Deanna Durbin has died at age 91, according to a brief statement to fans from her son Peter David. In 1948, the reclusive former child star retired at age 28 when she was then called the highest-paid woman in the world.
In the decades since, the Canadian-born actress has lived a reclusive life near Paris, France where she remained largely hidden from fans. David didn’t break with the tradition of keeping Durbin’s private life private. He didn’t even reveal the exact day she had died, stating only that she passed a few days before he released the statement.
Her first film for Universal Studio was 1936’s Three Smart Girls, which was a huge hit for Deanna Durbin and the first version of a story that would later become famous as The Parent Trap.
As a child star, she was wildly popular — to older men as well as to girls her own age. While she modestly said that her appeal to men was because she represented “the ideal daughter,” she was voted the favorite star by over 300 groups of World War II service personnel. Winston Churchill, UK’s prime minister during the WWII era, was allowed to view her movies before they were released to the general public.
A victim of relentless publicity, Durbin didn’t just sell movies. Her image was also used to promote dolls, dresses, and even a Nancy Drew style Deanna Durbin series of crime-solving novels.
She has said that she hated the goldfish bowl and that the image she was forced to portray had nothing to do what life was really like for young people of the time.
She married her director Charles David on her 1945 film, Lady on a Train, and retired to a life of seclusion in France, rarely giving interviews, much less making public appearances.
Deanna Durbin’s death represents the passing of an era.