Thursday, November 18, 2010

Judy Garland without Oz vs. Deanna Durbin

“[Judy Garland] ran second to Deanna [Durbin] then, but not now. The Wizard Of Oz took care of that. If we removed Oz from the equation, I wonder how they’d compare.”  - John McElwee of Greenbriar Pictures

How would they compare? Would Garland still outdo Durbin in name, image and sound recognition today without Oz? If so, to what degree?

McElwee states"…if I had to pick a winner, I’d have to go with Deanna, because, well, she is still here, after all.” McElwee has a point. Perhaps people put too much stock in a performer being famous and not enough in her having peace of mind. This blog post, however, will not choose a winner and will concentrate only on each star’s level of fame. You can place your own value on that fame.

We’ll delve into what keeps Garland’s legacy, for the foreseeable future,  firmly pasted to the wall of entertainment history, and we’ll extract Oz and see how that reduced legacy holds up against that of the formidable Durbin.






Factors in Garland v. Durbin

  • Oz
  • Length of Life
  • Prolific Artistry and Television
  • Shaping Her Own Legacy
  • Accessibility
  • Progeny
  • Durbin’s Retirement

Oz
The Judy Garland legacy goes on due, in no small part, to the universal appeal of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and the enormous marketing of this film and its lore. Generations of people, long after Garland’s death, still associate the star and the film with some part of their childhood. Consequently, the film often acts as a gateway to her other work.

Deanna Durbin doesn’t have an Oz - that movie which is both timeless and appeals to all ages. Films during Durbin’s pixie or puckish stage are wonderful time capsules, but won’t play well with those determined not to enjoy old films. Even if Durbin had an Oz in her repertoire, this self-possessed, mature young lady doesn’t play insecure - a significant, relatable theme in childhood fantasy films.

Still, there are other reasons for Garland’s perpetual fame besides the Emerald City.


Length of Life
We all know the familiar stories of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe skyrocketing to what seems to be permanent icon status after dangerous habits somehow lead to an early demise. Judy Garland’s death is similar and her mass of insecurities are well-known, which tends to evoke empathy with the lady beyond her movies. Thus, the tragic star would still have had  icon status without Oz.  However, her grip on the general public’s childhood would be considerably reduced sans the yellow brick road.

Deanna Durbin is alive and in her 80s. Although this vivacity hampers cementing her film legacy, she will be spared society’s morbid tendency towards over-idolizing a star who dies before reaching threescore and ten.

Prolific Artistry and Television
Both Durbin and Garland were featured on radio, in movies, magazines and newspapers, etc., just like any other star. However, since Winnepeg’s Sweetheart hasn’t  performed since the 1940s (even though she has had offers), the Durbin legacy misses out on the big wave of television, which tends to lessen an audience’s familiarity with her a bit.

Durbin knocked the European War off the front pages with her first screen kiss as a teen and retired in her 20s. Garland didn’t have that kind of stardom while she was alive, but  appeared regularly on TV and performed in popular concerts and albums until her death in the 1960s, all of which  has put her into many homes - a phenomenon that tends to increase the likelihood of people remembering a performer.

Shaping Her Own Legacy
Durbin has famously remained mum about her career, except for a few missives here and there to publications in order to set the record straight on some bit of nonsense.  Garland, however,  gained notoriety telling tall tales about MGM, etc.  on late night shows and at parties. She was interested in talking about her early career, cashing in on her past work and shaping the public‘s perception of her legacy, which  makes Garland a front-line film and music historian,  perpetuating her own lore.

Accessibility

A star’s legacy also depends on an audience’s accessibility to their body of accomplishments. These days, an entertainer’s work must be available for “ command performances” on a person’s television, computer or  phone. Judy Garland’s films and music have been marketed like crazy; her voice can be legally downloaded as your  phone’s ring tone. On the other hand, as McElwee notes, MCA/Universal has just released a second Deanna Durbin  movie package, but very discreetly. It’s as if they just know the pre-existing fans will be drawn to it like heat-seeking missiles [we are], but will not bother to curry favor with the uninitiated.

Progeny
Judy Garland’s children [Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft, Joey Luft] are fairly well-known and seem to be attracted to the spotlight a bit. Their presence helps blow the dust off the Garland legend and keep it sparkling and vibrant.

Durbin’s children [Jessica Louise Jackson and Peter David] seem to have avoided the stardom for which their mother is famous, which results in fewer of Durbin‘s fingers firmly clutching the general public‘s sentimentality. [Though, the artist clearly isn‘t interested in having that power again, anyway.]


Durbin’s Retirement
One reason that Garland remains more well-known than the lady who expanded Universal’s status in the studio world, was the highest paid female movie star in the world from 1938 to 1942, who was so popular that the Axis falsely reported her death to demoralize prisoners of war, is due to Durbin’s complete retirement from public life.

Had Joe Pasternak had his druthers and Durbin signed to MGM after she left Universal, McElwee opines that the singer, under Arthur Freed,  would have starred opposite Gene Kelly during the height of his filmic opuses. Perhaps the Kelly films would have broken the string of Miss Fix It stories (which had kept her bound to a formula at her alma mater), producing a fresh career for the movie veteran.

Tied to legendary and innovative musicals from a studio whose rights were eventually sold to Warners - a company that is determined to make the MGM library accessible - Durbin’s second film career might have  been more famous today than her first. The megastar might have been just as iconic these days (if not more so) than Garland because of that extra head start at Universal.

To Sum It Up

Without Oz, Garland
  • would not have had a firm grip on so many audience members’ childhood memories,
  • would have had a narrower fan base without the Oz conduit to her other works, and
  • (like Frank Sinatra) despite a prolific and varied career, would probably be known to the general public primarily as a singer.
However, the scales tip away from obscurity and back to Garland’s favor because of
  • her early and tragic death,
  • her TV shows  and appearances,
  • popular concerts and albums,
  • accessibility of her work (film, TV, music), and
  • offspring who perpetuate her legacy as much as did the star herself.
The performer retains a lesser, but still iconic, status even without the munchkins and melting green-faced lady. Further, the reduced status would, by default, still keep Garland more famous than Deanna Durbin, mostly due to Durbin’s self-imposed exile.


Click to enlarge



More from Greenbriar on Deanna Durbin
More from Greenbriar on Judy Garland

35 comments:

  1. Garland elephants in the room - the TMZ/Enquirer factor and popularity in gay culture? Her weight, famously up and down; drug abuse; marital difficulties. Garland was in the Elizabeth Taylor/Greta Garbo class of notoriety; Durbin never got anywhere remotely close to that?

    Just thinking out loud here.

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  2. I love 'em both. I've been an admirer of Judy's for most of my life. Deanna, I've discovered more recently, but, from what I've read about her, her stardom during her film career was at least as great as Judy's at it's height, if not greater. Deanna's career is consistently referred to as a "phenomenon," while Judy's, even with OZ in the mix, is not. Check out comments like Robert Stack's in his memoir, STRAIGHT SHOOTING, in which he recalls that Durbin's stardom at its' height was greater than Elizabeth Taylor's, Faye Dunaway's and (I think) Barbra Streisand's combined. (Sorry, I don't have the quote in front of me.) The key difference (to me) is that Deanna handled the pressures of stardom better,walked away from it all and didn't look back. Also, Deanna's films, unlike Judy's, haven't been regular TV fare for decades. Anyway, I think they were both terrific.

