DEAR DEANNA DURBIN: I HAVE A CRUSH ON YOU – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn and I were discussing “legacy.” Our legacies. Such as they are. The subject matter was the basis for Marilyn’s piece yesterday (WHO HAS A LEGACY?) and left me thinking.

It’s interesting to ponder. Who will care about you after you’re gone? If you’re a public figure, you’re only famous until you’re not. I was a very familiar figure to tens of thousands during my TV news career. Now, I am frequently asked, “Didn’t you used to be Garry Armstrong?” (Yes, I was … and remarkably, I still am.)

deanna-durbin-classic-movies

For the past week, I’ve been watching Deanna Durbin’s movies on Turner Classics. Who remembers Deanna Durbin? For a short period during the late 1930s and early 1940s, Ms. Durbin was one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, more popular than Judy Garland.

MGM mogul, Louie B. Mayer, screen tested Durbin and Garland as starlets. Mayer chose Garland. Universal Pictures snatched up Deanna Durbin who quickly shot to stardom, saving the studio from bankruptcy.

Durbin projected a sweet, wholesome, cute-as-dickens image that won the hearts of many people seeking options to screen sirens like Harlow, Dietrich, and Crawford. Deanna had a wonderful, rich singing voice — almost operatic. Very impressive for a twenty something, always top billed over veteran stars.

Deanna Durbin

I discovered Deanna Durbin after she had retired in 1948,. She was at the height of her fame, but decided the glitter of Hollywood was not enough. She moved to France where she lived quietly until her death a few years ago.

My memories of Deanna Durbin, 60 plus years ago and now, remain vivid. She glows with performances of “Loch Lomond,” “Going Home,” and “All Alone By The Telephone” in movies that are rather less than memorable.

“Going Home,” is usually associated with FDR’s funeral train procession. It’s a guaranteed heart-tugger when Deanna sings it in “It Started With Eve.” I usually skip through most of the film, then do a multiple replay of Durbin singing that song. It always gets to me.

I had an immediate crush on Deanna Durbin as a boy. I wanted to meet her and tell her how much I loved her. Alas, it was not meant to be. Yet all these years later, I still have a crush on her.

That’s a legacy.



Categories: Celebrities, Garry Armstrong, Humor, Movies

Tags: , , , , ,

39 replies

  1. Great post, Garry! I remember he as America’s sweetheart.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Garry: If you’re a Durbin fan you’re in good company. She charmed world leaders during as well as millions of regular people worldwide during her career, and was a genuine worldwide phenomenon. FDR was a big fan and, in addition to being selected to perform on radio broadcasts celebrating his birthdays, she received special invitations to some of his parties, sang at one of his inaugurations and was selected to perform the Schubert Ave Maria at one of the first radio memorial concerts after his passing. An even bigger fan was Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Deanna was his favorite movie star, and the favorite female movie star throughout Britain for four years in a row, 1939-1942. She was so popular in Italy that in 1941, Italian Dictator Benito Musolini wrote an open letter to her in his personal newspaper, IL POPOLO, in essence urging her to act as a role model in rejecting FDR’s efforts to bring American Youth into the “European Conflict,” and she was the Number One film star in Japan before during and after World War II. It’s not surprising then, that her 1943 film, HIS BUTLER’S SISTER, was chosen by General Douglas MacArthur, then head of the U.S. Occupational Forces, as the first American film to be shown in Japan following the Japanese surrender. Re-titled PRELUDE TO SPRING, it played to packed houses, despite ticket prices that were three times higher than those for regular Japanese films.

    A remarkable legacy indeed…and this was only part of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey, Mark!
      Wow! I am ever so impressed with your Deanna Durbin info. I didn’t know about FDR and Churchill. I fancy myself as an “iconic” movie maven but I bow to you on the Durbin material.
      I met many legendary film stars during my career as a TV news reporter. From Cagney to Wayne to Hepburn (K) to Newman and many more. But Deanna is the one who got away.
      Thanks for making my day!!
      Garry

      Like

      • T;hanks Garry! Glad you enjoyed my “Durbinspiel.” Your comment about Deanna being “the one who got away” is similar to one Mel Torme made . As a huge Mel Torme fan, I was delighted to see Deanna listed as one of Mel’s “Musical Heroines” in his 1988 autobiography IT WASN’T ALL VELVET. In his 1994, MY SINGING TEACHERS, a tribute to his musical influences, Torme went into greater detail, stating succinctly: “Deanna Durbin was phenomenal. Possessed of a glorious operatic voice, she could and did sing anything put in front of her to perfection. A few years ago I looked at her 1938 film THAT CERTAIN AGE once more and fell in love with Deanna Durbin all over again. I secured her address in France and wrote her a fan letter. She answered my letter almost immediately and I was thrilled to make contact with her. One of these days, I will go to France, meet the lady and have one of my fondest desires fulfilled.” I don’t know if he ever managed to do so or not, but I hope he did.

