Deanna Durbin Grows Up - 1939 NY Times Article on a Maturing Movie Star

Thanks to commenter Mark R. for bringing this article to my attention.

The New York Times
Life Magazine 1938

March 26, 1939

With Special Reference to the Appeal of Deanna Durbin

By Frank S. Nugent

Spring seems to be a little late this year, so until it arrives we'll have to get along with Deanna Durbin, the closest thing to this side of the equinox. A couple of books could be written on Miss Durbin's
singular appeal, but none of them would contain the horrible epithet Universal's advertising staff fastened on the miss last week.

"Glamorous" was the word they dared employ and we haven't said a civil word to Universal since. It doesn't matter how the dictionary defines it--some literal poppycock about "a charm or enchantment working on the vision and causing things to seem different from what they are."

We know what Hollywood means by glamour and we won't have our Deanna playing in the same category as Hedy, Marlene, Greta, Joan, Carole, Loretta, Merle and Tyronne.

Glamour indeed! As if it had not been her very freedom from glamour, Hollywood style, that has endeared her to her millions. Glamour! as if that were a quality more precious than the freshness, the gay vitality, the artful artlessness and youthful radiance she has brought to the screen!

Glamour! as if that were what we wanted of the perfect kid sister (not that there really ever was one). Glamour forsooth! and was it glamour that made Judge Hardy and his brood, or glamour we found in the late Marie Dressler and Will Rogers, or glamour in Mr. Deeds or Zola or Pasteur, or glamour for that matter (though we hate to mention it) which keeps little Mistress Temple as the nation's four time box office champion? What is this thing, glamour, anyway, that it has grown so great?

Deanna, to put an end to the libel, is not the least bit glamorous in her latest delight "Three Smart Girls Grow Up," and she has not grown up so much herself. She leaves that, and the romantic troubles, to the older sisters, contenting herself with being the matrimonial broker of the family. Usually we dread these Little-Miss-Fixit roles. The brats are all so superior about it all and so right--like George Arlis as Disraeli or somebody. But Deanna manages to make even a half-grown meddler attractive. She is guilty of the most awful ---blunders; she quite forgets her manners; she sulks and has tantrums when her plans go agley; and eventually she has to call on father.

And that, of course, is the way it should be, and would be unless the Miss Fix It had been Shirley Temple. No, Deanna is all right, up to par or better, and when Universal next says 'G.....r' it had better smile.


  1. Sounds like the writer, and maybe THE NEW YORK TIMES, doesn't like Shirley Temple too much.

    But boy, were they crazy about Deanna!

  2. Yep.
    Critic Frank Nugent preferred child star performances that seemed as natural as possible. Nugent is famous for gushing over seasoned 17 year old actress Judy Garland in the Wizard of OZ as the " pert and fresh-faced miss with the wonder-lit eyes of a believer in fairy tales." Durbin also had that young and innocent appearance.

    Shirley Temple often had a more difficult time than Durbin or Garland in hiding the necessary precociousness that a child star employs to play a young character. These performers were first and foremost little worker bees; it's not easy to shake off that mantle and become a perky, young thing with no worries when a director is, say, threatening to shoot your dog if you don't play the scene right.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  3. True, except that, in his review of THE WIZARD OF OZ, after gushing about Judy's performance, he said that the best parts of the film were the ones featuring Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr and Jack Haley ("but the Baum fantasy is at its' best when her three travelling companions, the Scarecrow, the Woodman and the Lion are on the move.").

    I don't think many people would agree with that comment today, but it's interesting that that's how he saw it when the film first came out.

  4. Great point, Anonymous. The fact that Nugent does that seems to give credence to an earlier argument I made on a different blog post that Judy Garland's legacy -the epic size of it- wasn't as big in her youth.

    The iconic Judy didn't really begin until there was some distance between herself and the perky MGM musicals, when she performed those concerts in the '50s, and made herself center stage on TV shows in the 1960s (singing and discussing the "good," old MGM days). All of this was cemented into one big Legend with a capital "L" when she died early.

    But still it is funny to hear him go on about the other actors. Actually, it's kind of refreshing. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.


  5. I was really surprised when I read that NYT review of OZ, Java. I'm so used to associating the film with Judy, that I took it for granted that reviewers would think her performance was the major one when the film was released.

    TIME Magazine was another major publication that thought Bolger, Haley and Lahr's performances were the most entertaining in the film, stating:

    "Most of its entertainment comes from the polished work (aided by Jack Dawn's expert makeup) of seasoned Troupers Lahr, Bolger and Haley."

    And although the reviewer liked the film, he didn't comment on Judy's performance at all. Wonder why?


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