Novelist  Leslie Charteris, in part, provides a separate vehicle for the tragedy in the plot. After coming up with the original story for the film, Charteris fleshed out his own dramatic version of the premise which was published as novel of the same title in the same year as the film’s release (and features Ms. Durbin‘s likeness on the cover). Charteris notes with humor in the introduction of the book that he is inaugurating a new order of business in Hollywood by writing the book after the movie script is finished.

The author adds that if anybody wants to complain about there being no connection between the movie and the novel,
"...he will have to squawk about the book being changed from the picture instead of the picture being changed from the book. This for a change will leave the motion picture industry looking rather pure and angelic, while Charteris can be called the vandal and the heel.

Now while I am awaiting the presentation of a small gilded lily awarded by the Motion Picture Academy for this distinguished service I am privileged to whisper in your ear that wherever this book is different from the picture it is because I think that this is definitely an improvement.”

Though there is humor, the author’s frustration with the changes to his story is prominently displayed.

Train was a popular film, which, although garnering mixed reviews with the critics, was nominated for the 1946 Academy Award for Best Sound, Recording. It lost out to The Bells of St. Mary, which scooped up numerous nominations and wins that year. Perhaps it helped that Bells - also a Christmas film - was released near the actual holiday, whereas the Durbin film -featuring a lovely rendition of “Silent Night” - was released in the sweltering dog days of August. Even in the release date you get the feeling there was plenty of compromise somewhere in this micro-managed movie.

It’s a fun film, but expect jarring mood swings.

  • Felix Jackson is the credited producer. Jackson was married to Ms. Durbin two months prior to the release of Lady On A Train.
  • Early production charts list Frank Shaw as the producer, according to American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures, even though many others sources credit Felix Jackson in that position. Shaw would be credited as associate producer for other Durbin features including Can’t Help Singing (1944). 
  • Songs: “Give Me A Little Kiss,” music and lyrics by Roy Turk, Jack Smith and Maceo Pinkard; “Night and Day,” music and lyrics by Cole Porter; “Silent Night, Holy Night,” music by Franz Gruber, lyrics by Joseph Mohr, English lyrics, anonymous.

April 3, 2011

Life Magazine Announces Deanna Durbin's Engagement to Vaughn Paul

The December 16, 1940 edition of Life Magazine makes a brief announcement on page 24, amidst stories of general unrest and conflicts around the world, the engagement of film star Deanna Durbin to Universal Studios associate producer, Vaughn Paul. This would be Ms. Durbin's first marriage.

It recounts the studio's reluctance to allow Ms. Durbin to mature onscreen, throws in trivia about the star and posts a picture of the happy couple.

Life Mag  page 24 - click to enlarge
A closer look - click to enlarge

They would marry on April 18, 1941.

March 1, 2011

Dick Van Dyke Show Star on Durbin's Influential Clothing Style

In Hold the Roses, the autobiography of Rose Marie (who is probably best known for her role as Sally on "The Dick Van Dyke Show"), the star gives this brief account of Deanna Durbin's influence on her own early career as a child performer.
" Kids in those days [late 1930s] had a rough time going from twelve to sixteen years old. There were no 'in-between' clothes or shoes like kids have today. It was Mary Jane flats, Red Cross shoes or high heels. The dresses were either too young-looking or too old-looking. . . .

I couldn't find the right clothes for the stage that would be appropriate for me at my age. Thank God for Deanna Durbin. She was fifteen or sixteen and in the movies. The studio made some beautiful, youthful evening gowns for her. Lord and Taylor in New York had copies of those dresses. I opened a charge account there and got three of them.... So I was able to get clothes that were right for me."

A fairly recent equivalent in making 'tween clothing stylish again might be the Olsen twins' line of apparel. It is doubtful, though, that Ms. Durbin received any revenue for the clothes that she made popular.


Read more about Baby Rose Marie at Bit Part Bloggers:

Classic Television Showbiz: More photos and interview with Rose Marie

February 27, 2011

Deanna Durbin's Big Night at the 1938 Academy Awards

The 11th Annual Academy Awards took place in Los Angeles on Thursday February 23, 1939 in the dining room of the Biltmore Hotel, which is still there today but of course no longer hosts the ceremonies.

The dining room, The Biltmore Bowl, was one of the hottest dining rooms and nightclubs in LA at the time.

Below is a photo of what the Oscar ceremony looked like at the time (the photo is on a wall in the hotel today).

Deanna arrives at the hotel with her parents.

Deanna presenting her ticket to
enter the Academy dinner
at the Biltmore Bowl.
Two young motion picture stars who had made quite an impact with audiences and the Academy in 1938 - Mickey Rooney and Deanna Durbin - were to be honored with a special "miniature" Oscar for their "significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth" and for "setting a high standard of ability and achievement."

The big winners were Spencer Tracy for Best Actor, Bette Davis for Best Actress, and "You Can't Take It With You" for Best Picture. Frank Capra won Best Director.

Unfortunately, I cannot find any photos with the two honorary teen stars together - Mickey Rooney and Deanna Durbin.

