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.


  1. Interesting article, and Downey is now himself one of Hollywood's biggest stars.

    It was a more innocent time back then, so a first onscreen kiss might be a big thing.

    I think teen stars still can cause some controversy, like when Miley Cyrus posed half-naked in some pictures a few years ago. If she ever did a sex or nude scene, that might raise some eyebrows. Maybe it had to do with the fact that she's known for her Disney and family films. I don't think Molly Ringwald had such a squeaky clean image, so losing her virginity in a film might not be such a big deal.

  2. Good observation, Tom. The starting point of the careers, the expectations of the audience, even in more modern times, changes what's considered a "a big deal."

    Also from the '80s, I believe there was big to do about "innocent" little Drew Barrymore's drug problems, and when Keisha Knight Pulliam (Rudy Huxtable from the Cosby Show) posed for some risque photos after a long hiatus from show business, people were a bit up in arms.

    From the 1970s/1980s there was outcry when young Jodie Foster played a prostitute. I was reminded of that when, more recently, cutesy little Dakota Fanning was a in a sex scene (or so I hear).