Miss Wiggins: Maybe, someday, you will meet a prince, and you’ll live happily ever after.
Connie: Those fairy stories haven’t come true for over 100 years, Miss Wiggins.
Miss Wiggins: Fiddlesticks! We just have to dust them off…streamline them a bit.
—First Love (1939)
While the tale of Cinderella has been explored in so many ways, one delightful classic Hollywood take on the story is the musical comedy First Love (1939). Starring Deanna Durbin as Constance or “Connie,” an orphan girl who lives with her aunt and uncle, the story portrays the various ups and downs of her life. Her spoiled cousins only work to pose obstacles in her life, particularly when a major ball takes places place. There, and assisted by her kind uncle, she falls in love with her cousin’s boyfriend, Ted, played by Robert Stack. Though Connie struggles with the upper-class individuals in her new life, she immediately befriends the servants, who adore her.
As is the case with Cinderella’s fate, Connie also has a midnight deadline. Rather than a carriage turning into a pumpkin, the limousine rented by the servants is only paid for until midnight. Connie leaves behind her “Prince” and, of course, one of her slippers.
First Love was directed by Henry Koster and produced by both Koster and Joe Pasternak. The screenplay was written by Lionel Houser and Bruce Manning, with a story by Henry Myers. The film was distributed by Universal Pictures.
The cast list for First Love is as follows:
- Deanna Durbin as Constance “Connie” Harding
- Robert Stack as Ted Drake
- Eugene Pallette as James F. Clinton
- Helen Parrish as Barbara Clinton
- Lewis Howard as Walter Clinton
- Leatrice Joy as Grace Shute Clinton
- June Storey as Wilma van Everett
- Frank Jenks as Mike the Cop
- Kathleen Howard as Miss Wiggins
- Thurston Hall as Anthony Drake
- Marcia Mae Jones as Marcia Parker
- Samuel S. Hinds as Mr. Parker
- Doris Lloyd as Mrs. Parker
- Charles Coleman as George, Clinton’s Butler
- Jack Mulhall as Terry
- Mary Treen as Agnes, Barbara’s Maid
- Dorothy Vaughan as Ollie, Mrs. Clinton’s Maid
- Lucille Ward as Clinton’s Cook
- Larry Steers as Ball Guest (uncredited)
- Eric Wilton as Drake’s Butler (uncredited)
Durbin, already a profitable star at Universal, was expected to star in the film Cinderella in three-strip Technicolor, though this did not come to fruition. The idea of Cinderella in color with Durbin as the lead was dropped, largely due to Walt Disney’s claim of already owning the title. Instead, the story was rewritten and the film was renamed First Love, though it still derived heavily from the Cinderella tale–albeit with a then-contemporary twist.
Additionally, Durbin would receive her first on-screen kiss in the film, making the search for her love interest all the more important for Universal. After an intense search, Robert Stack was cast in the role of Ted, making his screen debut.
First Love opened up to favorable reviews regarding the story, Durbin’s performance and vocal abilities, as well as her first on-screen kiss. The film secured Academy Award nomintions for Best Art Direction (Jack Otterson and Martin Obzina), Best Music (Charles Previn), and Best Cinematography (Joseph A. Valentine).
First Love remains a highly enjoyable film and arguably one of Durbin’s best roles.