Deanna Durbin, whose wholesome movie roles entertained Depression era audiences, has died at the age of 91. Her death was reported by fan club The Deanna Durbin Society, who quoted her son Peter H. David as saying Durbin died “a few days ago.”
That no specific cause or date of death were given is not a huge surprise, considering Durbin fiercely guarded her privacy in the 64 years she spent retired from Hollywood. Although she was a major child star from 1936 to 1942 and rose to the level of second-highest-paid woman in America in 1946 (with a salary of $323,477 putting her just $5,000 behind Bette Davis, according to the New York Times), Durbin retired to France in 1949 to live with her third husband.
She had remained out of public view ever since, and was believed to resent the image manufactured for her by the Hollywood studio system.
Among Durbin’s most famous films were 1936’s “Three Smart Girls,” 1937’s “100 Men and a Girl,” 1940’s “Spring Parade” and 1944’s “Christmas Holiday.” She also enjoyed a successful recording career and frequently performed standards and operatic arias with her much-lauded soprano singing voice.
Durbin shared a Juvenile Academy Award in 1938 with Mickey Rooney for “significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement” and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.
Durbin was so beloved in her day that her picture was hung by a teenage Anne Frank in the bedroom where Frank’s family famously hid during World War II.