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  3. Interesting how these two ladies are often compared, though they are quite different personalities and talents. And to remove Oz from the mix, well, let's tie Garland's hands behind her back and drop her in the ring with an un-handicapped Durbin. The reality is that Oz did exist. But, since were are playing pretend here, we seem to have 2 basic questions. What would Garland be without Oz, and what would Durbin be if she had continued her career? For the first, I think we already have the answer. Garland made quite a splash in her pre-Oz movies, such as Pigskin Parade and Broadway Melody of 1938. It's obvious her career at MGM would've gone on largely as it did, whether Oz was made or not. Remember, at that time, Oz, although popular, was not the icon it became after the annual TV showings in the late 50's. One couldn't pop in a vhs or dvd for the kiddies as is done today. A few post-Oz films such as Meet Me In St Louis and Easter Parade would still go on to become well known classics, and I understand they are even quite beloved by youngsters of today, regardless of OZ. Both ladies more or less ended their studio and movies careers by 1950 (yes, we know for different reasons) and both had seen their box office ratings fall. Different times were approaching. Here's where question two comes in. Durbin withdrew totally, so to speculate as to how much longevity she would've had is just that: pure speculation. The public is known to be very fickle, and tastes change dramatically. Any projection there would have to be a fantasy. How would the public respond--we just don't know. On the other hand, Garland moved on in radio, and was hugely successful in the early Palladium and Palace concerts, and of course much later, Carnegie Hall. Then on a mature level, we have the Oz replacement, A Star Is Born. For the adult audience, it may be said to have achieved iconic status similar to the universally loved OZ. Also keep in mind, these accomplishments were established long before her children were even known, and before her personal trials fully exposed. Ultimately, you say perhaps Garland is more popular because she is given more exposure---how about Garland is given more exposure because she is more popular?

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    1. Beautifully articulated! And so true.

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  4. I think both Deanna and Judy were absolutely wonderful. I enjoy their work enormously and am grateful to have it available to me.

    That said, though I appreciate your argument, I respectfully disagree. Despite their seemingly disparate singing styles/talents, I can see why Deanna and Judy are often compared. Their lives and careers at their respective studios were often eerily similar; They both started out at the same age and at the same studio. They both excited studio interest for the same reason (incredibly mature singing voices with the musicality to know how to use them effectively); and, despite their seemingly disparate styles, they both attained top stardom by managing to convince film audiences they were "regular kids" with exceptional musical/vocal talent.

    And while it may be speculation to guess how Durbin would have fared in a post-studio entertainment world, the several top offers she reportedly received following her self-imposed retirement, including but not limited to the starring role of "Eliza Doolittle" in MY FAIR LADY on Broadway, a "blank cheque" from the Las Vegas Hotel Owners' Association to appear in concert for one night; starring roles at MGM and Columbia (in a projected remake of Grace Moore's 1934 hit ONE NIGHT OF LOVE) and the offer of a concert tour with noted operatic conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, strongly suggest she could have picked and chosen from many showbiz venues to continue her career had she wished to.

    What is also not open to speculation is the enduring popularity Durbin has retained through the years with fans and public despite her own determination to remain out of the spotlight and the lack of availability of her films for regular TV broadcasts since the mid-1960s.

    Comments by pop culture historian Richard Lamparski, the enduring demand for her films to be released for TV broadcasts through the decades, the unrivalled success of her films when released by MCA/UNIVERSAL on home video in the mid-1990s, and even the most recent decision by TCM/UNIVERSAL to release the latest collection of Durbin films as pressed discs rather than the originally projected DVD-R format, prove Durbin's legacy retains a fervent hold on those who have been exposed to it

    I suspect it's this lack of availability of the Durbin ouevre for appraisal by the public through the years that has really limited public awareness of her legacy. Shirley Temple doesn't have an OZ in her filmography either, nor, other than a brief TV series in the late 50s, has she remained in "show business," but consistent showings of her films as regular weekend fare over four-plus decades have ensured that her name and face are just as familiar as Judy's. Deanna's legacy, despite enduring public interest, hasn't had that venue to impose itself on generations of viewers.

    I also respectfully disagree with your lionizing of A STAR IS BORN. While it's undoubtedly a "classic film," revered by most Garland fans and familiar to most film buffs, I don't think it can be said to have the same cachet, even for adults, as OZ did at the height of its' TV broadcast fame.

    Finally, Judy's offscreen problems, which first became public knowledge during production of her 1948 MGM vehicle, THE PIRATE, were well-known to the public by the time STAR went into production. From widespread reports of the troubled productions of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, SUMMER STOCK and ROYAL WEDDING, to the aborted "suicide attempt" that led to Judy severing ties with MGM, her personal travails had become such widespread public knowledge by the time STAR went into production that I understand some commentators felt the film might never be finished.

    I'm not at all surprised that both ladies retain fervent fan followings. They deserve them, but since Deanna's work hasn't had the availability for appraisal Judy's has, I can't agree with your thesis that Judy's simply "more popular" than Deanna.

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  5. Growing up in the 40s and 50s, and being a big moviegoer, I knew a lot about Garland and nothing about Durbin. Garland's claim to fame in my peer group, apart from Oz, was her role in the Andy Hardy films (as seen on TV). More than once in my neighborhood, somebody said, Hey, let's put on a show!

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  6. But then, it all depends on one's background. Henry Koster, who directed several of Durbin's early films, once recalled an incident when he and his wife were hosting a young orphaned Dutch girl at their home in California. The little girl had broken her leg, and was painfully shy.

    At the time (early 1950s), Koster was directing the film DESIREE with Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons. He invited both Simmons and Brando to dinner, and also invited Durbin and her husband, Charles David, who were in town at the time.

    The little girl could barely contain herself at the thought of meeting Durbin (and was thrilled that Deanna signed her cast), but she had no interest in meeting Brando, who she'd never heard of before, and had to be persuaded by her hosts to let him also sign her cast, which, they assured her, would impress her American schoolmates.

    Still, you're right that Judy's films were much more prevalent on TV than Deanna's. I'm not sure why, given the evidence of Durbin's enduring popularity.

    When I first saw several Durbin films on TV it was in the 1980s on public television stations in New York and New Jersey. The films made such a hit that the stations scheduled them during pledge drives and the hosts repeatedly said (during those annoying pledge breaks), that viewers had been requesting them for years but they hadn't been available for public broadcasts until then. They also trumpeted the fact that they were showing them as evidence that they listened to viewer requests.

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  7. Thanks, everyone for your thoughts. I see this debate is still as lively as it seems to have been back then.

    joem18b,

    I'm not demeaning Garland's many troubles,her fan base [of which I am a part] or her multiple talents. It's just bewildering to discover that the person who I thought was one of a kind [and she is] had any kind of [debatable] competition [Durbin].

    Garland was one of a stable of multi-talented professionals, but her figure tends to stand astride the annals of Classic Movie history more than any one else. Garland is one of very few people of her era that the general public still recognizes, which lead me to believe that she was just a unique in popularity back then. That seems to be less and less the case.

    Thanks for contributing.

    CC,
    Welcome to Java's Journey. You've said it more succinctly than I did and I agree. :)My research tends to tell me the same thing.

    I haven't read Robert Stack's book yet, but will check it out; it should be revealing. Thanks.

