May 01, 2013

Deanna Durbin, Plucky Movie Star of the Depression Era, Is Dead at 91

Deanna Durbin, who as a plucky child movie star with a sweet soprano voice charmed American audiences during the Depression and saved Universal Pictures from bankruptcy before she vanished from public view 64 years ago, has died, a fan club announced on Tuesday. She was 91.

In a newsletter, the Deanna Durbin Society said Ms. Durbin died “a few days ago,” quoting her son, Peter H. David, who thanked her admirers for respecting her privacy. No other details were given.

Ms. Durbin had remained determinedly out of public view since 1949, when she retired to a village in France with her third husband.

From 1936 to 1942, Ms. Durbin was everyone’s intrepid kid sister or spunky daughter, a wholesome, radiant, can-do girl who in a series of wildly popular films was always fixing the problems of unhappy adults.

And as an instant Hollywood star with her very first movie, “Three Smart Girls,” she almost single-handedly fixed the problems of her fretting bosses at Universal, bringing them box-office gold.

In 1946, Ms. Durbin’s salary of $323,477 from Universal made her the second-highest-paid woman in America, just $5,000 behind Bette Davis.

After moving to France in 1949 and settling outside Paris in the village of Neauphle-le-Ch√Ęteau, Ms. Durbin devoted most of her time to keeping her home, cooking and raising her children. In addition to Peter, her son from her marriage to Mr. David, Ms. Durbin had a daughter, Jessica, from her second marriage. Mr. David died in 1999, a few months before their 50th wedding anniversary.

Mr. David once said that he and Ms. Durbin had made a deal that he would protect her “from spiders, mosquitoes and reporters.”

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