For the Love of Deanna: Remembering Deanna Durbin

Deanna Durbin in "I'll Be Yours" (1947)

Deanna Durbin in “I’ll Be Yours” (1947)

The first time saw Deanna Durbin was on the front of a DVD case.

The DVDs that introduced me to Deanna

The DVDs that introduced me to Deanna

I was 14 and gazed at this pretty, young lady happily looking back at me on the front of the “Deanna Durbin: Sweetheart Pack.”

Though I had no idea who Durbin was, I bought the DVDs.

The first film I watched was “Three Smart Girls” (1936) and immediately fell in love with Durbin’s smile, singing voice and charm.

Through the years, I’ve tried to watch as many musicals as possible- now up to 470 movie musicals-and Durbin’s films have been some of my favorite.

Debuting in films at age 15, Durbin’s popularity pulled Universal Studios out of bankruptcy, won her a Juvenile Oscar in 1938 and made her one of the top paid women in the United States.

Her popularity was world wide with fans such as Winston Churchill and Anne Frank. She influenced fashion in “Nice Girl” (1941) with a white organdy, ruffled dress, according to USA Today.

LIFE photo of Durbin

1938 LIFE magazine photo of Durbin

She was considered for the role of Dorthy in “Wizard of Oz” (1939) (as was Shirley Temple) and to be the voice of Snow White in the 1937 Walt Disney cartoon. However her voice was considered too mature at 14.

Similar to fellow child star Shirley Temple, Durbin had dolls and other merchandise created in her likeness. Today, it’s difficult to find a Deanna Durbin doll under $200.

After her first on-screen kiss with Robert Stack in “First Love” (1939) she transitioned into teen and adult roles with leading men such as Joseph Cotton, Gene Kelly and Tom Drake.

But after 21 films and at the height of her popularity, Durbin left films and lived the remainder of her life in France.

“I hated being in a fishbowl,” she was quoted as saying in her New York Times obituary.

Long after she had left films, her influence and sunny disposition continued to spread, this time to fans like myself. Durbin quickly became one of my favorite movie stars and singers as I worked my way through her films. In 2005, she was kind enough to respond to a fan letter with an autograph and even paying for postage from France.

Durbin in color

Durbin in color

My favorite Deanna Durbin films include “The Amazing Mrs. Holliday” (1943) where she plays a missionary caring for World War II orphans, and “It Started With Eve” (1941). Though Durbin has great chemistry with “Eve” leading man Robert Cummings, she has even more impressive chemistry with Charles Laughton. The rumba scene with Laughton is one of my favorite comedic scenes of the English actor.

My favorite songs of Durbin’s include “Amapola” and “Les Filles de Cadiz.”

It was announced Tuesday that Durbin passed away at the age of 91.

Though she is gone, she will forever be singing in our hearts.

Rest in peace, Deanna.

Autograph she sent to me in 2005

Autograph she sent to me in 2005

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The Mystery of the Murdered Movie

I love Nancy Drew.

I have played and solved 21 of the HerInteractive PC games and read most of the original yellow bound novels. I even own a Nancy Drew cookbook, a “Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life” book and a large Nancy Drew cut out.

Nancy Drew has played a pivotal role for the past 80 years in literature for young girls, as well as in pop culture.

Everyone knows who she is and is fairly respected as a literary character. However, why is there not a flattering movie adaptation depicting everyone’s this important literary character and symbol for American women?

Eight years after the first Nancy Drew novel, “The Secret of the Old Clock,” was published in 1930, the first Nancy Drew film adaptation was released.

Nancy Drew, Reporter,” the first film adaptation of the series, was released in 1938, three more movies were released all in 1939. These movies included “Nancy Drew  Troubleshooter,” “Nancy Drew Detective ” and “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase).”

Film series were not rare in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In fact many studios made a great deal of money off of series such as “Andy Hardy,” “Dr. Kildaire,” “Maisie” and “Boston Blackie just to name a few of many.

I imagine that is what Warner Brothers was trying to do with Nancy Drew. But none of the films followed or resembled any of the Nancy Drew books, except for snippets of “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” which I think is modeling itself after the book “The Hidden Staircase.”

In novels Miss Drew is level-headed, fearless and intelligent. She doesn’t goof off and there isn’t much time for romance in her life. Yes there is her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, but I can count on one hand the amount of times they kissed or flirted in the novels. She was also very talented and fashionable. She could tap dance the Morris code while wearing a freshly pressed tailored suit.

Also in the novels, Ned was concerned about Nancy but never hindered her sleuthing. Carson Drew, Nancy’s father, was a distinguished lawyer. He teased his daughter for her appetite for mysteries and trusted her good sense.

However, the characters in the 1930s Nancy Drew series didn’t resemble Carolyn Keene’s intelligent teens.

Nancy Drew, played by Bonita Granville, was bumbling, scatter-brained and frightened for most of the films. She set out to solve a mystery but would run home before finding any actual clues.

Bonita Granville as Nancy Drew and Frankie Thomas as Ted Nickerson

Ned Nickerson, played by Frankie Thomas, was named TED in the movies for some reason. He was maybe the most tolerable character in the movies, but I wouldn’t run to him to protect me.

John Litel was a very irritating Carson Drew. He forbid Nancy from sleuthing and worried about her constantly. Even Hannah Gruen, the housekeeper, ran away in terror when someone broke into their home. Hannah in the books would have knocked them on their ear.

John Litel as Carson Drew in “Nancy Drew…Reporter” (1938)

The films involve very little mystery solving and an over abundance of silly slap-stick. I’m not asking for a whole detailed novel to be played out in the 68 minute films, but Warner Brothers could have at least been accurate with their character depictions.

Bonita Granville, who was 16 when she played Nancy Drew, was in top-notch films such as “These Three”(1936), which she received her only Oscar nomination, and “Now, Voyager” (1941), giving excellent performances in both but clearly Nancy Drew was not the role for her.

I made a list of who, with some tweaks to the script, could have been the perfect Nancy Drew casting in the 1930s or 1940s.

Nancy Drew: Deanna Durbin (19 at this time) would be my first pick. She sometimes plays silly characters, but also plays serious roles beautifully. Nancy Drew was also supposed to be very attractive. Miss Granville wasn’t ugly, but Deanna Durbin is decidedly prettier. I’m sure they would have to fit in a song or two for Deanna. She would have been old enough by this time, because “First Love,” the film that she received her first on-screen kiss came out the same year as the series.

Carson Drew: John Litel is generally a character actor with small roles. I’m not sure why they chose him to play the distinguished lawyer, Carson Drew. I can’t think of anyone else who could play this role more perfectly than Walter Pidgeon. Mr. Pidgeon is the definition of distinguished and sophistication. With his fatherly and friendly acting style, along with his pipe, I can picture him now giving Nancy advice.

Ned Nickerson: I would either say a teen-aged Jackie Cooper (17 at the time) or Robert Stack (20 at this time). Both boys were attractive and would have seemed more protective of Nancy Drew than Frankie Thomas. Stack was also in the 1939 film “First Love” with Miss Durbin and would have been of a suitable age.

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