Wednesday, 1 May 2013

"Winnipeg's Sweetheart" Deanna Durbin 1922 - 2013

Deanna Durban Photo

Some sad news from the world of entertainment. Deanna Durbin, dubbed "Winnipeg's Sweetheart" by local media back in the day, has died. 

Born at the Grace Hospital in Wolseley on December 4, 1922*, she only lived in Winnipeg for the first two years of her life. Thanks to extended family, including her beloved granny, she kept a strong connection through her early years of fame.

(*Most modern sources use 1921, but many news stories from back in the day, including a 1939 syndicated bio penned by Durbin herself, gives her birth year as 1922. I address this in more detail here and use 1922 until I can find something definitive that says it was not.)

April 1, 1939, Winnipeg Free Press

The Depression-weary city delighted in following her career. It began as a child singing star on U.S. radio which led to co-starring with Judy Garland in her first film at MGM and culminated in a string of box office hits with Universal in the 1940s that Hollywood lore says saved the studio from bankruptcy. 

On top of being the top-paid actress in Hollywood for much of the 1940s, she was also in great demand as a singer, wooed by some of North America's top opera companies to join them.

Disillusioned with Hollywood, in 1949 she battled Universal in court to end her contract. The following year she gave up stage and screen to live a reclusive life in France and raise a family.

Deanna Durbin's Winnipeg Childhood Home
The Durbin's Winnipeg home on Gallagher Avenue

To honour her 90th birthday I wrote a three-part history on this blog back in 2011 and found a few interesting facts about her connections to the city. 

Though her Hollywood biography (facts of which were repeated in the local media) stated that she was the daughter of a real estate broker and the family lived in St. Vital, she in fact had more humble roots. Her father was a machinist and labourer at the CPR Weston Shops and the family lived just meters from the yards.

Her Winnipeg home for those two years still stands. So does "Deanna Durbin House" in St. Vital. It was a wartime charity fundraiser that she was involved in raffling off in 1944.

Deanna Durbin: From Winnipeg to Hollywood (3 parts) West End Dumplings 
Singer-Actress Deanna Durbin Dead at 91 Variety
Deanna Durbin, Plucky Movie Star of the Depression Era, Is Dead at 91 New York Times
Deanna Durbin sings Youtube

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