No matter how hard the times may be, there is always a person who brings a ray of hope and inspiration to the life of a whole nation. One such person was a Canadian singer named Deanna Durbin. She helped people forget about their hardships during the Great Depression and World War II. Her beautiful voice took them into a world of happiness.
Durbin was born at the Great Hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on December 4, 1921 to Ada and James Durbin of Lancashire, England. She was christened Edna Mae. Her elder sister’s name was Edith. The family did not live in Winnipeg very long as her father’s poor health forced them to move to California. From a very early age, Durbin was blessed with a strong and beautiful voice. Her talent was discovered by Jack Sherrill, a Hollywood talent agent, while singing at a school recital. Her first coach was Anders de Segurola. A short time later, she started acting in films for Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Studios. It is worth noting, that Durbin’s way into the cinema was not easy. Her first attempt was not very successful. She was to play the role of opera singer Eva Schumann-Heink as a child, but the film was cast aside. Her next film, “Every Sunday,” was released in1936. She performed in it with another young star, Frances Gumm (Judy Garland). However, the two stars were very similar, so the studio directors decided to keep Garland for the role. In 1937, Walt Disney wanted to see if Durbin could be the voice of Snow White for the film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but he found her voice too mature. However, she did sign a contract on June 13, 1936. That is when her name was changed from Edna Mae to Deanna. It was then that she started working on a number of musicals. Durbin was unusual – a regular kid with an operatic voice. In addition, she always gave a very positive impression, one of happiness and confidence.
Durbin gained international popularity between the late 1930s and early 1940s. Her salary quickly increased, and by age fourteen, she was a highly-paid actress. At 18, she was earning $250,000 a year. A rather interesting fact is that all her films were mainly black and white because her salary was so high that it exceeded the film budget; thus, film directors could not afford to shoot in colour. In 1938, Durbin was awarded a special Academy Award for “bringing to the screen the spirit of personification of youth.” The world admired her greatly. There were even Deanna Durbin dolls in the shops. In 1939 the film “First Love” with Robert Stack, in which she got her first screen kiss, blew the European crises off the front pages. However, while producing the film “An Amazing Mrs. Holiday” (working title “Forever Yours”), the film director Jean Renoir was fired because Durbin “was unable to give up the style that had made her famous.”
Durbin’s first two marriages failed, but she was immensely happy with her third husband, Charles Henry David, with whom she had a son named Peter. Durbin and her husband spent their retirement years traveling around the world, enjoying art, theater and music. Durbin’s records are the second most popular, next to another film star and singer, Alice Faye. Durbin cleared the way for many other female actresses in Hollywood and is still considered a perfect example of a person with courage, spirit, passion for work, and commitment.