    Anonymous,

    Welcome. YOu make a very good point about these two ladies having such different personalities,etc. It's almost apples to oranges,[like comparing Astaire and Kelly] which is why I hesitated even writing this blog post. But, as I said, they were both popular at the same time, but today we are constantly bombarded with the inference that Garland was just a popular then as now, when that doesn't seem to be the case.

    "Ultimately, you say perhaps Garland is more popular because she is given more exposure---how about Garland is given more exposure because she is more popular? " - Anon.

    I grew up thinking the latter and now with my research of Durbin and others, that last thought is constantly being challenged, which I why I bothered writing this in the first place. Thanks for dropping by.

    Mark,

    You've made the argument far more articulate than I did and in fewer paragraphs. :) Perhaps one's fondness for one or the other star does depend on how exposed to her the person was. I thought of Garland as the be all and end all of Classic Movie stardom, and truthfully, she's still pretty close to that estimation.

    Only, as I delve into history, she is now joined by many other people; she's not diminished, she just has company. By the way, thanks for sending those articles about Durbin, which thoroughly answered my questions.

    -- Java

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  8. Hi Java:

    Here's a very early NEW YORK TIMES column from late 1936, mentioning the impact both Deanna and Judy were having in generating interest in starring film roles for adolescent girls in Hollywood. (Note that the column was published almost a month before THREE SMART GIRLS went into general release in January 1937):

    From "A Corner of Hollywood Talent" By Douglas W. Churchill December 13, 1936:

    "The success of two new youngsters in recent films promises to lift the ban from half-grown girls, and possibly start a cycle of pictures involving singing ingenues. Girls in their early and mid teens have never interested producers, but since Judy Garland attracted attention in PIGSKIN PARADE, and the industry became aware of Deanna Durbin in Universal's THREE SMART GIRLS, scouting activity has been noted.

    Young Miss Durbin's success has been the more pronounced. Charles R. Rogers, Universal's head, regards her as one of the important discoveries of several seasons and is making elaborate plans for her future. There is talk of reviving "The Phantom of the Opera" in which she will be starred and Hans Kraly has been commissioned to write an
    untitled original for her.

    Following Hollywood custom, most of those connected with a successful film are being advanced to high places. With "Three Smart Girls" Miss Durbin has been skyrocketed to stardom, and Adele Commandini who wrote the original, Joseph Pasternak, who produced it, and Henry Koster who directed the picture are accorded the title of geniuses of the month....

    Miss Durbin, Miss Commandini's script, Pasternak and Koster were thrown together to make a B picture. Pasternak saw the possibilities in the yarn and while he was pleading for an enlarged budget, Joseph I. Breen of the Hays office, to whom the scenario had been sent for approval, called Rogers and complimented him on it. As a result, without fanfare or announcement, the picture was put on the A list, money was spent on it and now everyone connected with the project is
    in great demand."

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  9. Mark,

    Thank you so much for this information. It seems the Garland & Durbin comparison is a very old one. I'm discovering that Durbin was not just a footnote in Garland's career, as some of those retrospectives seem to suggest.

    I often wonder if the stars tire of the debate, though. Fans are like that well-meaning relative who keeps bringing up the fact that you learned to tie your shoe at the age of 3. "Who cares? I've moved on to other things," I imagine them thinking.

    I'm watching a Connie Chung interview with Marlon Brando from 1989 where the actor flat out says that.

    In any case, I will file this away with the other information you've sent, and will refer to them for future posts.

    Thanks again for your contribution; I'm enjoying this immensely.

    -- Java

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  10. Part One

    I’m so glad I found your site and so glad you have a comment section.

    I read your article Judy Garland without Oz vs. Deanna Durbin with great interest and feel compelled to write about it.

    Yes, in 1939, Deanna Durbin was a much bigger star than Judy Garland!

    In 1940, that would begin to change.

    MGM, in 1939, was beginning to see the winner they had in Garland. They cast her at once in “Babes in Arms” with the number one box office star in the world, Mickey Rooney.

    Historical figures such as budgets and Box Office data are hard to come by for “The Golden Age of Hollywood” but we have them for “Babes”. “Babes in Arms” cost $750,000 dollars to make. A relatively low sum for a musical at that time, never mind, one starring the biggest movie attraction in the world.

    The film was a blockbuster. It became MGM’s biggest grossing film of 1940 earning $3.3 million dollars.

    They would put Garland and Rooney together every chance they could. All of their films were made relatively cheaply and went on to gross enormous sums of money.

    Their last major vehicle, “Girl Crazy”, (made 5 years after “Babes”), out-grossed “Babes in Arms” by at least half a million dollars.

    “Girl Crazy” was released in 1943 and by this time Garland had more than fulfilled her early promise. They built her slowly but aggressively.

    MGM released “For Me and My Gal” in 1942 to ecstatic box office and critical reviews. The film cost less than a million to make and went on to gross $4.7 million.

    Garland was at her prime at this time but what was Deanna Durbin doing in 1942

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  11. Part Two:

    In 1942, Deanna was making the same sort of star vehicles she did in 1938.

    She had matured into a beautiful woman and a good actress. Her movies, however, had not
    matured with her. While Garland over at MGM was working with the best in the business, Deanna was working with the best Universal could give her - which was not always very much.

    While Garland’s stardom (and her artistry) appeared to be growing, Durbin’s was beginning to slowly diminish. Garland’s audience had widened while Durbin’s stayed status quo, meaning, no new fans were discovering Durbin.

    Durbin had her core audience but no one else was rushing to their local theatre to see her.

    There simply was no new growth for Durbin as an artist or a Box Office star.

    This brings us to 1944 and to “Meet me in St. Louis”.

    By this time, Garland was being talked about in hushed tones. There was the astonishment of her talent, but also growing concern about temper tantrums and alcohol and drug use.

    Any concerns about the “Garland Corporation” were vanquished with “Meet Me in St. Louis”. A glorious picture postcard of a film, it opened to critical acclaim and Box Office on a scale MGM had not seen before.

    It would gross $7.6 million dollars. The biggest grossing musical MGM (or any other studio, for that matter) had produced at this time and the highest grossing film of the year – bar none.

    Garland would follow it with ‘The Harvey Girls (Box Office $5.7 million) and “Easter Parade” (Box Office: 6.8 Million). Even Garland’s least successful film of this period, “The Pirate”, made $3.5 million.

    “Easter Parade” was released in 1948, the final year of activity for Deanna Durbin.

    It’s unlikely any of the films Durbin made between 1946 and 1948 grossed anywhere near the amounts that Garlands films did. (In fact it’s safe to say the total combined grosses of three Durbin films at this time add up to the single
    gross of “Meet me in St. Louis”).

    Her last hit, “Can’t Help Singing”, in 1944, was a success but, again, not anywhere near the success Garland was having.

    It must be noted that Garland’s artistry was nurtured constantly at MGM. She does a non-singing turn in “The Clock” that is well received. She is capable of doing extreme sophisticated camp farce like a “A Great Lady Has an Interview” and of more than holding her own next to the likes of Fred Astaire.

    Garland also is recording classic standards to sing that are written especially for her.

    If you research the number of other artists who have sung “The Boy Next Door” or “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” after Garland introduced both of them in 1(one) film, you will lose count at around 50.

    It also must be noted that, even today, decades after Garland’s death, when others sing “The Man that Got Away” or “The Trolley Song”, let alone, “Over the Rainbow”, it is at their own risk.

