Thursday, May 23, 2019

Ingenue: Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland, and the Golden Age of Hollywood

I met Melanie Gall seven years ago when she presented The Sparrow and the Mouse at Fringe. This year, she returned to bring the heavenly singing of Deanna Durbin to Fringe audiences. The play began with the premise that a reporter wanted to interview Deanna because of her association with Judy Garland. She talked about how the two young actresses became friends, because they were about the same age, and also part of the MGM Hollywood Studio System that controlled every aspect of their lives and schooling.

Judy was surprisingly unsure of her singing abilities, but Deanna was certain of her golden operatic voice. In the 1930s, Deanna was a far greater star. A favorite of Roosevelt, Churchill, even Mussolini, her first kiss made front page news in the New York Times. The two women were friends and rivals for the duration of their careers, having two very different and distinct singing styles. While Louis B. Mayer was away on a trip, he instructed his people at MGM to "drop the fat one." They misunderstood and mistakenly let Deanna go. Soon after Deanna was released by MGM, Universal Studios gave her a contract on the 13th of June and cast her in the September production of Three Smart Girls, which became a major smash hit.

One film would skyrocket Judy into American culture and that was The Wizard of Oz. The studio first wanted Shirley Temple, but Darryl Zanuck would not lend her out to MGM. A Hollywood executive wanted to offer the part to Deanna. She was hesitant, since Judy was under contract and also her friend. She turned the role down because the executive disparaged her friend. He asked her to sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow just to try it on for size. Melanie sang the song with such clarity and sincerity that it was a slice of heaven.

Judy abused drugs and Deanna eventually left the studio system at the age of 27 to try and live a normal life in Europe. Deanna stayed on through the war years since she felt it gave the boys on the front hope. In the final scene, Deanna sang a song she and Judy used to play together when they were wide-eyed and young, being fresh to the Hollywood studio system. She held up a photo of Judy and she at the piano. It was a warm and fitting tribute. If you love the warmth and romance of the Hollywood classics, then this is the show for you.

Tickets are $12 plus the $10 Fringe Button.

Remaining show times are:

5:45 PM
2:00 PM

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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