In March 1954, Gene
Corman (producer Roger Cormans brother), then an agent at MCA, called me and said he
might have a picture. Linda Darnell had just been dropped by 20th Fox after fourteen
years. The studios were in the throes of downsizing their lists of contract players, and,
with a government consent decree, the Justice department had forced the major studios to
sell off their immense theater holdings. Independent producers were taking hold.
Linda was to do an independent picture, This Is My Love, with an
RKO release. But because of the lack of space at the studio, it was going to be shot at
Republic. Miss Darnell had final say on casting. Gene said I was to be at Republic in an
hour, we were going to meet with the producer and director.
Stuart Heisler was directing. Hed been a top film editor and had a
string of excellent pictures attached to his name. The producer, who Id never heard
of, had also written the script. I remember only that he was tall and slim, had a long
full beard, a gentle smile, dressed in tweeds, and was the last person youd expect
to find in the motion picture business. He had sort of a quiet, George Bernard
Shawresemblance about him and said very little. I was later told that he came from a
wealthy family in Santa Barbara and mostly wrote poetry, but had always wanted to write
and produce movies. He did. Just one.
The meeting went very well. Heisler did all the talking, turning once in a
while to his producer who would nod in agreement and smile his gentle smile. Heisler said,
"As far as were concerned, the rest is up to Miss Darnell."
Linda Darnell - Latina Actress and Great Lady with a Capital
The next afternoon I found myself seated on a banquette next to Linda Darnell opposite
the gentlemen Id met the day before. I said very little, ate my lunch, agreed with
everyone, and at one point, as one of the men excused himself to go to the washroom, Linda
leaned toward me, took my hand, and said in my ear, "You need this job, dont
I looked at her, a little surprised, and nodded my head several times.
"Dont worry," she said, smiling that lovely smile, "youve got
I looked at her
again and grinned. Then I really looked at her. She was one of the most beautiful women
Id ever seen. And a much better actress than she was given credit for.
Shed come from a poor Latino family in Los Angeles. At age sixteen
she was put under contract (at the usual seventy-five-dollars a week) to 20th, where she
remained during two seven-year terms. She became one of the studios top stars, along the
way making enough money to take care of her in later years. But when she first started at
the studio, having been so poor all her life, the only pet she had was a rooster that
shed raised from a chick she was given one Easter. Shed take the bus to the
studio for her daily training with the chicken under her arm and it was at least a year
before the publicity department got her to leave the bird at home.
Several failed marriages later, at just thirty-four, she should have been
entering her prime, but somehow nobody in Hollywood knew how to use her. Angela Lansbury,
many years later, told me almost the same thing.
Stuart Heisler may have been a top-notch film editor, but as a director he
should have stayed in bed. Heisler was the kind of director who got stressed before a
camera rolled. He kept telling me to relax. Id been relaxed when I walked out of
makeup and onto the sound stage. I didnt realize at the time that he should have
been talking to himself.
The more he told me to relax, the more uptight I got. I could feel the
muscles in my neck starting to tighten, then my vocal chords, which of course, caused him
to say, even more strongly, "Now I want you to relax, Rick."
By the time wed rehearsed the scene four or five times, I was so
tense from being advised to relax that I probably would have shattered if Id been
tapped with a feather. We went nine takes, each one worse than the one before. Linda never
lost her patience. Heisler was getting more frustrated by the minute and I was too
inexperienced to stop listening to him. We broke for lunch. I walked to my dressing room
food was the last thing on my mind. There was a knock on the door. "Come
in," I called, expecting Heisler to give me hell and ask what was wrong. The door
opened and it was Linda. "Not going to eat?" she asked.
Not hungry," I said.
She reached out for my hand. "Then keep me company," she said.
We walked across the street and had a light lunch. The only allusion she made to the
mornings work was, "Youre a very good actor." I looked at her
wonderingly. Id spent the morning doing some of my worst work. "A word from
someone whos been through it all," she said, "dont pay too much
attention to the director. Follow your gut feeling."
When we started the afternoons work, Heisler kept up what he thought
was his "helping hand" about relaxing. I hardly heard him. Matter of fact, I
stopped listening, except when blocking out a scene. By the end of the day, I was myself
again. No one could have been kinder or more cooperative than Linda. That was a lady,
spelled with a capital L.
Heisler turned out to be a monster, and a little weird to boot. Here and
there, when he didnt understand the meaning of a scene, hed just tear the
pages out of the script and toss them away. Then, in order to bridge the gap, hed
have the producer write a page or so of something or other so he could edit the pieces of
film together. Linda, whod been schooled as a contract player never to meddle in a
department to which she didnt belong, went along with all the changes. The result: This
Is My Love was catastrophic. We sneak previewed it in Santa Barbara. Im sorry to
say, it began the decline and quick demise of Lindas career.
At the end of filming, I gave her a small, gold St. Christopher medal.
She, in turn, handed me a nicely wrapped box in which was a beautiful gold medal, about
the size of a quarter, of St. Genisius, the patron saint of actors. I kept it in my
jewelry box and forgot about it. After some years, and a very strange experience, I bought
a gold chain and now wear it quite often.
Several years later, Linda tested opposite me for the lead in The
Wayward Bus. At that time, I was starring as a contract player at her old studio, 20th
Century Fox. She didnt get the part.
When I saw her next, a few years after that, it was in the forecourt of
the Chinese Theater for the premier of a movie; one of those black-tie affairs that have
all gone the way of Hollywood glamour. She was standing alone in an everyday dress,
waiting for someone, I hoped. She called to me, smiling. I went over and gave her a big
hug. There seemed something sad about her. She hadnt made a film in more than three
years. It was the last time I saw her.
She was visiting an old friend in Chicago and a fire broke out in the
apartment one night. Everyone had gotten out safely, but Linda thought her friends
fourteen-year-old daughter was still inside. Linda went back in to try and find the girl
and was overcome by smoke.
A lovely soul, and a charming woman with such great promise, a successful
career that never took her as far as she could have gone, and a most unhappy personal
life. She deserved better.
Rick Jason and Faith Domergue in 'This is My Love' for RKO
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