Monetta Darnell [pseud. Linda Darnell], film actress, one of six children of Calvin Roy and Margaret Pearl (Brown) Darnell, was born in Dallas, Texas, on October 16, 1923. She grew up in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas and attended Sunset High School, where she won local talent contests. As a teenager she modeled for Southwestern Style Shows; was selected as a "Texanita" at the Greater Texas and Pan American Exposition of 1937, during the second year of the Texas Centennial celebration; and won the regional Gateway to Hollywood contest. In 1938 talent scout Ivan Kahn arranged for her to have a screen test that led to an eventual contract with Twentieth Century-Fox studio. She starred in her first film, Hotel for Women, in 1939 and remained with Twentieth Century-Fox for thirteen years. Darryl Zanuck, the studio's production head, immediately cast her in a series of motion pictures opposite Tyrone Power, including Daytime Wife (1939), Brigham Young–Frontiersman (1940), The Mark of Zorro (1940), and Blood and Sand (1941).
In 1944 Look magazine selected Linda Darnell as one of the four most beautiful women in Hollywood. After reshaping her celluloid image from that of a sweet young thing into that of a sultry vixen, she reached international stature in the title role of the screen spectacle Forever Amber (1947) and further demonstrated her skill as an actress in such films as Hangover Square (1945), Fallen Angel (1945), Unfaithfully Yours (1948), A Letter to Three Wives (1948), Slattery's Hurricane (1949), and No Way Out (1950). Her contract with Twentieth Century-Fox came to an end in 1952, while the big-studio system was declining. She afterward made three pictures at RKO: Blackbeard the Pirate (1952), Second Chance (1953), and This Is My Love (1957); two in Italy; and low-budget productions for Paramount and Republic. Yet she never again equaled her earlier success.
Darnell made a Broadway debut in the unsuccessful Harbor Lights in 1956, appeared frequently in major television dramas, toured with tenor Thomas Hayward in a nightclub act, and performed regularly in regional theaters across the country in such plays as Tea and Sympathy, A Roomful of Roses, and Janus. She worked for numerous charities, including the National Kidney Foundation, and helped raise funds to preserve the battleship Texas as a public shrine.
She married Hollywood cameraman J. Peverell Marley, business tycoon Philip Liebmann, and airline pilot Merle Roy Robertson, but divorced all three. In 1948 she and Marley adopted a daughter, Charlotte Mildred (Lola). In later years the actress was overtaken by personal problems, in part stemming from her premature fame. She was visiting friends in Glenview, Illinois, in April 1965, when the townhouse in which she was staying caught fire, only hours after she and her hostess had watched one of her first movies on late television. She was severely burned and died on April 10 in the Koch Burn Center at Cook County Hospital.