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Linda Darnell

Linda Darnell

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Also Known As: Monetta Eloyse Darnell Died: April 10, 1965
Born: October 16, 1923 Cause of Death: complications from burns suffered in a fire at the home of her former secretary
Birth Place: Dallas, Texas, USA Profession: actor, singer, dancer, model, greeter at regional fairs in the Dallas area

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Linda Darnell was touted by Hollywood wags as "the girl with the perfect face", and for once the description fit. Her cameo-cut china doll face was enough to ensure stardom in glamor-obsessed 1940s Hollywood; surely Darnell could easily fit into the top ten most beautiful women the screen has ever known. And as she matured, her voice deepened into a torchy throb that added intensity to the eventual siren image. The product of a relentless stage mother, Darnell was a star by age 15 at Fox, where she was a contract player for 14 years. For a while she coasted on her looks alone, playing sweet young things (Selznick chose her to embody the Virgin Mary in 1943's "Song of Bernadette"), before her career took a more interesting turn. Darnell was hampered by being under contract to Fox, which specialized in escapist fare and wasted her for seven unremarkable years. United Artists cast Darnell on loan-out for a Chekhov adaptation, "Summer Storm" in 1944. She wasn't ready, but the publicity--with Darnell lolling about a la Jane Russell, combined with that face--launched a transformation beyond pin-up to apprentice love goddess. The rest of the decade found her often in interesting roles that displayed her as...

Linda Darnell was touted by Hollywood wags as "the girl with the perfect face", and for once the description fit. Her cameo-cut china doll face was enough to ensure stardom in glamor-obsessed 1940s Hollywood; surely Darnell could easily fit into the top ten most beautiful women the screen has ever known. And as she matured, her voice deepened into a torchy throb that added intensity to the eventual siren image.

The product of a relentless stage mother, Darnell was a star by age 15 at Fox, where she was a contract player for 14 years. For a while she coasted on her looks alone, playing sweet young things (Selznick chose her to embody the Virgin Mary in 1943's "Song of Bernadette"), before her career took a more interesting turn. Darnell was hampered by being under contract to Fox, which specialized in escapist fare and wasted her for seven unremarkable years.

United Artists cast Darnell on loan-out for a Chekhov adaptation, "Summer Storm" in 1944. She wasn't ready, but the publicity--with Darnell lolling about a la Jane Russell, combined with that face--launched a transformation beyond pin-up to apprentice love goddess. The rest of the decade found her often in interesting roles that displayed her as willful, sometimes venal, smouldering trouble. Memorable portraits in the Darnell catalog include the strangled (and left to burn) music-hall trollop in "Hangover Square" (1945), the floozy waitress of "Fallen Angel" (also 1945, in which she acted circles around reigning studio queen Alice Faye), the ill-fated concubine in "Anna and the King of Siam" (1946, in which Darnell dies prophetically by fire) and "A Letter to Three Wives" (1948, hilariously stealing the show from Jeanne Crain and Ann Sothern).

But Darnell's big bid for superstardom went awry: taking over the starring role in Kathleen Windsor's bodice-ripper "Forever Amber" (1947) when Zanuck bounced Peggy Cummins. The movie received monumental publicity but censorship and the heavy hand of Otto Preminger produced dull results. Her scenes during The Great Fire of London produced a paranoia that caused her director to literally drag her before the cameras. Fire was becoming a lifelong fear.

After "Letter", the parts Darnell was ready for weren't offered to her. She received good notices for "No Way Out" (1950), a race relations drama ahead of its time, but as happened with Rita Hayworth, Hollywood tended to treat mature beauties in nonglamourous roles as if they were finished commercially in the business. The combination of a stormy personal life and alcohol dependence dogged her as she sped through the predictable downward spiral of summer stock, television and cabaret.

