'Winnipeg's sweetheart' actress Deana Durbin dies

Deanna Durbin, a Winnipeg-born screen star of the 1930s and 1940s, has died, according to her son Peter H. David. She was 91.

Former child star of 1930s, 1940s known for her voice

Deanna Durbin, a popular child star in the 1930s and 1940s, enters the trailer that acted as her dressing room during filming for Can't help Singing. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Deanna Durbin, a Winnipeg-born screen star of the 1930s and 1940s, has died, according to her son Peter H. David. She was 91.

David announced her death through a fan newsletter, saying she died a few days ago.

In 1947, she was the highest paid star in Hollywood, known for movies such as Three Smart Girls, Spring Parade and Mad about Music. 

But she gave it all up in 1949, at age 27, saying she had never been happy as a movie star. She married film director Charles David, and they shunned the spotlight, living in France.

Durbin was born Edna Mae Durbin at Grace Hospital in Winnipeg and was known in her early career as "Winnipeg’s sweetheart." She had a lovely voice and her parents, then living in Los Angeles, trained her with a vocal coach.

She was given the stage name Deana Durbin when she signed a contract with Universal Studios in 1936 at age 14. Her first movie was Every Sunday, in which she appeared alongside Judy Garland.

She played a series of ideal teenaged daughters over the next few years in films such as That Certain Age, First Love and It’s a Date. Her sweet soprano voice made a success of many of the films, and she was credited with saving Universal from bankruptcy in the 1930s.

From 1936 to 1938, she also was singing with Eddie Cantor’s radio show, and her vocal coach urged a career in opera, but she opted instead for films. Throughout her career, she would perform everything from operatic arias to popular songs. She released more than 50 recordings including Kiss Me Again, My Hero, Annie Laurie, Love’s Sweet Song and God Bless America.

However, when at age 15 she auditioned to sing the part of Snow White in the Disney animated film, Walt Disney rejected her voice as "too mature."  

Three Smart Girls was nominated for the best picture Oscar in 1937. In 1939, Durbin and fellow teen star Mickey Rooney were presented with Juvenile Academy Awards for their "significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth."

Durbin tried to transition into a more sophisticated movie persona by taking roles in The Amazing Mrs. Holliday, about refugee children from China and mysteries Lady on a Train and Christmas Holiday. However, the public continued to love her light musical comedies.

Her last film was 1948’s Up in Central Park, and she left film-making in 1949, turning down roles in Bing Crosby’s Top o' the Morning and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court at Paramount studios. 

Durbin rarely gave interviews but did send reporters a letter in 1958, in which she said she was "never happy making pictures."

"The character I was forced into had little or nothing in common with myself — or with other youth of my generation, for that matter."

She turned down numerous offers to perform again, including lead roles on Broadway and the London stage as well as a concert appearances in Las Vegas.

She was married three times and had a son and a daughter. Her third husband, Charles David, died in 1999.