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May 28, 2009


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Someone could probably write a whole book about this. Watching old movies and TV shows, I'm constantly coming across fascinating young actresses I've never heard of (or was only vaugely aware of). I look them up on the Internet Movie Database and learn they appeared in a few movies, a few TV episodes, then disappeared.

And you're right, Glenn -- it usually is an actress who has a short career like this. I suspect some of them were beauty contest winners who were offered short contracts and didn't want to make the commitment to an acting career. Others were good actresses who, for whatever reason, didn't stay in the game.


I think Richard Matheson, who would have been very young at the time, wrote a letter to Val Lewton to compliment him on the bus scene, and how the shot implied that whatever was coming would come from the left, and then the bus roars in for the right. This impressed Matheson no end, and Lewton was pleased someone picked up on the misdirection. So says Matheson, at least. Anyway, Lewton's influence is largely gone now, grumble grumble, horror, disappointed, saddened, etc.

Also, I always figured that the reason Randolph, and other carry-overs from "Cat People", don't quite feel the same in "Curse" was because Lewton obviously had no interest in making a sequel. Characters carried over simply to appease the studio.

One of my favorite shots in "Curse", by the way, is when Simone Simon is in Ann Carter's bedroom, standing against the window, between the bed and the camera. The camera pans across, past a chair that blocks Simon. When the camera reaches the other side of the chair, Simon is gone. Simple, elegant and wonderfully effective. The fact that Simon was more than likely simply crouched behind the bed is irrelevant.


Oh, and hey, guess what: Ann Carter's first acting credit is from 1941, and her last is from 1952. She bailed at 16.

Tom Russell

"There's always something intriguing about the actress—because it usually is an actress—who makes a strong impression as a young woman and then, for whatever reason, deigns not to grow old on screen."

Like Deanna Durbin. I have a bunch of old Deanna Durbin movies on VHS, but since they're old and I don't have a working VCR, I've no recourse but to pray to the cinema gods that someone deems them worthy of a DVD release.

Even in bad movies (which most of them were), Durbin was appealing, sexy, funny, glamourous, and absolutely gosh-wow amazing. What a face, what a figure, what a voice! While her reasons for leaving show business are well-documented, and her decision perhaps warranted and at any rate certainly respected-- it's still a damn shame that there aren't more films featuring that divine, gorgeous singing voice and that immensely likable screen persona.


Steve Winer

My father worked at Universal as a story editor during the 40's. He once described Deanna Durbin to me, succinctly, as "a very nice girl who didn't want to be a movie star."
Ultimately, you have to respect that.

Tom Russell

@Steve: I do respect that, totally and completely, and I'm eternally grateful that we have the films that we do.

Now, if only they were on DVD. That's one box set I'd buy without hesitation. (Would do the same, I might add, for a Complete Henry Aldrich box set.)


"A very nice girl who didn't want to be a movie star."

Reminds me of how William Goldman described Robin Wright on the set of The Princess Bride -- as a pleasant person and talented actress who didn't have the aggressive drive to become a major movie star. At least she's still around as a working actress.

larry aydlette

Glenn, you might find this story on Mary Duncan interesting. Sorry, not sure how to put a link into your comment box:


Steve Winer

BTW, another charming Universal girl singer who's still around is Gloria Jean. You can hear her as she is today on Youtube introducing the trailer for "The Underpup", which my father said was a very good film, and which I've never seen turn up anywhere. The only Gloria Jean film I've seen, and the only one available, is the W.C Fields classic "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break" in which she gets understandably short shrift. And then there's Peggy Ryan, who made very popular films with Donald O'Connor. Now if someone at Universal would just bust open their vaults...

Tom Russell

Seeing the words "Donald O'Connor" and "short shrift" so close together reminds me of the Francis series; O'Connor once said something to the effect that he quit because after so many movies, the damn mule was still getting more fan mail than he did. The original "Francis" was a fairly funny wartime comedy (basket-weaving gets me laughing every time, and it's all O'Connor, who really was the best thing about the series), and I think the concept worked best in that mileau.

Stop me if this is a terrible, terrible idea, but I can't be the only one who would pay full-price first-run opening-day to see Francis the Talking Mule in today's Iraq.


Tom: Universal released "The Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack," a 6-film DVD set back in 2004. It's in stock at amazon.com for $24.99 and can undoubtedly be found elsewhere as well. While no means definitive, it has a good selection of films: Three Smart Girls, Something in the Wind, First Love, It Started with Eve, Can't Help Singing and Lady on a Train. I've enjoyed it very much.

A more recent disappearing act(ress) is Meg Tilly, who married John Calley in 1995 and promptly retired from the screen. She has more recently resurfaced as a novelist, writing about the kind of childhood sexual abuse she suffered in real life.

I suspect a little thing called motherhood is a big reason so many actresses of previous generations left the biz.

Glenn Kenny

Of course I've always been something of a Deanna Durbin fan, and I reviewed one of her most unusual pictures, Robert Siodmak's near-surreal amour fou tale "Christmas Holiday," here:


...and point out its affinity to another surrealist classic here:


Durbin in retirement (and she still is, God bless her; she'll be 88 later this year) is a subject of one of my very favorite mordant showbiz anecdotes, related by Gore Vidal in his memoir "Palimpsest" and cited by myself in an admitedly oblique context here:


Tom Russell

@JBryant: I don't know how I missed that. I know what I'm getting for my birthday next month...!


JBryant, you're half right. Many women do leave acting for marriage and children, but a number then attempt to make a comeback years later only to be told they're too old and/or no longer "bankable."

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