        And I forgot to mention perhaps the most impressive celebrity fan of all. In 1937, one of MGM’s,, and Hollywood’s greatest stars, was such an admirer of Deanna Durbin’s singing that she used her considerable celebrity clout to get invited to the closed set of Deanna’s second feature, ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL so she could express her admiration to the gifted young songstress in person….Imagine being able to tell your grandchildren that Greta Garbo sought you out!

        Thanks again,
        Mark

        Liked by 1 person

        • Golly, Mark!
          You ARE the MAN! I never heard the Garbo-Durbin story before!!
          Then, writing Deanna AND getting a response from her, I am EVER so jealous and impressed!! Did you save that letter?? (I have a similar Sophia Loren story to share).
          I’d love to hear some more of your celebrity stories. If you’d like, we could share. It’s not often I encounter someone with a love of classic movies who actually “connected” with the stars.
          This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
          Here’s looking at you, Kid.
          Garry
          kachingerosa@gmail.com

          Like

          • Hi Garry:

            My apologies for the LONNGG delay in getting back to you. (Hate it when my “real life” interfere with my “reel life,” but it happens nonetheless). I apologize for the confusion. I was actually quoting Mel Torme from his book MY SINGING TEACHERS in which he says he had a lifelong crush on Deanna Durbin, wrote her a fan letter in the early 1990s, got a response from her and hoped to make “in person” contact with her some day.

            I did write to Deanna (or “Mme. David”) once. I sent here a sympathy card on the passing of her husband, Charles in 1999, but I specifically told her she didn’t need to reply. Shortly after that, Deanna announced that, due to the recent death of her husband she was “re-retiring” and would not be able to answer any more fan letters (though I understand she later changed her mind).

            I did meet Jane Powell, probably the most successful and talented of the several “teen soprano” Durbin wannabes that Hollywood kept promoting in the wake of Deanna’s huge success. She was a lovely lady. She was in town to promote her autobiography and she jokingly challenged me to prove I had read it, so I asked her a question about Deanna Durbin based on something she’d said in the book, and we had a nice little chat about Deanna (and Miss Powell acknowledged I must have read the book!)

            Another interesting bit of Durbin trivia: Deanna was so popular in Europe and Asia that one of the most persistent rumors promoted by the Axis powers as a means of demoralizing American and European military personnel and POWs was that she had died a horrible death, attributed variously to a car accident, child birth, tuberculosis, etc. It was widely reported that one of the first questions asked by liberated POWs was whether she was still alive. Check out Margaret Sams’s book FORBIDDEN FAMILY, in which Samms, whose family was taken prisoner in the Philippines, recalled how the news that Deanna Durbin had died upset the prisoners so much, they held a memorial service for her. (Sams also describes how thrilled and relieved she was to hear Deanna giving a radio broadcast a few years later, especially dedicated to the men and women in the Philippines.)

            Feel free to e-mail me anytime, Garry. I don’t have a lot of “movie star” stories, but have enjoyed reading yours enormously and always enjoy hearing from other classic film fans!

            Mark

            Liked by 1 person

            • Hi, again, Mark! Just catching up with this one, thanks to Marilyn who keeps close tabs on the blog mail. Thanks for the additional Deanna Durbin information. So very, very interesting how she connected with people BEYOND Hollywood.
              Mark, it’s always good to hear from you. Please stay in touch.
              Garry

              Like

    • Just a note: The spam catcher put your first message into the “spam” bin, so I unspammed it. It isn’t identical to the other one and has more information in it, so I’ve left both comments in place. They’ll be of interest to fans and those of us who love to know the back story 🙂 Thanks for commenting. For what it’s worth, sometimes the spam catcher spams ME too!

      Like

      • Thanks for the explanation, Marilyn! What would we do without the “spam” bin? Maybe its’ designers were Jeanette MacDonald fans and thought she should get a nod, too? Glad you enjoyed both my posts, I wasn’t sure what happened to the first one, so I just dashed off a condensed version to see if you were receiving them. I’m flattered you and Garry felt they were both worthwhile enough to post.

        Take Care,
        Mark

        Liked by 1 person

        • Garry is a very serious movie buff, so he’s always delighted to learn something new and meet other film enthusiasts. The only other thing I can think of that gets him quite as worked up (in a good way) is baseball 🙂

          Like

          • As a lifetime film buff and local sports fan, I can relate, Marilyn. I used to enjoy listening to you and Garry when you were regular members of Jordan Rich’s “Movie Panel” on his “Movie Night” shows. I’m glad Garry has found a way to continue sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of film and his love for “the movies” with others. It can become a real passion very easily!