    Universal (and possibly Durbin) were unprepared how to make Durbin grow as an artist. They tried film noir, key changes and sexy new looks. They tried everything but the obvious - putting Durbin with a stellar co-star in a great
    film, with great songs and directed by a top of the line director.

    The mind reels at what Durbin could have given us with a Frank Sinatra at her side singing Irving Berlin’s music with a Minnelli directing.

    All the features Garland’s career benefited immensely from, Durbin was simply not given.

    In the end, it is not “The Wizard of Oz” alone that makes Judy Garland, well, Judy Garland but an enormous amount of accomplished work that continued long after Durbin retired to France.

    -verranth1@yahoo.com

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  12. Mr. Verruso,
    Whew! You’ve given me a lot to unpack here, and I love it.

    GARLAND SUPERSEDES DURBIN IN THE EARLY 1940S?
    You and I agree that Durbin was the first out of the gate, the question is when did Garland overtake her. Your point - that Garland began to supersede Durbin in 1940 and thereabouts, because Garland was getting bigger box offices, and more varied and interesting roles - has merit.

    My argument is Garland overtook Durbin only after Durbin left her film career, because, although Durbin‘s films, as a whole, do not age well (a point which I think leads people to think they weren‘t as popular when first released), they were big money-makers at the time.

    The reason I doubt that Garland wasn’t creating as much money at the box office as the queen of Universal [Meet Me In St. Louis is a definite contender.] is because the Miss Fix It formula that you mentioned worked so well for Durbin that her studio continued to force her to make those films well after Durbin had grown tired of them.

    It’s not that the studio didn’t know what to do with Durbin, it’s that they knew what raked in the money. The star herself had very definite ideas about wanting to grow up (see her 1983 interview), and even went on suspension from late 1941 to late 1942 for refusing to do another formulaic story. When she returned, you’ll notice that Durbin got what she wanted in some of her films - they sometimes took a dramatic tone. [THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY, her first film released after suspension, is a study in star/studio compromise - the first half is heavy drama about wartime orphans, the latter half, a glamorous mistaken identity farce.]

    You make a great argument that Garland was box office bonanza, and that she had a more established fan base in the early 1940s then she had previously, but without the Durbin stats, we can’t tell if Garland had bested Durbin by then, was neck and neck, or still a little behind. I’m working on acquiring the Durbin box office information.

    LEADING MEN
    You make an excellent point about Durbin’s leading men! Durbin’s leading men were often anemic next to the star.(coughcoughRobertPaigecoughcough) It’s an argument that I’ve thought about posting at some point. Charles Laughton was her best leading man in IT STARTED WITH EVE mainly because he had the arresting screen presence to balance Durbin‘s.

    But she was in a trap of her own making, to a degree. Durbin’s contract insisted that she receive top billing on all her films. Any top male star - Gable or the like- would have had to take second billing (and that ain’t happening).

    On a related note, Durbin did share at least two leading men with Garland - a young GENE KELLY chews up some scenery as a convicted murderer in CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY with Durbin. I was surprised to see Kelly so wooden after the effervescence and passion that he serves up in many of his other roles. Of course, Durbin had just been divorced, so maybe that’s why the two don’t really click. Of course, Judy Garland championed Kelly for his role with her in FOR ME AND MY GAL for which he was forever grateful. Garland and Kelly have wonderful chemistry.

    Durbin also shared boy-next-door TOM DRAKE with Judy. You’ve mentioned MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, the classic in which that lucky guy gets to make love with Garland. Drake stars with Durbin in I’LL BE YOURS (1947) - a remake of Preston Sturges’ The Good Fairy (1935). Again, I was surprised at how the charming guy in the Garland film becomes rather wooden in the Durbin film. Durbin had separated from her second husband just before its release, which I‘m sure did not help.

    Thanks so much for dropping by and adding to the conversation. You’ve given me a lot to think ponder.

    -- Java

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  13. Thanks for the great response... I would love to see Box Office stats for Miss. Durbin...

    The one thing I left out of all of this is: There was a bigger star at the time than Durbin or Garland:

    BETTY GRABLE!!

    There are detailed Box Office figures for her and they are mind-boggling...The odd thing is she was still bringing in millions when Durbin retired and Judy was fired from MGM.

    Yes, I did notice Judy and Deanna shared leading men (was Tom Drake ever really a Leading Man?)and it struck me:

    What if Durbin had made "Cover Girl" with Kelly? Sure, a few keys would need to be changed and sure, she would have had to have pretty intense dance training but the result would have made this a very different conversation.

    Nothing, however, takes away what Durbin accomplished and I always found it rather satisfying that she walked away and led a happy healthy, abundant life. This is not a business meant for everyone. Look at Garland or Betty Hutton. The sad thing is nothing has changed. Sure, the studios don't fill people up with pills anymore but someone, somewhere, is giving Lindsey Lohan and Charlie Sheen whatever they are on or off, as the case may be.

    The insane pressure that Garland and I'm sure Durbin were under, not only has not changed, it's worsened!

    ..anyway....thanks again..

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  14. Mr. Verruso,

    How could I have forgotten Grable? She's the elephant in the room when you talk of WWII pictures!

    No matter how the material for COVER GIRL would have changed, I'm not sure how Durbin would have taken being someone else's second banana at a competing studio. Columbia was even further down on the rung than Universal. I'm not sure if they'd have had the capacity or practice to treat the Universal Studios star as she was accustomed. She would be very unhappy, and when Durbin gets that way, it shows on film sometimes.

    But that's quite a casting choice to consider.

    Thanks you so much for dropping in. I've enjoyed it.

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  15. I've enjoyed reading this compelling new "take" on the careers of Durbin and Garland very much. As someone who has, for want of a better term "stuck up for" Deanna Durbin in the past, let me offer a few thoughts on both Deanna and Judy that should also be considered:

    "Durbin had her core audience but no one else was rushing to their local theatre to see her."

    The problem I see with this statement is that, unlike Garland who had ample room to grow and develop as a screen personality/box office force over many years, Durbin became a superstar and a box office sensation with her first vehicle and remained so for many years.

    Her "core audience" made her a top (or THE top) box office draw in Britain, Europe, Russia, Asia, South America, and the U.S. As Joe Pasternak recalled: "Deanna (unlike Judy) captured the whole world immediately. The European and South American countries loved her singing much more than Judy's because Judy was so typically American."

    Deanna's first two films received Academy Award nominations for "Best Picture," and she was unanimously acclaimed "Screen Sensation of the Year."

    Durbin may be the only star I've encountered for whom stardom was universally predicted based solely on preview screenings of her first film, THREE SMART GIRLS. This was especially impressive given the general mindset in Hollywood at the time that an adolescent female, no matter how talented, was not suitable box office material.

    A significant indicator of Durbin enormous success was the invitation extended to her at the premiere screening of only her second feature film to plant her hand and footprints in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, an accolade universally acknowledged in the film industry as an indication of "staying power" of the performer. Has any other star received this honor so quickly?

    After only two years and four feature film appearances onscreen, Deeanna received a special juvenile Oscar, essentially for "career achievement" as "a juvenile player setting a high standard of ability and achievement."

    As film critic/historian Anthony Slide noted in his analysis of Durbin's 100 MEN AND A GIRL:

    "The Deanna Durbin phenomenon is not likely to be re nopeated. Within a year or two of this Canadian teenager's screen debut she had completley eclipsed the other major child stars of the 1930s to become one of the biggest box office stars of the decade. Although it is not strictly true that she was single-handedly responsible for saving Universal Pictures from bankruptcy, her films did account for seventeen percent of the studio's entire revenue during the late 1930s."

