The stories of glitz and glamour continue in this month’s installment
We’re opening the book “Cliffites in Hollywood” again. Here are a few more chapters.
Born Monetta Darnell, movie star Linda Darnell attended Sunset High School while she was also modeling, entering beauty contests, taking elocution and acting lessons, and performing in Dallas Little Theater productions, among other endeavors. Darnell’s mother was constantly “grooming” her daughter for stardom, pushing her from one activity to another, relentlessly insistent on Darnell capturing a Hollywood film career. Darnell did sign a film contract and moved to Hollywood, by herself, when she was only 15, with Hollywood welcoming the gorgeous young Texan. Thanks to her stunning beauty, she eventually earned the label “The Girl with the Perfect Face.” From the late 1930s through the mid-1950s, Darnell starred in 43 movies, among them “The Mark of Zorro,” “Forever Amber,” “Unfaithfully Yours” and “A Letter to Three Wives.”
Darnell’s mother was a consistent problem, with Oak Cliff neighbors telling endless stories of her eccentric and mean-spirited behavior. The studios, and then Darnell herself, understood the need for the star to separate from the unmanageable parent, which finally occurred. Darnell got married at age 19 to a significantly older husband — a man who deliberately led her into alcoholic entrapment. With no one encouraging her to change, the movie star’s life was unalterably redirected. But she did have an adopted daughter with whom she remained close.
Darnell appeared in numerous television programs after her film career waned and also returned to stage performance. In 1965, while preparing for a Chicago play, Darnell was staying with a friend whose home caught fire; Darnell was fatally trapped in the blaze. Scrapbooks full of newspaper clippings and photographs found in the star’s home after her death reflected her continued interest in and communication with her old Sunset classmates.
The former Oak Cliff beauty is still showcased through her occasional performances seen on Turner Classic Movies and in what is normally an annual appearance on the Biography Channel, and also through the 1991 book “Linda Darnell: American Beauty and the Hollywood Dream.” Additionally, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Yvonne Craig is an alumna of both Adamson and Sunset high schools who developed her dance career during those teenage years. Continually rejecting anything but a future in ballet, Craig was eventually persuaded to take a screen test that landed her in the movie business. She went on to star in 19 movies, two with Elvis Presley: “It Happened at the World’s Fair” and “Kissing Cousins.” Beginning in the mid-1960s, Craig’s career expanded into television, where she appeared on dozens of programs, among them “Death Valley Days,” “My Three Sons,” “Star Trek,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “The Wild Wild West,” “McHale’s Navy,” “The Big Valley,” “The Mod Squad” and the “The Six Million Dollar Man.”
Her most recognizable role was as television’s first Batgirl in the classic mid-’60s “Batman” series. Craig continues to work in the entertainment field today, providing the voice of Grandma in the children’s animated television program “Olivia” and publishing her 2000 autobiography: “From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond.”
Not all Hollywood Cliffites appeared on the silver screen or small screen. Some wrote the words and scenes. Probably the most well recognized in this group is Terry Southern, Sunset ’42.
After attending SMU for two years, Southern left college to serve as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II. He returned from service and later graduated from Northwestern University in 1948 with a degree in philosophy. Southern traveled to Paris and studied at the Faculté Des Lettres, a four-year period that molded his writing career and persona, putting him into the Paris post-war literary movement — also known as the American (expatiate) café society of the 1950s. The friendships and contacts he made were essential to his early career.
Southern moved back to the United States in 1953, lived and worked in Greenwich Village, became a prominent figure in the late 1950s “village” artistic scene and later wrote for Esquire magazine. Over his career, he published eight novels, among them “Flash and Filigree” (1958), “Candy” (1958), “The Magic Christian” (1959), “Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes” (1967), “Blue Movie” (1970) and “Texas Summer” (1992).
In the 1960s, he began writing film dialogue with the screenplays for “Dr. Strangelove,” “The Loved One,” “The Cincinnati Kid,” “Casino Royale,” “Barbarella” and “Easy Rider,” with “Rider” influencing the creation of the 1970s independent film movement and earning him an Academy Award nomination. Southern wrote for “Saturday Night Live” and, during his remaining years, continued various film project collaborations.
Southern gained pop-culture-icon status when he was included on the Beatles’ legendary “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover.
In October 1995, Southern collapsed on the Columbia University campus while working as a university lecturer; he died four days later.
The book club will meet again next month with some new Tinseltown personalities to study. See you then!