Ava Gardner

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Ava Gardner
Eiganotomo-avagardner-dec1953.jpg
a 1953 publicity photo
BornAva Lavinia Gardner
(1922-12-24)December 24, 1922
Smithfield, North Carolina, U.S.
DiedJanuary 25, 1990(1990-01-25) (aged 67)
Westminster, London, England
Cause of death
Pneumonia
Resting place
Sunset Memorial Park
ResidenceEnnismore Gardens
EducationRock Ridge High School
Alma materAtlantic Christian College
OccupationActress
Years active1941–1986
Spouse(s)Mickey Rooney (1942–1943)
Artie Shaw (1945–1946)
Frank Sinatra (1951–1957)
 
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Ava Gardner
Eiganotomo-avagardner-dec1953.jpg
a 1953 publicity photo
BornAva Lavinia Gardner
(1922-12-24)December 24, 1922
Smithfield, North Carolina, U.S.
DiedJanuary 25, 1990(1990-01-25) (aged 67)
Westminster, London, England
Cause of death
Pneumonia
Resting place
Sunset Memorial Park
ResidenceEnnismore Gardens
EducationRock Ridge High School
Alma materAtlantic Christian College
OccupationActress
Years active1941–1986
Spouse(s)Mickey Rooney (1942–1943)
Artie Shaw (1945–1946)
Frank Sinatra (1951–1957)

Ava Lavinia Gardner (December 24, 1922 – January 25, 1990) was an American actress. She was signed to a contract by MGM Studios in 1941 and appeared mainly in small roles until she drew attention with her performance in The Killers (1946). She became one of Hollywood's leading actresses and is considered one of the most beautiful women to have ever worked in cinema.[citation needed] She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in Mogambo (1953).

She appeared in several high-profile films from the 1950s to 1970s, including The Hucksters (1947), Show Boat (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), The Barefoot Contessa (1954), Bhowani Junction (1956), On the Beach (1959), Seven Days in May (1964), The Night of the Iguana (1964), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), Earthquake (1974), and The Cassandra Crossing (1976). Gardner continued to act regularly until 1986, four years before her death in London in 1990 at the age of 67.

She is listed 25th among the American Film Institute's Greatest Female Stars.[1]

Early years[edit]

Gardner was born in the farming community of Smithfield, Johnston County, North Carolina, the youngest of seven children (she had two brothers, Raymond and Melvin, and four sisters, Beatrice, Elsie Mae, Inez, and Myra). Her parents, Mary Elizabeth "Mollie" (née Baker) and Jonas Bailey Gardner, were poor cotton and tobacco farmers. Her ancestry was said to include Scots-Irish, English, Irish, French Huguenot, and Native American (Tuscarora).[2][3][4] She was raised as a Baptist. While the children still were young, the Gardners lost their property, forcing Jonas Gardner to work at a sawmill and Mollie to begin working as a cook and housekeeper at a dormitory for teachers at the nearby Brogden School.

When Gardner was seven years old, the family decided to try their luck in a larger city, Newport News, Virginia, where Mollie Gardner found work managing a boarding house for the city's many shipworkers. While in Newport News, Gardner's father became ill and died from bronchitis in 1938, when Ava was 15 years old. After Jonas Gardner's death, the family moved to Rock Ridge near Wilson, North Carolina, where Mollie Gardner ran another boarding house for teachers. Gardner attended high school in Rock Ridge and she graduated from there in 1939. She then attended secretarial classes at Atlantic Christian College in Wilson for about a year.