    Slide's opinion is confirmed by that of Deanna's FIRST LOVE co-star Robert Stack who, in his autobiography, recalled of Deanna's status in 1939:

    "For those of little memory or too young to recall, Deanna Durbin was a motion picture phenomenon. Barbra Streisand, Faye Dunaway and Raquel Welch together wouldn't have had the impact she had as America's Sweetheart, that darling girl with the golden voice. Every parent wanted her for a daughter and every young man was sure he was the one to break through that curtain of sweetness and carry her off in his Hudson Terraplane.--All America was up in arms over Deanna growing up and having her first screen kiss."

    As Joe Pasternak observed at the time, and as innumerable contemporary articles on Durbin confirm: "She is one of those personality who the world will insist on regarding as its' personal property."

    No one stays a "phenomenon" forever, and with such enormous and pervasive popularity, one has to ask whether there was anywhere for Durbin to (ultimately) go but down...

    To be continued...

    ReplyDelete
  16. But Durbin didn't "go down" for some time. Whatever the box office figures may be, according to film historians such as David Shipman, William K. Everson and Ethan Morrden, prior to her box office decline in the last two years of her career, Durbin was, and remained Universal's only "A list" box office attraction under long-term contract to the studio. As Morrden notes in his book THE HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS:

    "Of all the post-Laemmle stars during the Studio Age, Deanna Durbin was the most lucrative. Like Maria Montez, Audie Murphy, the Kettles and Abbott and Costello, Durbin worked within straight format.-Durbin's vehicles stand out from all other Universal series by nature of their distinguished casts-again with much freelancing and borrowing. Obviously, Universal was extending itself, celebrating one of the few times it had hit upon a unique form. The stories may not have been innovative but Durbin herself was, in her music. Another oddity: Durbin must be the only musical star who went through twenty-one films, all for Universal-only very rarely sharing the musical honors with anyone. Nor did Durbin have the advantage of the high-toned Broadway masters RKO gave Astaire and Rogers or that MGM gave Freed's people, or that Fox used in its' story musicals. Only once did Universal go for it, on CAN'T HELP SINGING (1944), with a new Kern-Harburg score of six numbers, plus baritone Robert Paige and an eager chorus-Durbin's sole all-out musical."

    Undoubtedly, Universal did cut costs in consistently promoting Durbin as the solo/central attraction to her films, but the studio was aware of this anomaly, as a December 1944 article by Frank Daugherty in THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR proves:

    "They (Deanna's producers)point out that she is unique among Hollywood feminine stars in that she is, and always has been, able to carry her pictures without an actress or actress opposite her with a reputation and box office draw equal to her own. This indicates, they say, that she is of sufficient stature, theatrically speaking to carry any sort of story and they itend to find variegated vehicles for her."

    Thus Durbin proved to be the perfect star for Universal at that time: a solo box office sensation whose pictures continued to make a great deal of money (even the controversial CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY was reported to be Universal's highest grossing film up to that time) without the need for additional box office "insurance" through the participation of comparably popular box office co-stars.

    It was a trend that could not survive the more democratic "star team" pairings of the postwar period (not to mention Deanna's increasing frustration with her career and personal life), but it was a unique aspect to Durbin's career that I believe Judy never attained at MGM as I'll get into in my next installment...

    ReplyDelete
  17. "No one stays a "phenomenon" forever..." - Mark

    That's the Durbin story in a nutshell. Mark, you've done it again - explained clearly what I've struggled to do.

    I have no idea why I have trouble making a convincing argument that she was a phenom in the first place. Almost every time I encounter some new bit of trivia about her, the underlying fact that she was unfathomably influential shines through. [I'm thinking of Lenin's futile open letter to Durbin asking her to influence the U.S. President not to engage in WWII].

    People do not know her career. I didn't know her career, really, until the past few months of Durbin delving. For most of my life, she was just another charming starlet whose movies brought me thrills, excitement and pure fun.
    I find her real life just as fascinating, if not more so.
    --------------------------
    "The stories may not have been innovative but Durbin herself was..." - M

    I wouldn't go so far as to say they weren't innovative. (Well, maybe they weren't; I'll have to think about it.) They just do not age well, for the most part. She was a hot property in a certain era and her stories were of the moment. They make a nice time capsule over which to get wistful.
    ---------------------------------------
    "[Durbin's solo box office sensation] was a trend that could not survive the more democratic "star team" pairings of the postwar period..." - M

    I'm baffled by this statement; perhaps you could elaborate. Star teams occurred before and during the war as well. [I'm thinking Astaire & Rogers, Powell & Loy, even Gene Kelly & Sinatra.]

    Do give us another installment. I've enjoyed the resurgence of this post.

    -Java

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hi Java:

    Thanks for the compliment. I'm glad you've enjoyed my posts. I've enjoyed your and Mr. Veruzzo's thoughts on this issue immensely and apologize to both of you for any inadvertent confusion my "musings" may have caused you. lol!

    I may need to do one more post on Deanna before I get into my thoughts on Judy's career at Metro, but just to clarify some of the points I was attempting to make about Deanna:

    Deanna was, as you've stated, an extremely influential star. Among the several accomplishments with which she has been credited:

    1. Popular Culture's First "Teen Idol": I suppose some could quibble that Jenny Lind, who toured with P.T. Barnum late in the 19th century and was known as "The Swedish Nightingale," was the first hugely popular adolescent star, but Deanna was the filmdom's and popular culture's first star whose appeal was specifically predicated on her being an adolescent.

    As columnist Sheilah Graham noted in a 1937 write-up titled "Adolescents Get Chance in Pictures" (and subtitled "Success of Deanna Durbin Gives Youngsters Who Have Outgrown Child Roles New Hope"): "To Deanna Durbin must go most of the credit for making Hollywood "adolescent conscious." Her unusual singing voice and acting ability registered a phenomenal hit with her initial film, "Three Smart Girls." -- As a result of Deanna's unprecedented success "The Awkward Age" has been banished from the film vocabulary and studio doors are wide open to pretty girls with good singing voices." Among Deanna's contemporaries who the article states have benefitted from her success are: Judy, Mickey, Jackie Cooper, Betty Jaynes, Bonita Granville, and Edith Fellows.

    2. The first "Child Star" to Successfully Graduate to Adult Roles: Deanna was filmdom's first hugely popular Child Star to successfully graduate to adult roles while retaining her following. I believe there's even a LIFE magazine article about this fact from 1940, but it also excited a good deal of interest in the press. For example, check out the NEW YORK TIMES review of Deanna's 1941 NICE GIRL? ("Ever since Deanna Durbin started growing out of her middy waist days, everyone has wondered how will "Little Deanna" learn about the facts of life?") There's also, among many other similar write-ups, an article in the L.A. TIMES from the same year titled: "Deanna Durbin's Growing Up Worries New York Critics."

    3. Publicly Credited with Singlehandedly Saving Universal From Bankruptcy: Slide is correct that this claim is somewhat exaggerated, but it is more justly applied to Deanna's sistuation with Universal than to any of the several other "claimants" at rival studios (e.g., Mae West at Paramount, Shirley Temple at 20th Century Fox, etc.)

