Linda Darnell was born October 16, 1923 to Calvin and Pearl Darnell in Dallas, Texas. Her mother was determined that her daughter would be a star.
By 11 years old, she was modeling. She was acting in local theatre productions at 13 years old.
Linda went to Hollywood, California for a screen test in February 1938. The studio liked her, but told her that she was too young. They told her to come back in November, after her 15th birthday.
She moved, alone, into an apartment in Hollywood in April 1939. Her first film was Hotel for Women. During her career, she starred in a series of films alongside Tyrone Power.
Life Magazine called Linda the most physically perfect girl in Hollywood. At this time, she had a short-lived relationship with Mickey Rooney.
The film that made her famous was Star Dust released in 1939. By this time, she was earning $200 a week ($3500 today).
Her career took a hit in 1941 when she went almost the entire year without working on a film. She dedicated this time to working for the war effort.
On April 18, 1943, 19 year old Linda married 42 year old Peverall Marley. The couple eloped to Las Vegas. Peverall was a cameraman for 20th Century Fox, who disapproved of the pairing. As a result, Linda was suspended and Peverall was fired.
Linda returned to the studio, but her career waned until 1946, the same year she met and began an affair with Howard Hughes.
She filed for divorce from Peverall, but when Howard refused to marry her, the two reconciled and adopted a daughter in 1948. There is a rumor that Peverall tried to get Howard to pay him to divorce Linda.
Linda carried on a 6 year affair with Hollywood director Joseph Mankiewicz. His refusal to leave his wife for her caused Linda to seek therapy and attempt suicide.
Peverall was a heavy drinker. During their marriage, Linda began to abuse alcohol. It was a problem that would haunt her and her career for the rest of her life. The alcohol also caused her to gain weight. Linda resorted to extreme diets that caused her to pass out on set twice during the filming of Forever Amber, which was deemed her comeback piece.
In 1951, she got sick while filming in Jamaica and had to be quarantined for weeks. This same year, her divorce from Peverall was finalized.
Linda cut ties with 20th Century Fox in 1952, but continued to appear in film and on stage until her death in 1965.
Her third marriage was to pilot Merle Robertson in 1957. In December 1961, Linda returned home to find Merle in bed with his mistress, Vera Gregovic. She later found out that Vera was pregnant with his child. Their divorce was finalized in November 1963.
She married Philip Liebmann in February 1954. He proposed with a $42,000 engagement ring. The couple divorced the next year. Philip remarried 5 days later.
On April 9, 1965, 41 year old Linda arrived at the home of her former secretary, Jeanne Curtis, in Glenview, Illinois. They spent the evening catching up and watching Linda in Star Dust on TV. After the movie, the women went upstairs to bed. On the first floor, an unattended cigarette started a fire near the sofa in the living room.
Linda awoke to flames and smoke. She made her way downstairs, but the door handle was too hot to touch. She was burned over 80 percent of her body, but was found alive by firefighters. Jeanne and her daughter escaped by jumping out of a second floor window.
Linda was taken to Cook County Hospital in Chicago where she died the following morning. Her body was identified by a man who claimed he was her fiancée.
The body was cremated and Linda’s wishes were that they be scattered at the Hurd Ranch in New Mexico. The owners refused. Her cremains sat in storage for 10 years before being claimed by her daughter and buried in Pennsylvania.
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