Early career[edit]

in My Forbidden Past (1951)

Gardner was visiting her sister Beatrice ("Bappie") in New York in 1941 when Beatrice's husband Larry Tarr, a professional photographer, offered to take her portrait. He was so pleased with the results that he displayed the finished product in the front window of his Tarr Photography Studio on Fifth Avenue.[citation needed] A Loews Theatres legal clerk, Barnard "Barney" Duhan, spotted Gardner's photo in Tarr's studio. At the time, Duhan often posed as an MGM talent scout to meet girls, using the fact that MGM was a subsidiary of Loews. Duhan entered Tarr's and tried to get Gardner's number, but was rebuffed by the receptionist. Duhan made the offhand comment, "Somebody should send her info to MGM", and the Tarrs did so immediately. Shortly after, Gardner, who at the time was a student at Atlantic Christian College, traveled to New York to be interviewed at MGM's New York office by Al Altman, head of MGM's New York talent department. With cameras rolling, he directed the eighteen-year-old to walk towards the camera, turn and walk away, then rearrange some flowers in a vase. He did not attempt to record her voice because her Southern accent made it almost impossible for him to understand her. Though Al thought Ava the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, he believed the test was a disaster and was completely surprised by what he saw in the screening room. Onscreen she was magnetic. The camera loved her. He sent the test to Hollywood. Louis B. Mayer, head of the studio, sent a telegram to Al: "She can't sing, she can't act, she can't talk, She's terrific!" She was offered a standard contract by MGM, and left school for Hollywood in 1941 with her sister Bappie accompanying her. MGM's first order of business was to provide her a speech coach, as her Carolina drawl was nearly incomprehensible to them.[5]

Career[edit]

After five years of bit parts, mostly at MGM and many of them uncredited, Gardner came to prominence in the Mark Hellinger-produced smash hit film noir The Killers (1946).

The Killers (1946)

Other films include The Hucksters (1947), Show Boat (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), Lone Star (1952), Mogambo (1953), The Barefoot Contessa (1954), Bhowani Junction (1956), The Sun Also Rises (1957), and On the Beach (1959).

Off-camera, she could be witty and pithy, as in her assessment of director John Ford, who directed Mogambo ("The meanest man on earth. Thoroughly evil. Adored him!")[6]

As torch singer-on-the-make Jean Ogilvie in 1947's The Hucksters, doing some selling of her own to radio ad-man Clark Gable

She found herself billed between Charlton Heston and David Niven in 55 Days at Peking in 1963, a lavish version of the Chinese revolt against foreign control during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The following year, she played her last great leading role in a superlative film, The Night of the Iguana (1964), based upon a Tennessee Williams play and starring Richard Burton as an atheist clergyman and Deborah Kerr as a gentle artist traveling with her aged poet grandfather. John Huston directed the movie in Puerto Vallarta Mexico, insisting on making the film in black and white, a decision he later regretted because of the vivid colors of the flora. Gardner received billing below Burton but above Deborah Kerr. Gardner was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe award for her hearty performance in this signature role. She next appeared again with Lancaster, this time along with Kirk Douglas and Fredric March, in Seven Days in May (1964), a taut thriller about an attempted military takeover of the US government.

Two years later, in 1966, Gardner briefly sought the role of Mrs. Robinson in Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967). She reportedly called Nichols and said, "I want to see you! I want to talk about this Graduate thing!" Nichols never seriously considered her for the part, preferring to cast a younger woman (Anne Bancroft was 36 while Gardner was 45), but he did visit her hotel, where he later recounted that "she sat at a little French desk with a telephone, she went through every movie star cliché. She said, 'All right, let's talk about your movie. First of all, I strip for nobody.'"[7]

Gardner moved to London, England in 1968, undergoing an elective hysterectomy to allay her worries of contracting the uterine cancer that had claimed the life of her own mother. That year, she made what some consider to be one of her best films, Mayerling, in which she played the supporting role of Austrian Empress Elisabeth of Austria opposite James Mason as Emperor Franz Joseph I.

Mogambo (1953)

She appeared in a number of disaster films throughout the 1970s, notably Earthquake (1974) with Charlton Heston, The Cassandra Crossing (1976), and the Canadian movie City on Fire (1979). She also appeared briefly as Lillie Langtry at the end of The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) with Paul Newman and Jacqueline Bisset, and in The Blue Bird (1976) with Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Fonda.

Her last movie was Regina Roma (1982), a direct-to-video release. In the 1980s she acted primarily on television, including the mini-series remake of The Long Hot Summer (1985) and the prime-time soap opera Knots Landing, also in 1985. In 1986 she appeared in her two final projects, the TV movies Harem and Maggie.