            Liked by 1 person

        • Mark, I second Marilyn’s suggestion about your celebrity stories. They are terrific. YOUR Durbin stuff would make a terrific post.
          The world could use another genuine movie maven!
          Later,
          Garry

          Like

  3. Hi Garry: As a Durbin fan, you’re in good company. She received special invitations to FDR’s birthday parties, sang at one of his inaugurations, and was specially requested to sing the Schubert “Ave Maria” in a radio tribute following his passing. She was Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s favorite actress (as she was in Britain for 4 years in a row from 1939-1942), and according to spy novelist Eric Ambler (THE MASK OF DIMITRIOUS) Churchill would often run her 1937 film ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL to celebrate British victories during World War II, and reportedly insisted on being allowed to screen her films privately before they were released to the public. She was so popular in Italy that in 1941, Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini wrote an open letter to her in his private newspaper IL POPOLO, in essence urging her to serve as a model to American Youth in rejecting FDR’s efforts to bring America into the “European Conflict.” She was also the most popular star in Japan before during and after World War II, so much so that Douglas MacArthur, then head of the U.S. Occupational Forces, chose her 1943 film, HIS BUTLER’S SISTER, as the first American film to be shown in Japan following the Japanese Surrender. Retitled PRELUDE TO SPRING, it played to packed houses, although ticket prices were three times higher than they were for standard Japanese films.

    Musically, her first national radio performance, at age 13, of the title song from 1934’s ONE NIGHT OF LOVE, prompted the lady who introduced the song, Metropolitan Opera star soprano Grace Moore to state: “That little girl is a better singer than I am.” Coloratura soprano Lily Pons, another of the Met’s brightest lights at the time, reportedly proclaimed her “The greatest child singer of her sex,” and star Met baritone Lawrence Tibbett dubbed her “The modern Jenny Lind.” Perhaps her most impressive fan was renowned Russian conductor and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who cited Deanna as one of his most important early influences stating: “I always tried to recreate the best of her music in myself, to approach her purity.”

    If the many articles from newspapers and magazines of the day are to be believed, the Met expressed an enduring interest in having her audtion for the company for years, an interest that began with her debut on Eddie Cantor’s TEXACO TOWN radio show and only ended when she stated she was too busy with her film career to train for an opera debut. Very impressive for a young lady who reportedly had approximately 2 years of voice lessons on the local level (one lesson a week) before Hollywood snatched her up.

    Her initial success in films was so great that she was invited at the premiere of her second film, to plant her hand and footprints in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, a ceremony which took place at the premiere of her third film (in which Sid Grauman himself makes a brief appearance), and within 2 years had won a special Oscar as “a Juvenile Player setting a high standard of ability and acheivement.” By 1943, she was the highest paid actress in the U.S., and, depending upon what source one consults, it was a feat she repeated in 1945 and 1947.

    But her greatest achievement may be that she was level-headed enough to get out of the celebrity rat race when she could and to settle for what life had to offer her, an act all but unheard of in this day of “instant celebrity.” As her producer Joe Pasternak recalled: “She knew when to quit, before they quit her.” In a 2001 tribute article Robert Osborne wrote for his HOLLYWOOD REPORTER column to mark Deanna’s 80th birthday, he included a quote from her old co-star, Judy Garland. Asked about Deanna’s decision to retire early, Judy replied: “She was the smartest one of us all,” and as film critic/historian Leonard Maltin wrote in his tribute to Deanna following her death: “The only people who don’t like Deanna Durbin, it seems to me, are people who haven’t seen her movies.”

    A very fine and remarkable legacy, I think. Still, little Edna May Durbin of Winnipeg Canada would have had quite a story to tell if she’d chosen to do so.

    Like

  4. I do know of her, I was too young for her, but her songs were played on the radio a lot when I was a child. She was a great actress

    Like

  5. Thankfully you two have lots of photos and many generation to come will gaze upon those pictures and (if you write that book Garry) they will know more about you.
    Leslie

    Like

  6. Like you, Im an old movie fan (and like old movies, too) and I remember her movies very well. Thank god for saturday TV matinees.

    And it is good to know (I’m sure Marilyn is relieved, too) that you still ARE Garry Armstrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Judy! I have 2 of Deanna’s movies on the bedroom TV DVR. I often go back to the scenes with those memorable songs and Deanna “lullabies” me to sweet dreams.

      Like

  7. I have not heard of her either. Thank you for bringing her back. I love learning about people that are gone, from the past. Some how they live on.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I must admit I haven’t heard of her, I’m afraid. I see on IMDB she’s listed first under “soundtrack”.

    “Didn’t you used to be Garry Armstrong?” – ha ha, classic 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Deanna Durbin was a sort of household well known name. My mum would mention her as being one of her favourite film stars. My mum was born in 1913 so going to the cinema was the only entertainment you had at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Nice post Garry, Deanna Durbin was one of my mother’s favourite movie stars and I remember her watching her films on television when I was a child. My sister and I recently acquired some vintage Deanna Durbin paper dolls so we read up on her and discovered that she and mum were practically the same age. Mum used to wear her hair in a similar style when she was a young woman. I imagine the girls copied their favourite stars look just as they do today. So seing a picture of her always reminds us a bit of mum.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. My grandfather had a real soft spot for Deanna Durbin too.

    Liked by 1 person

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