Deanna Durbin | Film favorite, 91

Deanna Durbin in a 1944 photo.
Deanna Durbin in a 1944 photo.
Posted: May 04, 2013

Deanna Durbin, 91, whose songs and smile made her one of the biggest box-office draws of Hollywood's Golden Age with fans that included Winston Churchill, died last month outside Paris, where she had lived out of public view since 1949.

The exact date of her death was unclear, and family friend Bob Koster, whose father, Henry, directed six of her films, also did not know the cause.

At the height of her career, the Canada-born Miss Durbin, who made her first feature, Three Smart Girls, at 13, was among the highest-paid actresses.

Her admirers included Churchill, who said she was his favorite star, according to biographer William Manchester, and Anne Frank, who had Miss Durbin's photo on the wall in the secret quarters where Frank and her family hid in Amsterdam.

In 1938, Miss Durbin received an honorary Oscar.

Her hair, makeup, and on-screen outfits set fashion trends worldwide and were emulated by millions.

"She was one of the last really legitimate movie stars from the 1930s who was still with us," film historian Alan Rode said. "She was a huge box-office star for a short period of time."

By 1939, child roles were becoming more out-of-reach for Miss Durbin, who had grown into a young woman. She was passed over for the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. That same year saw her first on-screen kiss - with Robert Stack - and the news bumped war headlines off daily papers.

She retired in 1948 at age 28 and never looked back despite appeals from directors, studios, and fans.

Responding to a request for an interview from the Associated Press in 1958, she wrote that she was reveling in the anonymity she found in the French countryside.

"I've gained weight, I do my own shopping, bring up my two children and sing an hour every day," she wrote.

She is survived by a daughter and a son. - AP

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