By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Contributing Writer
Blue-eyed actress Deanna Durbin was only in her mid-20s when she purchased a mansion on Maroney Lane in Pacific Palisades. Durbin purchased the East Coast traditional-style house from fellow actress Virginia Bruce in the mid-1940s.
Durbin, with her innocent face, burst onto the Hollywood screen in the mid-1930s. She became a movie star inside the Golden Age of Hollywood while still in her mid-teens.
But it was not her acting skills that first attracted the attention of Hollywood movie moguls; It was Durbin’s singing ability.
Durbin had the technical skill and vocal range of a legitimate lyric soprano. Every success came to Durbin early in what would be a long life of over nine decades.
The story of her singing career started nearly from the day she was born: Durbin was born in Canada in December 1921. Her birth name was Edna Mae Durbin. It is claimed Durbin began singing as early as 1 year old.
As a kid, people knew Durbin was talented, and Durbin would later claim she knew herself.
“God made me a singer, and I just sang,” she once said.
When Durbin was around 10 years old, she was enrolled in voice lessons at the Ralph Thomas Academy. Durbin quickly became Thomas’ most prized student, and she sang in clubs and churches.
The young Durbin enjoyed learning: “There are two ways to learn anything,” Durbin once opined, “an interesting way and a boring way. I like the interesting way.”
By 1935, Durbin’s time and “interesting way” of learning at the Ralph Thomas Academy paid off. When Durbin was just a young teenager, MGM Studios heard about the young soloist performer. They took a look at Durbin and liked—not only what they heard—but what they saw.
Besides her voice talents, Durbin had a camera-ready figure and a height that would eventually reach 5 feet, 3 inches.
Durbin presented an always-sparkly face. She had a head of wavy brunette hair that featured curls that fell to her shoulders. Durbin either parted or combed back her hair, but it always seemed to be a prominent part of any photograph taken of her.
The teenage Durbin’s apple-pie and girl-next-door look was appealing to the Hollywood of the 1930s. Durbin said in 1959, “I represented the ideal daughter millions of fathers and mothers wished they had.”
MGM signed Durbin to a six-month contract. The studio would place her in a 1936 short film, “Every Sunday,” with another then-budding teen actress-singer named Judy Garland.
Universal Pictures was so impressed with Durbin’s performance in “Every Sunday” they signed her to a contract.
Soon, Durbin was placed in her first feature film, “Three Smart Girls.” Besides Durbin, the 1936 American musical comedy film starred Barbara Read, Nan Grey and Ray Milland. The success of “Three Smart Girls” established Durbin as a star.
But, Durbin quickly found out the price of fame.
“The idea of being recognized wherever I go holds no enjoyment,” Durbin once stated. “I would like to be able to shop in a store or go to the theatre without people saying, ‘That’s Deanna Durbin.’”
Several successful musical films followed for Durbin, including “One Hundred Men and a Girl” of 1937 and “First Love” of 1939.
And despite her acting success, Durbin always thought of herself as a vocal talent.
“I think of myself as a singer,” Durbin would say. “The acting is just something I have to do between songs.”
Durbin had no way of knowing that while her Hollywood career was blossoming, her future Palisades house was being built.
The multi-room Maroney Lane home was built in 1938—the same year that Durbin was starring in the musicals “Mad About Music” and “That Certain Age.”
Durbin looked to take on more sophisticated roles during the 1940s. The actress played the part of a young idealistic schoolteacher named Ruth Kirke in the 1943 film, “The Amazing Mrs. Holliday.” More such heavy adult roles would follow.
But such mature roles would not meet the success of Durbin’s breezy musicals, which took advantage of Durbin’s teen-star persona. Still, this move away from teen roles was a warning that Durbin sent to Hollywood.
“I’m tired of playing little girls. I’m a woman now,” Durbin would later say when noting her need for challenging acting roles. “I can’t run around forever being the ‘Little Miss Fix It’ who bursts into song.”
Shortly after her attempted transition into sophisticated screen characters, Durbin had taken a drive to the Palisades. She wanted a new house, perhaps representing a new start. And by all indications, this was circa 1946, during which time Durbin was in the midst of her second marriage, with a baby born in February.
Durbin’s entertainment career and personal life had been moving fast. She must have been tired when she first drove to the end of the cul de sac on Maroney Lane, high above Sunset and just shy of Temescal Gateway Park, to look at Virginia Bruce’s property.
Durbin purchased the house that offered the Hollywood star plenty of privacy.
It featured a mostly hidden, long, curving driveway that forms a circle that fronts the entry door of the house. The house provided a reprieve from the busy Hollywood life that Durbin was enjoying at the time. The expansive one-and-a-half-plus-acre property had greenery and trees, allowing the actress to temporarily escape the city life.
Today, the home has an interior of 8,000-plus square feet. Domestically, Durbin didn’t mind cleaning the massive home, since it met her one requirement for doing so.
“I like housework in my own home. I don’t think I would like it in a rented house.”
Durbin’s final movie, “For the Love of Mary,” was made while she lived in the Palisades. She left her Maroney Lane home after her 1950 marriage—her third and final.
“I was never happy making pictures,” she said. Another time she stated that she wanted to “get out of Hollywood and get a fresh approach.”
Durbin retired to a farmhouse in France. She refused multiple offers to return to the silver screen. Durbin only granted a single extensive interview post her Hollywood days in 1983.
Deanna Durbin passed away from natural causes in 2013 at the age of 91.
Michael Oldham is the author of the “Environmental Savings Book.” He can be reached at email@example.com.