Today is the 89th birthday of Linda Darnell, a woman who’s success was at times overshadowed by her personal life.
Linda Darnell was born Monetta Eloyse Darnell in Dallas, Texas, one of five children of a post office worker and his wife. It was evident at an early age that she would be a ravishing beauty, and her mother encouraged her to model. By age 11 she was modeling clothes for an area department store. She had no trouble getting modeling jobs even at such a young age, mainly because her beauty was so striking that potential clients, agencies and even government officials would think she was five or six years older than she actually was–something that neither she nor her mother did anything to discourage.
By the time Linda was 13 she was acting in local theater companies and her talent was already becoming apparent. There was no doubt that Linda had a rare gift for someone so young. When the Hollywood studios sent scouts to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, her mother thought it would be a good idea to take Linda to a tryout. The talent scouts took one look at her and her acting abilities and arranged for a screen test. She made the trek to Hollywood, but when her real age became known she was sent home. After two years and more local theater appearances, Linda returned to California and her career was off and running.
Linda made her film debut in 1939 in the role of Marcia Bromley in Hotel for Women (1939). She was all of 16 at the time and became the youngest leading lady in Hollywood history. Her next film was Day-Time Wife (1939). Her third film was Star Dust (1940) made in 1940, in which she played Carolyn Ayres. Linda quickly ascended the ladder of stardom, and she began appearing in more expensive and better quality films, making a stunningly beautiful leading lady in the swashbuckling The Mark of Zorro (1940) opposite Tyrone Power. She worked with Power again in the hit Blood and Sand (1941) and held her own with Jack Oakie in the hilarious football comedy Rise and Shine (1941). In 1945 she played Netta Longdon in Hangover Square (1945), which proved to be a box-office bonanza. The following year Linda appeared with the legendary Lillian Gish in Centennial Summer (1946). Later that same year she co-starred with Henry Fonda and Victor Mature in My Darling Clementine (1946). It was another hit and garnered Linda some of the best reviews of her career. She scored another hit opposite Cornel Wilde in 1947’s Forever Amber (1947), in which she survived the notorious Great London Fire. In 1952 she starred in Blackbeard, the Pirate (1952) along with Irene Ryan, Robert Newton and William Bendix.
Linda’s final screen appearance was in the low-budget western Black Spurs (1965). She was married and divorced three times: to cinematographer J. Peverell Marley from 1944-1952, to Phillip Liebmann (a New York brewer) from 1954-1955 and to Merle Roy Robertson (an airline pilot) from 1957-1962. On April 10, 1965, Linda died from burns she received in a fire at the house of her former secretary. Ironically, she had been watching Star Dust (1940) on television, which was one of the films that set her career in motion, when the house caught fire. She had appeared in a total of 46 films. Often described as the “girl with the perfect face”, Linda Darnell died at the age of 41.