Forever Linda – Linda Darnell (1923 – 1965)

Posted in Rewind by - December 02, 2014
Forever Linda – Linda Darnell (1923 – 1965)

Beautiful and sultry with an abundance of charm, the luminous Linda Darnell came from the Lana Turner school of discovery and, like Turner, had a sometimes spotty career. But, on occasion, she shone in a number of classy and colourful productions as well as some exciting cult thrillers.

Born in Dallas, Texas on October 16th 1923, Linda’s modelling led to her being spotted and signed to Daryl Zanuck’s 20th Century Fox studio. After a few minor parts she was paired with Tyrone Power for the 1940 adventure ‘The Mark of Zorro’, then re-teamed with him for the biopic ‘Brigham Young’ (’40), and the colourful ‘Blood and Sand’ (’41). After playing The Virgin Mary in an uncredited part in the Oscar-winning ‘The Song of Bernadette’ (’43), Linda had an enjoyable role in René Clair’s engaging fantasy ‘It Happened Tomorrow’ (’44), with Dick Powell.

A run of fateful parts followed in some very good movies. Darnell had one of her best roles as a peasant girl in the seldom seen ‘Summer Storm’ (’44), a tragic Russian tale with George Sanders. More misery came the following year, this time at the hands of Laird Cregar, in the entertaining thriller ‘Hangover Square’ (’45), and she was then murdered by Dana Andrews in the cult noir ‘Fallen Angel’ (’45). After being burned at the stake in ‘Anna and the King of Siam’ (’46), she was gunned down in John Ford’s classic western ‘My Darling Clementine’ (both ’46).

In 1947 a red-headed Linda replaced Peggy Cummins in Otto Preminger’s enjoyable costumer ‘Forever Amber’, and then managed to stay alive in Preston Sturges’ sublime screwball comedy ‘Unfaithfully Yours’ (’48), as symphony conductor Rex Harrison’s beautiful young wife. A big hit came next with Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s multi Oscar-winning ‘A Letter to Three Wives’ (’49), a flashback heavy marital drama with Jeanne Crain and Ann Sothern. For Mankiewicz she also made ‘No Way Out’ (’50), a gritty noir with an excellent Richard Widmark, and a debuting Sidney Poitier.

For RKO Darnell later played the heroine opposite Robert Newton in ‘Blackbeard the Pirate’ (’52), after which a pretty good movie followed with the Mexican-set thriller ‘Second Chance’ (’53), as a singer and gangster’s girlfriend, alongside Robert Mitchum and Jack Palance. Linda then re-teamed with an aging Dana Andrews for the airline disaster ‘Zero Hour!’ as an unhappy wife leaving Andrews’ troubled former pilot, only to find bigger problems on board a plane with sick passengers and crew. After losing out to Ava Gardner for the lead role in Mankiewicz’s ‘The Barefoot Contessa’ (’54), Darnell retired from the screen, and would not return for more than a decade.

After a brief comeback in the 1965 B-western ‘Black Spurs’, and while sleeping at a friends apartment, Linda’s lit cigarette accidentally set fire to the living-room. Sadly, on April 10th 1965, Darnell died from the severe burns that she received in the house fire. She was just 41 years old. Rumours of alcohol problems were blamed on the tragic accident, but whatever the cause this was such a sad end to a gentle, kind and talented woman.

Married three times with an adopted daughter, Linda Darnell had a fairy-tale climb to stardom and overcame many personal and professional setbacks in her short life. A beautiful person with a beautiful persona, she left behind a legacy of great Hollywood movies and a host of enjoyable performances.

Favourite Movie: It Happened Tomorrow
Favourite Performance: Summer Storm

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