Deanna Durbin: A Hollywood Fairy Tale


As a fan of musical films, Deanna Durbin has long been among my favorite singers and actresses. A gifted child star who could hold her own in comedies as well as dramas, it is no surprise that Durbin was a sensation among the moviegoers of her day.

Behind the scenes, however, Durbin kept her personal life private. Publicity surrounding her never related to any scandal and word about her became significantly hushed when she left the film industry. Of course, her departure and her wishes to remain private were of her own accord. Nonetheless, learning more about her life is just that much more tricky for present-day fans of her work.

Deanna Durbin, A Hollywood Fairy Tale: The Legend of Ethel Mae by William Harper focuses mainly upon the filmography of Durbin. Released by Bear Manor Media, the book includes a very brief biographical information about Durbin before launching into a distilled examination of her filmography.

Harper’s prose is very personal and inviting throughout the book. It is clear that the author has a passion and affection for Durbin, after connecting with her performances in the Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack–which also happens to be the same set that really introduced me to her films. His reactions and descriptions of her films reflect his own voice and act as an entertaining, breezy commentary of her work in movies. The prose is also coupled with a variety of pictures from the author’s collection.

While the author’s enthusiasm for Durbin is evident, there is still a need for a strong biography about her life and Hollywood career. This release is a very fast read and does little to inform readers of Durbin as a person. The descriptions of her individual films are also interesting at surface level but do not fully explore much of the details surrounding the productions or any challenges that may have arisen. There are also many issues with spelling and grammar throughout the text, which I found to distract from my enjoyment of the book.

Overall, it is good to see Durbin remembered among fans and still inspiring present-day viewers to pursue more about her work. I am eager to one day read a well-researched biography that reflects upon her time in the film industry as well as a glimpse into the more complicated and personal side of her life that she valued so much.

Deanna Durbin, A Hollywood Fairy Tale: The Legend of Ethel Mae is available for purchase via the Bear Manor Media website.

About Annette Bochenek

Dr. Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is an avid scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for TCM Backlot, she also writes for Classic Movie Hub, Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.
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