Actress: 1923 – 1965

“She was very young, young and charming…the whole crew behaved differently when she was on the set. There was a kind of innocence about her that was enchanting.”

- Rouben Mamoulian – Director “The Mark of Zorro

The American Dream

Linda Darnell was born in Dallas, Texas on October 16, 1923, and christened Monetta Eloyse Darnell. The third of five children of Calvin Roy and Margaret Pearl Darnell, Linda was an early bloomer – her perfect features and early maturing body gained her modelling positions from the age of eleven. Employers usually assumed that she was around fifteen. She trained to be a dancer, and at thirteen years old, already a veteran of local theatre companies, Darnell appeared before Hollywood talent scouts. She was given the opportunity of a screen test in California, and made the journey there only to be rejected when her age was discovered. She was told to “come back in two years”.

When Linda reached the age of fifteen, she returned to Hollywood and was signed on by 20th Century Fox. She portrayed a seductive and mature Marcia Bromley in “A Hotel for Women” in 1937, becoming Hollywood’s youngest leading lady. Several more films ensued, and in 1945 she co-starred with Henry Fonda in “My Darling Clementine”. She played the leading lady to Tyrone Power’s Zorro, and gained acclaim in the film adaptation of the classic novel “Forever Amber”. With roles such as that of Amber, (mistress to King Charles II) and her portrayal of a Russian vixen in “September Storm” (1944), Darnell moved away from the stereotypically bland leading lady roles, and demonstrated her ability in more challenging parts.

Darnell’s Fox contract ended in 1952, and she had difficulty finding roles thereafter. She was still only 29, but rapidly descended from a top billing star to a bit-part player, and by the 1960’s she was performing in nightclubs for a living, and playing supporting roles in television.

Linda Darnell died from burns sustained in a house fire in 1965, while staying with her friend and former secretary Mrs. Richard Curtis. The fire was discovered in the early hours of the morning by Curtis’ daughter, who escaped the house. Report says that Darnell re-entered the house, thinking the girl was still inside. She suffered serious burns to 90% of her body, and passed away 33 hours later. The Curtises were made guardians of her young adopted daughter, Lola.

The Cinderella Girl

Linda Darnell’s life is frequently described as tragic. It has been suggested that she was pushed into the limelight at such an early age by an overly ambitious and dominating mother. Her rapid ascent into the hall of fame was one that she was never really prepared for, and the stresses and pitfalls of Hollywood took their toll.

While with her first husband J. Peverell Marley, who was twenty years her senior, Darnell developed a drinking problem that was to dog her for the rest of her life. She was unable to have children – a fact that may well have impacted on her relationships. She and Marley adopted a child – a daughter named Lola. Linda married and divorced three times, her second and third husbands being Phillip Leibmann and Merle Roy Robertson. Robertson sued for divorce in 1962 – citing Linda’s continual drunkenness and neglect of her marital duties.

Linda Darnell perhaps suffered no more tragedy than many other actors and actresses – the stress of the Hollywood lifestyle on her relationships and health was nothing unusual. Her loss of fame in later years must have been hard to bear, and her death was indeed tragic. It is said that Darnell suffered all her life from a fear of death by fire, a fact that she spoke of in connection with her performance in “Anna and the King of Siam” (1946) – which involved a burning at the stake scene. Whether this fear was a premonition, or a myth perpetrated after her death, cannot be known.

Hollywood Beauty

Linda Darnell had the kind of appearance probably best described as “classic”. With beautifully regular features, wide dark eyes, and dark waving hair, she had an almost latin appearance that adapted admirably to any role – she could be a Spaniard of the Hidalgo class, an American girl next door, an English courtesan…she could play the femme fatale or the naïve young girl with equal facility and credibility.

Darnell’s life was described in the Ronald L. Davis biography “Hollywood Beauty: Linda Darnell and the American Dream”.

Television program: “The Golden Years of Hollywood” with Bill Collins, Australian Broadcasting Corporation,,1421-1-EST,00.html

1939 Day-Time Wife
1939 Hotel for Women
1940 Star Dust
1940 Chad Hanna
1940 The Mark of Zorro
1940 Brigham Young - Frontiersman
1941 Rise and Shine
1941 Blood and Sand
1942 The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe
1943 City Without Men
1943 Show Business at War
1943 The Song of Bernadette (uncredited)
1944 Summer Storm
1944 Buffalo Bill
1944 Sweet and Low-Down
1944 It Happened Tomorrow
1945 The Great John L.
1945 Hangover Square
1945 Fallen Angel
1945 The All-Star Bond Rally
1946 My Darling Clementine
1946 Centennial Summer
1946 Anna and the King of Siam
1947 Forever Amber
1948 Unfaithfully Yours
1948 The Walls of Jericho
1949 Everybody Does It
1949 Slattery's Hurricane
1949 A Letter to Three Wives
1950 Two Flags West
1950 No Way Out
1951 The Lady Pays Off
1951 The 13th Letter
1951 The Guy Who Came Back
1952 Blackbeard, the Pirate
1952 Night Without Sleep
1952 Saturday Island
1953 Donne proibite
1953 Second Chance
1954 This Is My Love
1955 Ultimi cinque minuti, Gli
1956 Dakota Incident
1957 Homeward Borne
1957 Zero Hour!
1962 Valle de las espadas, El
1965 Black Spurs

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