    While I don't think Universal would have closed down had Deanna not arrived when she did, I very much doubt it would have re-emerged as a budding major studio as quickly as it did had she never signed with them.

    Also, I think you're right to question Mordden's comment that the stories of Deanna's films weren't "innovative." While the "Little Miss Fixit" character she usually played had been around in one form or another in the films of actresses like Mary Pickford and Shirley Temple, Durbin was the first real adolescent "Little Miss Fixit," and the stories of her films, focusing on her onscreen maturation had never been attempted by Hollywood before, and while the films of most of Deanna's adolescent contemporaries such as Garland, Taylor and Powell tended to shift the timeline on their ages dramatically from time to time, the public was so invested in Deanna's growing up that she may be the only one of the group whose onscreen maturation was lineal.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Mr. Verruso here,

    We'll I'm having a ball and it's so much to think about at one pm New York City time.

    Java, your thoughts on 'Cover Girl" are right to the point and dead on from a historic business perspective. I guess what I meant was - I had just tried to watch "Spring Parade" and saw Deanna roaming the street trying to sell an ox...(was it an ox?)..and thought..

    My God..imagine her with an Astaire, or Kelly or Sinatra singing new Cole Porter tunes...in Helen Rose outfits...in color..

    The great thing about co-stars of equal weight is THEY bring in THEIR fans who may not even like who we like...

    Example: My friend and I went to see the recent movie "The Tourist". I went for Angelina Jolie, whom I like. She went for Johnny Depp, who I don't like...(thus we are Agelina and Johnny's "Core audiences" respectivley)..now...in this case...everyone suffered as the film was bad...but there are numerous cases where twin star power helps everyone involved..

    "Spring Parade" may have been a huge hit then (I have no idea if it was) but sitting through it now is impossible...and I can sit through anything..

    Also: I want to note why I bring up the importance of actual box office figures. So much has been written about these people that missinformation and exageration are inevitable. It's, at times, impossible to know the impact these people had as what everyone was fed was what they heard or were told. That changed with people like Elizabeth Taylor and Julie Andrews in the 1960s.

    The studio system died and without any one really to protect them, a bomb became quite obvious. "STAR" for example, never mind "Darling Lili" had fantastic opening weekends in New York...but no matter how the studio may have spun it, everyone knew they had bombed as no one was buying a ticket.

    As one pundit wrote everything REALLY changed when "Entertainment Tonight" started publishing weekend box office stats every Monday night - starting in 1982!

    There was nowhere to hide. Nothing to spin.

    So - Box Office is the only concrete way (and really the bottom line) to really examine how potent anyone's film cache may be. Then and now!

    It does not and will never judge how beloved someone may be, then or now. That's a whole other thing.

    There was a site that published the top 15 for each year. If I can find - I will let you know.

    Best wishes to all and thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Judy Garland Box Office Stats:

    7/29/1949 In the Good Old Summertime $3,400,000
    7/8/1948 Easter Parade $6,800,000
    1/1/1948 The Pirate $2,956,000
    1/1/1948 Words and Music $3,500,000
    1/16/1947 Till the Clouds Roll
    $6,700,000
    1/1/1946 The Harvey Girls $4,100,000
    5/25/1945 The Clock $2,800,000
    11/28/1944 Meet Me in St. Louis $12,800,000
    11/26/1943 Girl Crazy $3,800,000
    11/20/1942 For Me and My Gal $4,400,000

    ReplyDelete
  21. "Box office is the only concrete way to judge to really examine how potent anyone's film cache may be - Then and now!"

    Sorry, but I can't agree with that opinion.

    Anyone going by these figures alone, would assume that THE PIRATE was a box office smash, when, in fact, whatever its' grosses may have been, it was a major box office disappointment.

    From comments made by actual participants in the film (Garland, Kelly, Minnelli, Freed, Porter, etc.) to subsequent film scholars and pundits (e.g., John Fricke, Hugh Fordin, Professor Edward Baron Turk, Miles Kreuger, etc., everyone acknowledges that THE PIRATE was a specatcular box office failure, which, as Professor Turk stated "hemmorraged $2 million at the box office."

    And, while the figures for WORDS AND MUSIC's grosses may be accurate, as film historian Richard Barrios states on the DVD edition, "While it was one of the highest grossing films of the year, at the end of the day, on the MGM ledger, it still ended up in the red."

    Since you've referenced Entertainment Tonight's reporting from 1982, you probably will recall the general tone of amazement and disbelief in the Fall of 1994 when it was widely reported that FORREST GUMP, touted as the biggest box office hit of all time, was reported to have lost money for its' studio, Paramount Pictures.

    And, as David Shipman stated concerning STAR's! disastrous box office reception: "Public opinion polls at the time indicated that Andrews' popularity was undiminished but people did not want to see her as Gertrude Lawrence."

    Box office figures are undoubtedly an important criteria for judging a film or performer's "cachet" but they are subject to manipulation and often fail to tell the whole story of a film's (or performer's) standing. Therefore, they shouldn't be considered the only criteria.

    In the case of Judy's career, another criteria to be considered is how MGM responded to THE PIRATE'S reception. Although the film was specifically produced to boaden Judy's audience appeal by creating a more "sophisticated" image for her, MGM not only never attempted such a "cutting edge" vehicle for her, but, in casting her and Kelly in the much safer and more traditional EASTER PARADE, hedged its' bet by returnig Judy to the sort of "Wistful Wallflower" role of the girl whose charm and desireabiity are ignored by the leading man until the final reels, an image she hadnt played since her days with Mickey Rooney.

    To be fair, the "cutting edge" vehicles produced for other wholesome Girl Next Door actresses of the time, including Deanna Durbin, Alice Faye, Betty Grable and June Allyson, also engendered controversy and public disapproval, but at least Durbin's CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY was a huge box office hit, which no doubt helps to explain why Universal made more efforts (and took more risks) in attempting to broaden her screen image than Metro ever did with Garland

    ReplyDelete
  22. 1945:

    Neither Garland nor Durbin are in the top 20 films of the year.

    Film (distributor)

    Release

    Revenue
    1

    Mom and Dad (Hallmark)***

    Jan 45

    $16.000 m
    2

    The Bells of St. Mary's (RKO)

    Dec 45

    $8.000 m
    3

    Leave Her to Heaven (Fox)

    Dec 45

    $5.505 m
    4

    Spellbound (UA)

    Oct 45

    $4.971 m
    5

    Anchors Aweigh (MGM)

    Jul 45

    $4.779 m
    6

    The Valley of Decision (MGM)

    May 45

    $4.567 m
    7

    Week-End at the Waldorf (MGM)

    Oct 45

    $4.366 m
    8

    Thrill of a Romance (MGM)

    May 45

    $4.338 m
    9

    The Lost Weekend (Para.)

    Nov 45

    $4.300 m
    10

    Saratoga Trunk (WB)

    Nov 45

    $4.250 m
    11

    National Velvet (MGM)

    Jan 45

    $4.244 m
    12

    Adventure (MGM)

    Dec 45

    $4.236 m
    13

    State Fair (Fox)

    Aug 45

    $4.018 m
    14

    The Dolly Sisters (Fox)

    Nov 45

    $3.952 m
    15

    San Antonio (WB)

    Dec 45

    $3.553 m
    16

    Kitty (Para.)

