Linda Darnell (born Monetta Eloyse Darnell, October 16, 1923 – April 10, 1965) was an American film actress . Darnell progressed from modeling as a child to acting in theater and film as an adolescent. At the encouragement of her mother, she made her first film in 1939, and appeared in supporting roles in big-budget film s for 20th Century Fox throughout the 1940s . She rose to fame with co-starring roles opposite Tyrone Power in adventure film s, and established a main character career after her role in Forever Amber (1947). She won critical acclaim for her work in Unfaithfully Yours (1948) and A Letter to Three Wives (1949).
Since the beginning of her career at 20th Century Fox, Darnell had been very positive about her frequent co-star Tyrone Power. In a 1939 interview, she expressed her interest in starring opposite Power in Johnny Apollo (1940). Rationalizing why she was not cast, Darnell said: “It’s a man’s part and the girl’s role is only incidental.” Dorothy Lamour was cast, instead. Nevertheless, Darnell had her way as she was assigned to the female lead opposite Power in the light romantic comedy Day-Time Wife (1939). Although the film received only slightly favorable reviews, Darnell’s performance was received positively, with one critic saying: “Despite her apparent youth, [Darnell] turns in an outstanding performance when playing with popular players.” Another critic wrote that “little Linda is not only a breath-taking eyeful, but a splendid actress , as well.” Life magazine stated that Darnell appeared to be 22 and was “the most physically perfect girl in Hollywood ”. Following the film ’s release, she was cast in the drama comedy Star Dust in December 1939. The film was hailed as one of the “most original entertainment idea in years” and boosted Darnell’s popularity, being nicknamed ‘Hollywood ’s loveliest and most exciting star’. Variety continued: “Miss Darnell displays a wealth of youthful charm and personality that confirms studio efforts to build her to a draw personality.” Her studio contract had been revised to allow Darnell to earn $200 a week.
After appearing in several small film s, Darnell was cast in her first big-budget film in May 1940, appearing again opposite Tyrone Power in Brigham Young (1940), which was shot on location in mid-1940 and was regarded the most expensive film 20th Century Fox had yet produced. Darnell and Power were cast together for the second time due to the box office success of Day-Time Wife, and they became a highly publicized onscreen couple, which prompted Darryl F. Zanuck to add 18 more romantic scenes to Brigham Young.[ The film ’s director, Henry Hathaway, in later life had only slight memories of Darnell and recalled that “a sweeter girl never lived.” By June 1940, shortly after completing Brigham Young, Darnell achieved stardom and earned “a weekly salary larger than most bank officials.”
In the summer of 1940, Darnell began working on The Mark of Zorro (1940), in which she again co-starred as Power’s sweetheart in a role for which Anne Baxter was previously considered. A big-budget adventure film that was raved over by the critics, The Mark of Zorro was a box office sensation and did much to enhance Darnell’s star status. Afterwards, she was paired with Henry Fonda for the first time in the western Chad Hanna (1940), her first Technicolor film . The film received only little attention, unlike Darnell’s next film Blood and Sand (1941), which was shot on location in Mexico and in which she was reteamed with Power. It was the first film for which she was widely critically acclaimed. Nevertheless, Darnell later claimed that her downfall began after Blood and Sand. In an interview she said:
People got tired of seeing the sweet young things I was playing and I landed at the bottom of the roller coaster. The change and realization were very subtle. I’d had the fame and money every girl dreams about—and the romance. I’d crammed thirty years into ten, and while it was exciting and I would do it over again, I still know I missed out on my girlhood, the fun, little things that now seem important.
Darnell had been widely expected to win an Academy Award nomination for A Letter to Three Wives; when this did not happen, her career began to wane. She was cast opposite Richard Widmark and Veronica Lake in Slattery’s Hurricane (1949), which she perceived as a step down from the level she had reached with A Letter to Three Wives, though it did well at the box office.
Darnell died on April 10, 1965, from burns she received in a house fire in Glenview, Illinois early the day before. She had been staying at the home of her former secretary and former agent. She was trapped on the second floor of the home by heat and smoke, as the fire had started in the living room.
The women urged the young girl to jump from the second-floor window. After her daughter had jumped, Darnell’s secretary stood on the window ledge, calling for help. She had lost track of Darnell and insisted the firefighters rescue her before she was taken from the window ledge. Darnell was found next to the burning living room sofa; she was transferred to the burn unit at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital with burns to 80% of her body.