The juvenile Oscar was a nice tradition.
Radio and film star Edgar Bergan (sans his ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy) is at Deanna's table that night. He was to present her with the Oscar.

Bergen presents the miniature Oscar to Deanna. Look how small it is!

Special thanks and references:

February 21, 2011

For the Love of Mary (1948)

Originally posted on the blog Java's Journey

For the Love of Mary (1948) is a light RomCom which follows Mary Peppertree (Deanna Durbin), a White House switchboard operator who takes her job very seriously and is on familiar terms with people in all three branches of government, including the President of the United States (who personally wants to make sure that Mary gets married to someone... anyone, it seems, so he arranges her dates).

David Paxton (a very charming Don Taylor) interrupts the gaiety with his insistence on speaking with the President about the government's interference of business off the coast of Paxton's island. Mary, the effective gateway guard to the Executive branch, must encounter the tenacious Paxton throughout the course of the film.

What the movie lacks in . . . something, it makes up in showcasing just how far into outer space Deanna Durbin's star ascended. This movie was released in 1948.  At this point in history it is not common that a character in a movie gets familiar with the President of the United States.

The fact that the script allows Mary to be chummy over the phone with the revered leader of the free world suggests that Ms. Durbin was well-liked enough to get away with it. That's popular. Very popular. Mega-star popular.

In that sense, For the Love of Mary is almost a fitting last film for a leading lady whose characters have charmed guys from paupers to potentates. She's got the President (and the rest of the federal government) in her pocket as well.

After having played in one short film and twenty-one feature length movies in thirteen years (all starring vehicles), Ms. Durbin retired in her late 20s.

Since then, the star has famously refused all but one interview - a 1983 interview by David Shipman. I'm holding out hope that Ms. Durbin might be receptive to another interview, or even better, write her memoirs or autobiography.

Author Jeanine Basinger says this of Ms. Durbin's retirement:
There was an honest quality about her, and audiences felt it. Whatever motivated her to leave the business- the desire to be real and have a life that made sense- is the truth that audiences felt in her on-screen presence. Durbin connected right to audiences. She seemed to be one of them. The amazing thing about her was that it turned out to be true, She came down off the screen and proved it by rejoining them. Her defection wasn’t a ploy and was never rescinded. . . . Deanna Durbin, that most open and radiant of movie stars, remains more enigmatic than Garbo. She retired and led a normal life, the one thing that seems to have eluded almost every other movie star.

February 15, 2011

Deanna in color

I discovered some amazing colorizations by Megg on the Deviant Art website. Megg granted me permission to display some of her work on the blog. Doesn't Deanna look amazing in color?!

Deanna Durbin Colorized 2 by ~ajax1946 on deviantART

Be sure to use the links above to check out Megg's other work on Deviant Art and request prints of your favorites!

Posted with permission from the artist

February 6, 2011

Ronald Reagan was almost cast in a Deanna Durbin movie

As I was reading the book Reagan: A Life in Letters (Free Press, 2003), a compilation of hundreds of Ronald Reagan's letters sent throughout his lifetime, I was surprised to come across one letter related to Deanna.

Here is how the editors of book preface the letter (my notes in blue):

Joe Pasternak, a producer of 83 movies, wrote Reagan that Universal Pictures once vetoed his decision to cast Reagan in a Deanna Durbin movie. Durbin had starred in 23 movies (actually, 21) in the 1930s and 1940s. Pasternak jokingly added that if Reagan had been given the role, he would have become "a bigger star and our country might have lost a great president."

Unfortunately, it wasn't specified which movie Pasternak wanted him for. Reagan responded to the letter as follows:

Mr. Joe Pasternak
Beverly Hills, California
July 22, 1987

Dear Joe:

Thanks for your letter and for that job of no casting you did back there at Universal. I probably wouldn't have thanked you if I'd known at the time but now that I'm in an eight-year run of the play deal, things do look a little different. Of course I'll be at liberty in about a year and a half. Maybe I could play the life story of Mickey Rooney, or am I too tall?

Seriously, it was good to hear from you and I thank you for your generous words.

Best regards,

Ronald Reagan

February 3, 2011

Photos inspire Durbin movie scene

click to enlarge

In an article dubbed "Speaking of Pictures," from February 19, 1940, Life Magazine argues that movies should be more complex and realistic. The magazine showcases its preference with a number of movie stills which were directly influenced by life in general and Life Magazine photos in particular. The article displays the movie stills next to their candid inspiration.

One of the film frames is taken from the Deanna Durbin vehicle, It's A Date (1940). Durbin plays an aspiring actress practicing at summer stock. Above her photo is that of a real life acting class. The caption reads in part,
The opening page of a picture essay on summer theaters ... so impressed Universal's Producer Joe Pasternak that he duplicated it for Deanna Durbin's new movie...."

These photos are another taste of the ever-present Durbin brand - here she's used as one random example in a full article about how movies should be made. Deanna Durbin of the 1930s and 1940s was an extraordinarily popular and familiar figure in everyday life.