While watching a Letter to Three Wives, I was immediately intrigued by the sultry, exotic looking doll I saw on the screen..and yes, I have to agree...she did have the perfect face (aside from Audrey of course :D). Her name was Linda Darnell, born Monetta Eloyse Darnell on October 16, 1923 in Dallas, Texas. One of five children, her father was a postal worker, and her mother encouraged her to model, already recognizing her beauty even at the early age of 12.
By 1934, Linda was modeling clothes for an area department store. Sometimes officials would think that she was 15 or 16 because she looked much older than she was. At age 13, she was appearing with local theater companies. Hollywood scouts, on a routine visit to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, were impressed enough to set up a screen test for her, but they soon discovered she was too young.
They told her to check back in a couple of years or so, which is exactly what she did. Linda used that time to further build up her acting chops through more local theater appearances, returning to California in 1939 to debut in A Hotel For Women. She was all of 16 at the time and became the youngest leading lady in Hollywood history. Her next film was that same year which was one of her very best- Daytime Wife where she starred with Tyrone Power. Film number three, made in 1940, marked her signature hit, Star Dust where Linda rose to heights of stardom. More classic films were produced, such as Blood And Sand, and Rise And Shine. In 1945 Linda played Netta Longdon in Hangover Square, which performed solidly at the box-office. She followed that up with an appearance opposite Lillian Gish in Centennial Summer.
Linda reached the height of her career when she played opposite Cornell Wilde in 1947's Forever AmberA Letter to Three Wives where she survives the famed London fire. Unfortunately, although this film was a huge success Linda didn't feel she had earned the critical acclaim she hoped for. However two years later in the film she achieved both critical acclaim and true stardom. The wonderful script written by the great Joe Mankiewicz began a life long friendship which some think turned into the great love of Linda's life.
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's final appearance on the silver screen was in 1965's Black Spurs.
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 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.
Darnell developed a drinking problem that was to dog her for the rest of her life. She was unable to have children, but adopted a daughter named Lola. However it is said that the inability to have children may have been a fact that may well have impacted on her relationships. Linda married and divorced three times, her second and third husbands being Phillip Leibmann and Merle Roye 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 which involved a burning at the stake scene. Whether this fear was a premonition, or a myth perpetrated after her death, cannot be known. Tragically, Darnell died in 1965 of severe burns suffered in a fire at her former secretary's house at the age of 42.