Archie P. McDonald
brief but brilliant life of actress Linda Darnell began in Dallas on October 16,
1923, and ended sadly in a hospital in Chicago, Illinois, forty-two years later
on April 19, 1965.
Born Monetta Eloyse Darnell, Hollywood changed her to
simply Linda Darnell, apparently judging her legal family name sufficiently glamorous
but also needing to do away with the more complicated given names.
grew up in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas and attended Sunset High School. The
precocious young lady who looked far more mature than her actual years won numerous
talent contests, worked as a "Texanite" during the Centennial celebration at Fair
Park in 1936 at thirteen years of age, modeled for Southwestern Style Shows, and
won the regional Gateway to Hollywood contest in 1938 when she was only fifteen
years of age.
At sixteen, she was on her way to a screen test and film
stardom in Hollywood at the invitation of talent scout Ivan Kahn, which led to
a contract with Darryl Zanuck at Twentieth-Century Fox. Her first assignment,
in 1939, was "Hotel For Women." For the next thirteen years Darnell appeared in
a series of films, often opposite actor Tyrone Power, who was several years older.
For a decade or more Darnell’s roles usually made her appear older and more sophisticated
than was the case.
As the years passed, Darnell’s actual age caught up
with her screen persona, and the baggage of Hollywood, including three failed
marriages, accumulated. In 1944, Look magazine named her one of the four most
beautiful actresses in Hollywood, and for nearly a decade she was also one of
the actresses most in demand for films.
Perhaps her most significant role
was in "Forever Amber" (1947), co-starring Cornel Wilde, which was considered
daring and risqué at the time. Darnell played a memorable role in "Letter To Three
Wives" (1948), co-starring Paul Douglas, Kirk Douglas, and Ann Sothern. Darnell’s
role could have been drawn from her actual life because her character used her
beauty to climb the social ladder in a small town.
Darnell was married
three times, though each marriage ended in divorce. She remained professionally
active after her first and second studio contracts with Twentieth-Century Fox
and RKO expired, appearing in plays, television dramas, and nightclubs. Darnell
was burned severely when fire engulfed a home she was visiting in Glenville, Illinois.
She died a few days later in a hospital in Chicago.
L. Davis wrote a splendid biography of this Texas movie star, titled Hollywood
Beauty: Linda Darnell and the American Dream (1991). Give it a read for sympathetic
look at a beautiful Texan who experienced a tragic end.
Beauty: Linda Darnell and the American Dream
Letter to Three Wives (1949)
Archie P. McDonald
Things Historical >
January 16, 2005 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Column provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association.
Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books