We enjoy receiving reader emails, and enjoy blog suggestions from readers even more. Thus, while thrashing around for this week’s Star of the Week, we were especially pleased to receive this timely recommendation from reader Samuel Cochran:
Dear Joe and Frank,
I recently watched ‘The Egyptian’ and read the IMDB bio on Bella Darvi. Talk about Hollywood Babylon! You might want to do a piece on her, extra scandalous of course.
Always a big fan.
Samuel, you are our kinda guy.
What better than to merge our fascination with vintage Hollywood ‘bad girls’ with our interest in genuine stars? Ok, we suspect that the name Bella Darvi (far more bad girl than star) does not immediately ring a bell.
Your “who dat” is perfectly understandable given that her movie career lasted metaphorically for all of 10 minutes back in the Fifties. It was her connection to Twentieth Century Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck that made her off-screen hijinks far more notable that her onscreen appearances.
Of Polish-French descent, Darvi was born Bella Wegier in 1928 in Poland, and first met Zanuck and his wife Virginia in Paris in 1952. By then she had spent time in a concentration camp, had ripped through a two-year marriage to rich businessman Alban Cavalade, and had drawn to herself a fair amount of attention at the Riviera resorts the couple had formerly frequented. Now, she was both beautiful and single.
What is interesting is that while Zanuck was immediately charmed, so too was his wife. According to the mogul’s biographer Mel Gussow, Bella became something of a best friend and favorite niece. Big mistake.
Unbeknownst to Virginia Zanuck, her husband’s affair with Darvi began on that same Paris trip. The couple met in out-of-the-way cafes with Darvi asking (and receiving) cash to pay off back debts. What the Fox boss may not have fully appreciated was Darvi’s history as a profligate gambler and hard drinking party girl.
Be that as it may, Zanuck and his still clueless wife invited Darvi to visit their Santa Monica beach house, which she did in November, 1952. What followed was, in retrospect, even stranger. Darvi was introduced to various Hollywood/Beverly Hills luminaries culminating in Zanuck’s announcement that Darvi was to take a screen test — which she passed.
We know that because it was about at this time that Fox changed her name. Also, the studio’s publicity machinery suddenly was cranked up.
A 1953 story in New York’s Journal American read: A newly-arrived French doll by the name of Bella Darvi , who has a voice like Marlene Dietrich, eyes like Simone Simone and the allure of Corinne Calvet is hitting Hollywood with the impact of TNT.
She’s got zip, zoom and zowie and in parlez-vous she’s ravissante, chi chi and tres elegante. In any language, that’s hot stuff.
Well, maybe, but Darvi’s only substantial Hollywood movies (all from Fox, of course) were just three: 1954’s The Egyptian, a costume spectacular starring Victor Mature and Jean Simmons, and the same year’s Hell and High Water with Richard Widmark. In 1955, she costarred with Kirk Douglas in The Racers. The remainder of her career-long 17 movie and TV credits were largely European in origin.
Darvi’s American activities were sharply curtailed when Mrs. Zanuck finally found out about her husband’s affair, and kicked her out of the California beach house. Not long after Zanuck separated from his wife (although they remained formally married).
Darvi went on to expand her romantic horizons to affairs with an array of notable names from actor Jean-Pierre Aumont to Robert Stack to Prince Aly Khan. Her gambling problems (which she blamed on Zanuck) escalated as did her drinking.
In the spring of 1968, Darvi attempted suicide, overdosing on barbiturates. She recovered at a friend’s house in the South of France. She certainly did not look like the face that launched a mogul, that broke up a marriage, than turned a movie studio upside down, wrote Gussow. She looked like an international playgirl very much out of luck.
On Sept. 1971, Darvi stuck her had in an oven in Monaco, and turned on the gas. This time, no one rescued her. She was just 42.