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Linda Darnell

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October 16, 1923 – April 10, 1965

Early life and career

Born Monetta Eloyse Darnell in Dallas, Texas, as one of five children, to Calvin Darnell and Pearl Brown, Darnell was a model by the age of 11, and was acting on the stage by the age of 13. She was chosen by a talent scout to go to Hollywood, and by age 15, she was signed to a contract at 20th Century Fox. She featured in her first film Hotel for Women in 1939, followed by roles in The Mark of Zorro, Blood and Sand, Hangover Square and My Darling Clementine. In 1943, she was cast, uncredited, as the Virgin Mary in The Song of Bernadette.

In 1947, Darnell won the starring role in the highly anticipated movie Forever Amber, based on a bestselling historical novel that was denounced as being immoral at that time. The character, Amber, was so named because of her hair color, and this is the only major film in which Darnell — normally known for her raven hair and somewhat Latin looks — appears as a redhead. Publicity at the time compared the novel Forever Amber to Gone with the Wind. The search for the actress to portray Amber, a beauty who uses men to make her fortune in 17th-century England, was modeled on the extensive process that led to the casting of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara. But the film did not live up to its hype.

The following year, Darnell portrayed Daphne de Carter in the Preston Sturges' comedy Unfaithfully Yours (1948), also starring Rex Harrison, and as one of the three wives in the comedy/drama A Letter to Three Wives (1949). Darnell's hard-edged performance in the latter won her the best reviews of her career. She was widely tipped to win an Academy Award nomination for this part, but, when this did not happen, her career began to wane. Aside from her starring role opposite Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier in the groundbreaking No Way Out (1950), her later films were rarely noteworthy, and her appearances were increasingly sporadic thereafter. Further hampering Darnell's career was the actress's alcoholism and weight gain. Darnell's last work as an actress was in a stage production in Atlanta in early 1965.

Personal life and death

Darnell was married to cameraman J. Peverell Marley (1943-1952), brewery heir Philip Leibmann (1954-55), and pilot Merle Roy Robertson (1957-1963). Darnell and her first husband adopted a daughter, Charlotte Mildred "Lola" Marley, the actress's only child.

Darnell died on April 10, 1965, at age 41, from burns she received in a house fire in Glenview, Illinois. She had been staying there with friends while preparing for a stage role in the Chicago area. Her 1940 film, Star Dust, had played on television the night of the fire, and it was widely reported that Darnell had fallen asleep with a lit cigarette while watching it. But biographer Ronald L. Davis, in his book Hollywood Beauty, wrote that there was no evidence this was true, or that Darnell was in any way responsible for the blaze. By his account, Darnell was burned over 90 percent of her body because she ran into a burning area trying to save her friend's child, not knowing that the young girl had already escaped.

Her ashes are interred at the Union Hill Cemetery, Chester County, Pennsylvania, in the family plot of her son-in-law. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Linda Darnell has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1631 Vine Street.

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