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1930s Hollywood star Deanna Durbin dies at 91

May 1, 2013 at 2:12 PM   |   Comments

STOKE-ON-TRENT, England, May 1 (UPI) -- Singer-actress Deanna Durbin, a 1930s Hollywood star who left the entertainment business at 26, has died, her fan club said. She was 91.

The Deanna Durbin Society, based in England, did not report a date or cause of death. It said simply Durbin died "a few days ago," quoting her son, Peter H. David, who thanked her admirers for respecting her privacy.

Canadian-born Durbin made her first screen appearance at age 13 with Judy Garland, another recently signed 13-year-old, in the 1936 short "Every Sunday" and soon signed a contract with Universal Studios.

Her first Universal film, later that year, was the musical comedy "Three Smart Girls" -- remade decades later as "The Parent Trap" -- in which she played the perfect teenage daughter. The instant hit, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, is widely credited with saving Universal from bankruptcy during the Great Depression.

It also led to more films in which Durbin played the same type of character.

Durbin became a highly profitable studio property that led to the type of merchandising that's common today, Variety said.

Young female fans snapped up Deanna Durbin dolls, wore Deanna Durbin dresses and read Deanna Durbin novels in which a fictional Deanna solved mysteries similar to the Nancy Drew character, whose popular books also started that decade.

In the Netherlands, Anne Frank hung a picture of Durbin on the wall of the attic in which she and her family hid from the Nazis, Variety said.

As Durbin matured, she grew dissatisfied with the girl-next-door roles assigned to her. But critics didn't generally like her attempts to be an adult on screen.

The 1944 film noir "Christmas Holiday," in which she played a prostitute in love with a killer, drew tepid reviews and was a box-office disappointment. So was the 1945 "Lady on a Train," in which she was a debutante mixed up in a murder plot.

Nevertheless, in 1947 she was Hollywood's highest-paid female star.

In 1949, after starring in 21 feature films, Durbin vanished from public view and in 1950 married third husband Charles David, who had directed "Lady on a Train." They moved to a farmhouse in Normandy, France.

From then on, she remained out of the limelight, tempted once in 1956 to be in Broadway's "My Fair Lady," Variety said, but ultimately deciding to remain private.

"I was never happy making pictures," Durbin said in a 1958 letter to reporters -- one of her few public communications.

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

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