In 1965 Darnell was visiting a former secretary in a suburb of Chicago and fell asleep with a lit cigarette after watching a late show of "Star Dust" (1940), wherein she played a young Hollywood hopeful. Her hostess and her daughter escaped the blaze, but Darnell suffered burns over eighty percent of her body. Some accounts had her escaping the fire only to re-enter the house, thinking her friend's daughter had not escaped; others alleged she went back to retrieve her mink coat---the last vestige remaining from her glory days. She died two days later, rallying into consciousness only once, when her adopted daughter, Lola, visited her. Linda Darnell, the woman called "almost too beautiful", left behind an estate of only $10,000, which went to her sixteen-year-old girl. Today Darnell is not remembered as well as many of her less-talented contemporaries, but an examination of her career reveals a gifted beauty whose steamy noir persona made her a tragic, unforgettable entry in Hollywood history.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Black Spurs (1965) Sadie
2.
 The Castilian (1963)
3.
 Zero Hour! (1957) Ellen Stryker
4.
 Donne Proibite (1956)
5.
 Dakota Incident (1956) Amy Clarke
6.
 This Is My Love (1954) Vida Dove
7.
 Second Chance (1953) Clare Sheppard, previously known as Clare Sinclair
8.
 Night Without Sleep (1952) Julie Bannon
9.
 Island of Desire (1952) Lt. Elizabeth Smythe
10.
 Blackbeard, the Pirate (1952) Edwina Mansfield
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1937:
Won regional "Gateway to Hollywood" contest; screen-tested by RKO
1939:
Screen acting debut in "Hotel for Women"
1940:
Appeared in "Star Dust", loosely based on her own life
1942:
Moved out of her parents' home
1944:
Loaned out to UA for "Summer Storm"; image change began
1945:
New career phase ushered in with release of "Hangover Square" and "Fallen Angel"
1946:
Slightly burned while filming scene for "Anna and the King of Siam"
1947:
Won role of Amber St. Clair over Lana Turner and 213 others in "Forever Amber"
1948:
Had career triumph in "A Letter to Three Wives"
1949:
Lost role of "Pinky" to Jeanne Crain
1950:
Received strong notices for nonglamorous role in "No Way Out"
1952:
Final film for Fox, "Night Without Sleep"
1956:
Stage debut in "A Roomful of Roses" in Phoenix, Az.; First appeared in TV dramas; made Broadway debut in "Harbor Lights", which closed after four performances
1959:
Learned lines via hypnosis in Chicago, for theater production of "Late Love"
1960:
Made nightclub debut at the Town House in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
1965:
Made last film, "Black Spurs", at Paramount
1965:
Watched late show of "Star Dust" with friends before falling asleep with lit cigarette (April 9)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"Let's have some laughs. Let's all stay up and watch 'Stardust'." --Linda Darnell just five hours before the fire that killed her.

Some sources give 1921 as Ms. Darnell's birthyear.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
J Peverell Marley. Director of photography. Eloped to Las Vegas on April 18, 1942; divorced on February 20, 1951.
companion:
Joseph L Mankiewicz. Director-screenwriter. Had longterm affair while Darnell was married to Marley and Mankiewicz was in second marriage; directed Darnell in "A Letter to Three Wives" and "No Way Out"; she ended relationship when he refused to cast her in 1954's "The Barefoot Contessa".
husband:
Philip Liebmann. Executive. Married in Mexico on February 25, 1954; divorced on December 2, 1955 in Mexico; president of Liebmann Breweries and creator of Miss Rheingold.
husband:
Merle Roy Robertson. Pilot. Married on March 3, 1957 in Riverside, California; divorced on November 23, 1963 after she learned he had impregnated a Yugoslavian actress.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

mother:
Pearl Darnell. Housewife.
father:
Calvin Darnell. Postal clerk.
sister:
Undeen Darnell Hunter.
sister:
Monte Darnell.
brother:
Cal Darnell.
daughter:
Charlotte Mildred Adams. Born on January 5, 1948; adopted in 1948 while Darnell was married to Peverell Marley.
daughter:
Alfreda Liebmann. Adopted late in marriage while Darnell was married to Philip Liebmann; upon divorce Liebmann kept child; Darnell seems never to have acknowledged or mentioned her again.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Fox Girls" Arlington House
"The Decline and Fall of the Love Goddesses" Pinnacle Books
"Hollywood Beauty: Linda Darnell and the American Dream" University of Oklahoma Press

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