By Adam Bernstein
Denise Darcel, the buxom French-born chanteuse and actress who gained
screen popularity in the early 1950s playing opposite some of
Hollywood’s most popular leading men, died Dec. 23 at a hospital in
Her family told the Associated Press that she had complications from
an emergency surgery to repair a ruptured aneurysm. She was 87.
“France’s gift to the sweater brigade,” as Ms. Darcel was once dubbed,
saw her brief stardom propelled largely by her cantilevered charms.
After a brief nightclub career in France, she began winning sensuous
roles in Hollywood movies. She stood out as the only woman in William
Wellman’s acclaimed war drama, “Battleground” (1949).
She played a peasant woman who invites a group of battle-weary GIs to
her home for a meal. She drew attention for a scene that called on her
to press a loaf of bread to her bosom and, wielding a large knife,
aggressively saw ample slices for the men billeted in her home.
The next year, she was given a featured role on Broadway in the Olsen
and Johnson revue “Pardon My French” as a nightclub singer who speaks
in fractured English. Ms. Darcel was soon elevated to starring roles
in tepid movie dramas such as “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950) with
Lex Barker and the Wellman-directed “Westward the Women” (1951),
starring Robert Taylor as the leader of a wagon train filled with
New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther called Ms. Darcel, playing
a character named Fifi Danon, “just a little too hootchy-kootchy to
sell belief in the ruggedness of dames, especially when she melts down
Mr. Taylor after he has given her a couple of whacks in the face.”
She was an ambitious cabaret singer in the comedy “Young Man With
Ideas” (1952), starring Glenn Ford, and played a countess transporting
a gold shipment in “Vera Cruz” (1954), a 19th-century adventure
drama set in Mexico and featuring Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster.
In 1953, Ms. Darcel starred in another historical drama, “Flame of
Calcutta” and had a supporting role in the Esther Williams musical
“Dangerous When Wet.” Her final film appearance was in the
undernourished drama “Seven Women From Hell” (1961), set amid a
Japanese prison camp during World War II.
A baker’s daughter, Denise Billecard was born in Paris on Sept. 8,
1924. She was working as a dime-store cashier when she won a beauty
contest. She was subsequently promoted as “the most photographed girl
After her movie career faded, Ms. Darcel popped up occasionally on
television and in nightclubs and, for a while, turned to striptease
work. She later appeared in community theater.
Her marriages to William Shaw, Peter Crosby and Richard Vance ended in
divorce. Her fourth husband, George Simpson Jr., died in 2003.
Survivors include two sons.
Early in her career, Ms. Darcel said she had conflicts with a
Hollywood designer who bowed to a censor’s wishes and made her a dress
that covered her trademark features. She told the Associated Press
that, while the dowdy dress frustrated her, “Maybe some of the fans
will discover I have a face, too.”
DARCEL, Denise (Denise Billecard)
Born: 9/8/1925, Paris, Ile-de-France, France
Died: 12/23/2011, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Denise Darcel’s westerns – actress:
Thunder in the Pines – 1948 (Yvette Cheron)
Westward the Women – 1951 (Fifi Danon)
Vera Cruz – 1954 (Countess Marie Duvarre)