Ronald L. Davis is Emeritus Professor of History at Southern Methodist University, where he was Director of both the Oral History Program on the Performing Arts and the De Golyer Institute for American Studies. He has written many books on the performing arts in America, including the best-seller Hollywood Anecdotes.
In 1938, age 15, propelled by a horrendous stage mother, Darnell emerged from Dallas, to parlay her exceptional beauty into a Hollywood career. Her brief professional stint included roles in such popular films as A Letter to Three Wives and Forever Amber but was marked by several unsuccessful marriages and alcoholism. Film historian Davis of Southern Methodist University suggests that Darnell's naive expectations and lack of education led to the exploitive relationships that shaped her depressing story. Ending with her death in 1965 in a fire that destroyed the suburban Chicago home where she was visiting, Darnell's life illustrates the grimy side of the one-time Hollywood star system. And although her tale is much more pedestrian than the ``American tragedy'' Davis declares it to have been, the book, more thoughtful than the average Hollywood bio, will be of interest to serious film buffs. Photos. (May)
In 1965, Darnell died in a house fire at age 41. She was a leading lady of such notable Hollywood films as The Mark of Zorro, Hangover Square, My Darling Clementine, A Letter to Three Wives , and No Way Out , as well as the notorious Forever Amber . Darnell was extolled in Ian and Elizabeth Cameron's Dames ( LJ 11/1/69) as a definitive 1940s screen presence who would one day receive her due. Davis's ( Hollywood Anecdotes , LJ 9/15/87) worthy biography helps validate that opinion. Drawing on correspondence and interviews with friends, relatives, and industry associates, he pens a sympathetic portrait of a pleasant child from Texas thrust onto Hollywood by a rambunctious mother. A fine balance is struck between Darnell's confused private life and creditable professional efforts. Recommended.-- Kim Holston, American Inst. for Property and Liability Underwriters, Malvern, Pa.