    Oct 45

    $3.500 m
    17

    Mildred Pierce (WB)

    Oct 45

    $3.483 m
    18

    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Fox)

    Feb 45

    $3.468 m
    19

    Blood on the Sun (UA)

    Jun 45

    $3.400 m
    20

    God is My Co-Pilot (WB)

    Apr 45

    $3.373 m
    *** - Mom and Dad marked one of the classic exploitation road-shows of all time. It traveled across the country for years to archive its sum. Because of a number of factors, its hard to say whether the figure is 100% accurate or not.

    ReplyDelete
  23. 1946:

    Deanna Durbin releases one film which does not enter top 20.

    Garland release 2 films both register in the top 15 - one as number 9 and one as number 13.

    1

    Song of the South (Disney/RKO)*

    Nov 46

    $29.229 m
    2

    The Best Years of Our Lives (RKO)

    Nov 46

    $11.300 m
    2

    Duel In the Sun (Selznick)

    Dec 46

    $11.300 m
    4

    The Jolson Story (Colu.)

    Oct 46

    $7.600 m
    5

    Blue Skies (Para.)

    Oct 46

    $5.700 m
    6

    The Yearling (MGM)

    Dec 46

    $5.568 m
    7

    The Razor's Edge (Fox)

    Nov 46

    $5.000 m
    8

    Notorious (RKO)

    Aug 46

    $4.800 m
    9

    Till the Clouds Roll By (MGM)

    Dec 46

    $4.762 m
    10

    Road to Utopia (Para.)

    Feb 46

    $4.500 m
    11

    Two Years Before the Mast (Para.)

    Sep 46

    $4.400 m
    12

    The Green Years (MGM)

    Jul 46

    $4.222 m
    13

    The Harvey Girls (MGM)

    Jan 46

    $4.134 m
    14

    Margie (Fox)

    Oct 46

    $4.100 m
    15

    Easy to Wed (MGM)

    Jul 46

    $4.028 m
    16

    The Kid From Brooklyn (RKO)

    Mar 46

    $4.000 m
    16

    Night and Day (WB)

    Jul 46

    $4.000 m
    16

    Smoky (Fox)

    Jun 46

    $4.000 m
    19

    Gilda (Colu.)

    Mar 46

    $3.800 m
    20

    The Postman Always Rings Twice (MGM)

    May 46

    $3.785 m

    ReplyDelete
  24. 1947:

    Garland does not release a film in 1947.

    Durbin releases 2 (two) - they do not enter the top 20.

    <1946

    1948>

    Film (distributor)

    Release

    Revenue
    1

    Welcome Stranger (Para.)

    Jun 47

    $6.100 m
    2

    The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (RKO)

    Jul 47

    $5.500 m
    2

    The Egg and I (Univ.)

    Mar 47

    $5.500 m
    4

    Unconquered (Para.)

    Sep 47

    $5.250 m
    5

    Life With Father (WB)

    Aug 47

    $5.057 m
    6

    Forever Amber (Fox)

    Oct 47

    $5.000 m
    7

    Road to Rio (Para.)

    Dec 47

    $4.500 m
    8

    Green Dolphin Street (MGM)

    Nov 47

    $4.384 m
    9

    Mother Wore Tights (Fox)

    Aug 47

    $4.100 m
    10

    Cass Timberlane (MGM)

    Nov 47

    $3.983 m
    11

    California (Para.)

    Jan 47

    $3.900 m
    11

    Gentleman's Agreement (Fox)

    Nov 47

    $3.900 m
    13

    Dear Ruth (Para.)

    Jun 47

    $3.800 m
    13

    The Perils of Pauline (Para.)

    Jul 47

    $3.800 m
    15

    The Hucksters (MGM)

    Aug 47

    $3.638 m
    16

    Captain From Castille (Fox)

    Dec 47

    $3.600 m
    16

    The Sea of Grass (MGM)

    Feb 47

    $3.600 m
    16

    Variety Girl (Para.)

    Aug 47

    $3.600 m
    16

    This Time For Keeps (MGM)

    Oct 47

    $3.600 m
    20

    Fiesta (MGM)

    Jun 47

    $3.500 m

    ReplyDelete
  25. 1948:

    Durbin releases (2) two films. They do not enter the top ten.

    Judy Garland release three films - one film lands in the top 6 and another lands at number 13.

    1

    The Red Shoes (Eagle-Lion)*

    Oct 48

    $5.000 m
    2

    Red River (UA)

    Sep 48

    $4.507 m
    3

    The Paleface (Para.)

    Dec 48

    $4.500 m
    4

    The Three Musketeers (MGM)

    Oct 48

    $4.307 m
    5

    Easter Parade (MGM)

    Jun 48

    $4.190 m
    6

    Joan of Arc (RKO)

    Nov 48

    $4.100 m
    6

    Johnny Belinda (WB)

    Sep 48

    $4.100 m
    6

    The Snake Pit (Fox)

    Nov 48

    $4.100 m
    9

    The Emperor Waltz (Para.)

    May 48

    $4.000 m
    10

    A Date with Judy (MGM)

    Jun 48

    $3.700 m
    11

    Homecoming (MGM)

    Apr 48

    $3.699 m
    12

    Sitting Pretty (Fox)

    Mar 48

    $3.600 m
    13

    State of the Union (MGM)

    Apr 48

    $3.500 m
    13

    Words and Music (MGM)

    Dec 48

    $3.500 m
    15

    Hamlet (Univ.)

    Sep 48

    $3.400 m
    15

    When My Baby Smiles At Me (Fox)

    Nov 48

    $3.400 m
    17

    Key Largo (WB)

    Jul 48

    $3.300 m
    18

    On an Island With You (MGM)

    May 48

    $3.200 m
    19

    The Fuller Brush Man (Colu.)

    May 48

    $3.100 m
    20

    Fort Apache (RKO)

    Mar 48

    $3.000 m

    ReplyDelete
  26. Correction: The final two films of Durbin's career do not land in the top 20.

    These charts, which seem quite reliable, are our only accurate representation of the final years of both Garland's and Durbin's film output.

    Durbin may have started ahead of the game but Garland proves the more durable or at least easily assimilated by the masses.

    Did OZ have something to do with it? Of Course! However, to still be in the top 20 as Garland was TEN YEARS after OZ(and as Durbin was not) shows America had taken to Judy on a massive scale and kept her as a top flank star.

    While it is very nice to think box office has nothing to do with film stardom and popularity - it does. Films were made to be seen and more importantly - bought! Either as a ticket only (as in 1948) or in multiple ways (2011).

    If a star, for the final years of her film out put is not working with any major directors, is not working with major co-stars, does not have major composers writing material for her, and is simply not registering at the box office...

    well..

    ..her influence on the culture at large must be re-adjusted and re-considered and the hype must be deduced as "studio created".

    This does not mean her fans were not rushing to see her - which I have stated in my previous post - it means her influence and her position as a major (as in Grable/Turner/Bing Crosby)film "product" had begun to wane considerably.

    While CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY may have been a hit - it may simply have been a DURBIN hit - meaning a highly grossing Durbin film based on box office numbers associated with Durbin at the time.

    If Christmas Holiday had been in the top ten of 1944 - it is logical her star clout would have kept her hovering in the top 20 (As it does with Garland/Turner/Grable.... even Betty Hutton) for another 2 years...but it does not..Durbin is nowhere to be found on these charts.

