I was recently listening to a You Must Remember This episode on Linda Darnell and I felt compelled to write something about it.
Linda Darnell was, perhaps, one of the most underrated actresses of her time. With her acting ability often downplayed, she managed to prove her doubters wrong, staring in films like Unfaithfully Yours, Anna and the King of Siam, and most famously, A Letter to Three Wives.
Unfortunately, her career would be plagued with personal conflicts, bad management, and poorly time marriages, eventually culminating with her tragic death on April 10 of 1965.
So, let’s take a trip back to the early 1950s and revisit the woefully overlooked career of, Linda Darnell.
Born Monetta Eloyse Darnell in Dallas, Texas on October, 16th 1923, ‘Linda’ as she would later be called by her Hollywood cohorts, she was pushed into show business at a young age.
Being thrust into the limelight by her mother, Pearl, Linda has more or less been groomed for stardom, becoming a model at 11 and a full-fledged actress at 13.
By 1937, Linda was scouted by a talent agent from 20th Century Fox. She and her family went to Hollywood to do some screen tests, but eventually, Mr. Zanuck caught wind of Darnell‘s actual age and sent her back to Texas.
Heartbroken yet determined, Linda honed her craft and continued acting locally, inevitably returning to Hollywood with a new attitude.
She appeared in several smaller films before landing her big break with 1940’s Brigham Young, co-starring alongside her frequent leading man, Tyrone Power. In the summer of that same year, Darnell worked on The Mark of Zorro where, once again, she worked with Power.
The film managed to be successful and further plunged Darnell into the spotlight. But, unfortunately after that ‘Zorro‘, the studio system didn’t allow her to go after the roles she craved, so, she was relegated to B films that typecasted her.
Luckily, she would bounce back with the wonderful Blood and Sand also starring alongside Power. According to Darnell herself, however, her career would take a sharp downturn after this.
“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.”
Davis, Ronald L., Hollywood Beauty: Linda Darnell and the American Dream.
Several years, and subpar movies later, Darnell’s career would stall because she refused Daryl Zanuck‘s advances. Pulling herself up by her chinstraps and not letting this get to her, she focused on the war effort, raising money, and performing regularly at the Hollywood Canteen.
After that, Zanuck often overlooked her for many film roles, and her star started declining. Instead, she was cast in roles that didn’t fit her and slowly resented show business.
For the rest of her career, she starred in B-movies, forgettable blockbuster and the occasional hit, like A Letter to Three Wives and Unfaithfully Yours.
The unfortunate thing about Linda Darnell is that she never really had the chance to let her career flourish. Between her rushed childhood and her underwhelming adult career, Darnell never got the chance to settle into her acting.
It’s tragic, really.
Darnell wasn’t only absolutely gorgeous and wickedly talented, she also was quite the lady. Raised with southern charms and a witty personality, Linda Darnell will, hopefully, be remembered alongside other Hollywood greats of the era.