Monday, March 23, 2009

Linda Darnell (1923-1965)

"Leaving Fox was like leaving home at 28; I'd been there since I was sixteen."

Linda Darnell on 20th Century Fox

Linda Darnell was an American film actress, born Monetta Eloyse Darnell in Dallas, Texas in October, 1923. She was one of five siblings of a postal clerk and his wife.
In 1934, at the age of eleven, she began to model clothes, being adressed as 16 years old. When Linda was 13 talent scouts from Hollywood came to Dallas, and her mother encouraged Linda to go to the audition. After a short look at Linda and her acting, the studio took her to California for another audition. However, her real age was revealed and Linda was sent back home, told to come back when she was 15.

Linda Darnell as a clothes model.

Two years later Linda went back to Hollywood, and her career was up and running. Her film debut was in Hotel for Women (1939) with Ann Sothern, an actress she would work with once again ten years later in Joseph L. Mankievicz's A Letter to Three Wives (1949). At the time she was 16, and the youngest leading lady in Hollywood history. She made another film in 1939 called Day-Time Wife, the first of four films she would star in opposite Tyrone Power. (The others are The Mark of Zorro and Brigham Youth from 1940 and Blood and Sand from 1941.)

Poster for Day-Time Wife (1939) with a 16 year old Linda Darnell and Tyrone Power.

American poster for The Mark of Zorro (1940).

Hir third film Star Dust (1940) brought Darnell up to the heights of the other Hollywood stars. She plays a girl named Carolyn Sayres that signs a Hollywood contract, but is later rejected because she is concidered to be too young. (Does that sound familiar...?) Her following films were not less popular, and soon she was often referred to as "the girl with the perfect face".
Next year she starred in the Technicolor film Blood and Sand (1941) opposite Tyrone Power and Rita Hayworth. A scene were she confronts the seducing Hayworth follows:

In 1945 Darnell starred in Hangover Square with Laird Cregar and George Sanders. The film is described on IMDb to have been a "box-office bonanza". The same year she made a film noir with Dana Andrews as the leading man, Fallen Angel. A scene from the film is included after this paragraph, and it is really interesting to see how different her character in this film is compared to the timid and innocent woman in Blood and Sand.
Next year she put a great mark in cinema history, playing Chihuahua in the western classic My Darling Clementine, co-starring Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp and Victor Mature as Doc Holiday.

Linda Darnell and Dana Andrews in Fallen Angel (1947).

Publicity still for Hangover Square (1945).

Linda Darnell with Victor Mature in My Darling Clementine (1946).

In 1947 Darnell reached the top of her career when playing opposite Cornel Wilde and George Sanders in the 17th century drama Forever Amber, where she also appeared in flaming red hair in contrast to her famous jet black.

In the following scene from Forever Amber, that I managed to hunt down (the sound is terribly unsynchronized, but it'll do!), we see Linda Darnell as Amber St. Clair, dancing with King Charles II played by the always superb George Sanders. Cornel Wilde appears as Amber's husband, Bruce Carlton.

"You're mind is like your wardrobe, madame. Many changes and no surprises."

Linda Darnell in Forever Amber (1947).

Linda Darnell made several more films, among others the earlier mentioned A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and Blackbeard, the Pirate (1952), but her blossoming career was on it's way to die. One of the reasons was Darnell's drinking problem, which she had had during almost all of her career.

Her latest screen appearance was in the 1965 western Black Spurs. She was married and divorced three times.
Her death was a sad but heroic story. 10 April, 1965 Darnell was dining at the house of her friend and former secretary. Darnell's early film Star Dust (1940) was being shown on television that night, and she saw it. However, during the night something caught fire and everyone had to evacuate the house. When Darnell noticed that one of her friend's children was missing she ran into the house again to find the girl. The child had managed to escape, but Darnell burnt 90 % of her body, dying from her injuries at the hospital the next day.
At that time, at 41 years of age, Darnell had filmed a total of 46 motion pictures.

Linda Darnell on the cover of Screenland in October, 1948.


Millie said...

Wow, I didn't realize she was so young! She was quite an accomplished actress for her age.

And so beautiful!

Alexis said...

Darnell's story is so sad. I watched a biography about her on the DVD for "A Letter To Three Wives" and I was shocked to learn of her early demise. She was fantastic. Great blog!

Kate Gabrielle said...

What a sad story. I love the clip of her & Dana Andrews... I didn't like the movie at first, but it's been growing on me each time I see it!

Matthew Coniam said...

Great stuff!
I knew she died of burning after watching one of her own films but I had no idea it was because she went back to save a kid. I read somewhere that she had a lifelong terror of dying this way... very sad.
The clip from Blood and Sand makes me regret never having seen this version - an oversight I shall correct.

Lolita said...

It's shocking. I read that she had no problem to make people believe that she was 16 when she was eleven. Looked like a real woman from her birth!

Thank you!

Kate Gabrielle:
Some films have the tendency to grow on you! I had the same experience with All About Eve, for some reason... But I think I concentrated too much to hate Anne Baxter's character (she lits a fire of anger within every woman!) that I couldn't notice the brilliance of the film.

Matthew Coniam:
Glad you enjoyed the post! How terrible that she had thought of that way of dying...
I also read that there is a widely spread rumour that she fell asleep while watching her own film with a lit cigarette, and that that was the reason of the fire. But there was nothing that pointed toward that explanation, so it was probably only a romanticized story that looked good in the press.

Millie said...

It's crazy because I distinctly remember watching "The Mark Of Zorro" and thinking it was funny that she was only supposed to be 18 or 19 (I really can't remember an exact age)because she was so "obviously" older than that...hahaha...NOT!

Lolita said...

Haha! She tricked you! ;)