    I think it may be fair to say Durbin's prime as a major league box office star lasted from 1936 to 1941 and began to decline steadily from that point on.

    In the end, I could say that, right now, Meg Ryan is the biggest female star in the world (even though she has not had a hit in almost 10 years) and I could say that Angelina Jolie is not a bigger star right now than Meg and would never even have her stardom had she not married Brad Pitt...and I could also say that box office numbers and figures do not count in tabulating current fame and influences...



    ...but...it's not true, is it.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hi Mr. Veruzzo:

    On the issue of CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY only doing well as a "Durbin film," I cite the following excerpt from Deborah Alpi's biography of director Robert Siodmak:

    "...CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY was a substantial popular success: by the end of July 1944, the film had grossed $2,000,000, more than any other Durbin picture (the average gross for a Durbin
    film was $1,250,000) and surpassed every other Universal release at the time."

    I don't have the box office listings in front of me, but I believe that Durbin was listed at #25 in the Motion Picture Herald Poll for that year. This was without the advantages Garland had of Technicolor, original scores, a whole gaggle of top of the line behind-the-scenes talent who had spent years honing their skills making musical films, and a comparably popular "Top Ten" box office attraction as a co-star (Margaret O'Brien).

    Not only that, but since Universal, unlike MGM and the other major studios, didn't own its' own chain of theatres, Durbin's films had to be shown in theatres owned by rival studios, including MGM, which, understandably, gave primacy to their own productions.

    Thank you for the substantial material on late 1940s American box office figures. Had I known that you were going to go to all that trouble, I could have saved you the time by stating that Durbin herself later described her last 4 films for Universal-International as "a series of failures," that she sat out the last year of her contract with U-I and that the studio reportedly paid her the salary due her for 3 films as a means of settling that contract dispute.

    As Deanna herself stated of this period in her 1983 interview with David Shipman (posted elsewhere on this blog): "Why did I give up my career? For one thing just take a look at my last four films, and you'll appreciate that the stories I had to defend were mediocre, near impossible. Whenever I asked for story or director approval, the studio refused. I was the highest paid star with the poorest material. Today I consider my salary as damages for having to cope with such utter lack of quality."

    Love her or hate her, I don't think anyone will deny that Universal-International did not have the resources to exploit Durbin's talents properly in the immediate postwar period. Nevertheless, up until the last year or so of her conract, if U-I wanted to get rid of her, they blew many opportunities to do so.

    In 1946, Universal dropped practically all of its' musical talent from its' contract roster incuding but not limited to: Gloria Jean, Susanna Foster, Peggy Ryan, Robert Paige and Jane Frazee. The only musical stars it retained were Durbin, Ann Blyth and Donald O'Connor, and, of these three, only Durbin continued to make musicals (or films with musical numbers in them) for the studio.

    Moreover, the studio continued to pay (and raise!) Durbin's enormous salary. Despite its' perpetually precarious financial situation throughtout the 1940s, Durbin consistently appears in the "Top Ten" list of U.S. salaried employees.

    Depending upon which source one cites, up to and including 1947, on several occasions Durbin appears as the top salaried woman in the United States (and likely, the highest paid film actress in the world), and you don't dish out that kinda bread for a star that simply had one especially well-performing film during this period. It should be noted that for all her spectacular success at MGM, even at the height of her career, Judy Garland never was paid, or earned, as much money as Durbin did througout her career at Universal.

    To Be Continued

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  28. Deanna Durbin who is it?
    I'm Italian .. I know Judy Garland not only for OZ, but for A Star is Born The Pirate Easter Parade meet me in st Louis ecc. Durbin's movie i don't know them!
    Judy was not only a great actress, but also an excellent dancer and one of the greatest singers in the world.
    Judy has a 2 stars as an actress and as a singer
    can not be compared, with or without Oz, Judy wins! She was the greatest talent in Hollywood!

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  29. Anon,
    Many people share your enthusiasm for Judy Garland which is why her legendary status has survived this long when many other talented people are completely forgotten with time.

    You bring to mind a good point. In your list of Garland films,the actress plays pretty well mature characters [St. LOUIS excepted], whereas Durbin's image is stuck as a perpetual adolescent even amongst her fans.

    I'm glad you stopped by and contributed to Java's Journey.

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  30. I disagree, Java. I think of Deanna, like Judy, as one of the few child actresses who was able to make the successful transition to "young woman" roles and several of her films in her "adult" period (IT STARTED WITH EVE, CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY, LADY ON A TRAIN, etc.) are among my favorites.

    I've been a Garland fan for most of my life, so no one needs to remind me of her remarkable talents and fine performances.

    Judy was a wonderful actress, but during her MGM period, she never played a role as "mature" or controversial as the whore Deanna played in 1944's CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY, or maybe even Deanna's subdued missionary in 1943's THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY.

    As for the "Anonymous Italian"'s comment, Deanna Durbin was the young lady who was at or near the top of your country's box office for several years in the 1930s and 1940s.

    Her popularity was so great in Italy, that your country's ruler, Benito Mussolini, wrote an open letter to her in his personal newspaper urging her to reject FDR's efforts to bring us in to World War II, as a role model for other young Americans.

    No offense to Judy or her other fans, but even if somneone can't stand Deanna Durbin she deserves more respect than being referred to as "It."

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  31. Hello everyone. I was looking up something on Deanna Durbin--and have since forgotten what it was--and happily came across this delightful discussion. Thanks to all for your posts.

    I As to which star would be more popular now if Judy Garland had not made "Oz" ("But she did make it, Blanche, but she *did!*: ) I still think it would be Garland if only because most of her movies seem to have both a wider and longer-lasting appeal than most of Deanna's. But it's hard for me to say since I tend to grab everything on both of them that I can. When I saw a dvd collection of some of Deanna's movies a few years ago, I pounced on it. Thanks again for the discussion.

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  32. Tay,
    It's great to meet another Durbin fan! Thank you for stopping by.

    - Java

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  33. CC,
    Good point, there, about Durbin being able to transition well into adulthood.

    I'd say Garland grows up well at MGM too, but with mostly "safe," inoffensive roles. Durbin had to fight for meatier roles, and would sometimes win.

    You mentioned "Christmas Holiday" as an example of Durbin's adult roles. You're right - it's not as cheery as the title suggests. In fact, Durbin's character in it is unmistakably seedy when we first meet her. Clearly not a child.

    I'm not well-versed enough in Garland lore to know if she really fought for something more controversial.

    But are the only mature roles those that are controversial?

    Couldn't a sweet, loving portrayal of a working woman in New York who marries a random soldier - as Garland does in THE CLOCK (1945)- be a successful adult role? She's clearly not playing a teenager. And she's as caring as Durbin in her missionary role.

    We just do not get to see this dramatic side of Garland as much.

    Durbin and Garland both were both successful child actors who grew up to be successful adult actors. That part of the equation seems to be a draw.

    I'm so glad to meet a fellow Durbin fan, CC. I hope you drop in again.

    -- Java

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  34. Judy was and IS The legend, miss Show Business, the great entertainer in the world.
    I'm sorry but Deanna could not compete with her voice and her unique talent.
    Judy in Judy....
    She is not only Dorothy.
    With Mickey Rooney was part of the duo's favorite of the years 30/40.
    Meet me in St louis, Easter Parade, A star is born....
    Ande the songs.... Carnegie Hall.... remember?

    I'm sorry but Deanna can not compete with Judy!

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