In terms of singing ability, one of the best of the actresses who sang was Deanna Durbin, who was classically trained and could handle just about everything from opera to pop tunes. Although she had a relatively short career, the Canadian-born performer left her mark in Hollywood with a number of strong performances. (Even though she apparently lost a dust-up with Judy Garland when both were young teens, but more later about that.)
Born in Winnipeg to British immigrants, Edna Mae Durbin actually grew up in the Southern California area after her parents relocated there in the early 1920s. She was only 14 when MGM first began to work her into their plans, and she was soon being featured alongside an even younger Judy Garland in a short musical film. (Video below.)
As it turned out, MGM signed Judy to a new contract that would lead to stardom, leaving the perception that Deanna had been bested in a duel of young singers. But it’s likely that it wasn’t that clear-cut at the time. For one thing, Deanna soon landed a deal at Universal and at age 15 began a movie career of her own with a featured role in 1936’s Three Smart Girls.
In addition to enjoying her burgeoning film work, Deanna also began appearing on radio and making records. Not surprisingly, she kept pretty busy for the rest of the decade and well into the 1940s, but by the post-war years she was becoming disillusioned by the business. Even though she’d made a couple of dozen movies by then (and was the highest-paid female star), she made her last appearance in a film in 1948’s For the Love of Mary, and then retired — at age 26. She eventually relocated to France, where she resisted invitations for comebacks and pretty much stayed until her death at age 91 in 2013.