Personal life[edit]

Marriages[edit]

Soon after her arrival in Los Angeles, Gardner met fellow MGM contract player Mickey Rooney. They married on January 10, 1942, in Ballard, California; she was 19 years old and he was 21; they divorced in 1943.

Gardner's second marriage was brief as well, to jazz musician and bandleader Artie Shaw, from 1945 to 1946. Shaw had previously been married to Lana Turner.

Gardner's third and last marriage was to singer and actor Frank Sinatra, from 1951 to 1957. She would later say in her autobiography that he was the love of her life. Sinatra left his wife, Nancy, for Gardner and their subsequent marriage made headlines. Sinatra was blasted by gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the Hollywood establishment, the Roman Catholic Church, and by his fans for leaving his wife for a noted femme fatale. Gardner used her considerable influence, particularly with Harry Cohn's wife, to get Sinatra cast in his Oscar-winning role in From Here to Eternity (1953). That role and the award revitalized both Sinatra's acting and singing careers.

The Gardner–Sinatra marriage was tumultuous. Gardner confided to Artie Shaw, her second husband, that “With him [Frank] it’s impossible...it’s like being with a woman. He’s so gentle. It’s as though he thinks I’ll break, as though I’m a piece of Dresden china and he’s gonna hurt me.” [8] During their marriage Gardner became pregnant twice, but she had two abortions. "MGM had all sorts of penalty clauses about their stars having babies," she said.[9] She said years later, "We couldn't even take care of ourselves. How were we going to take care of a baby?"[citation needed] Gardner and Sinatra remained good friends for the rest of her life.

Relationships[edit]

Gardner became a friend of businessman and aviator Howard Hughes in the early- to mid-1940s, and the relationship lasted into the 1950s. Gardner stated in her autobiography, Ava: My Story, that she was never in love with Howard Hughes, but he was in and out of her life for about twenty years. Hughes's trust in Gardner was what kept their relationship alive. She describes him as "painfully shy, completely enigmatic and more eccentric...than anyone [she] had ever met." [10]


After Gardner divorced Sinatra in 1957, she headed for Spain, where she began a friendship with writer Ernest Hemingway (she had starred in his The Sun Also Rises that year). While staying with Hemingway at his villa in San Francisco de Paula in Havana, Cuba, Gardner once swam alone without a swimsuit in his pool. After watching her, Hemingway ordered to his staff: "The water is not to be emptied."[11] Her friendship with Hemingway led to her becoming a fan of bullfighting and bullfighters, such as Luis Miguel Dominguín, who became her lover. "It was a sort of madness, honey," she later said of the time.[citation needed]

Gardner was also involved in a relationship with her live-in boyfriend and companion, American actor Benjamin Tatar, who worked in Spain as a foreign-language dubbing director.[12] Tatar later wrote an autobiography in which he discussed his relationship with Gardner, though the book was never published.[12]

Death[edit]

After a lifetime of smoking, Gardner suffered from emphysema, as well as an unidentified auto-immune disorder. Two strokes in 1986 left her partially paralyzed and bedridden. Although Gardner could afford her medical expenses, Sinatra wanted to pay for her visit to a specialist in the United States, and she allowed him to make the arrangements for a medically staffed private plane. Her last words (to her housekeeper, Carmen) were reportedly "I'm so tired," before she died of pneumonia at the age of 67, at her London home, 34 Ennismore Gardens, where she had lived since 1968.[citation needed]

Gardner was buried in the Sunset Memorial Park, Smithfield, North Carolina, next to her brothers and their parents, Jonas (1878–1938) and Mollie Gardner (1883–1943). The town of Smithfield now has an Ava Gardner Museum.[citation needed]

Book[edit]

In the last years of her life, Gardner asked Peter Evans to ghostwrite her autobiography, stating, "I either write the book or sell the jewels." Despite meeting with Evans frequently and approving of most of his copy, Gardner eventually learned that Evans, along with the BBC, had once been sued by her ex-husband Frank Sinatra. Gardner and Evans's friendship subsequently cooled and Evans left the project. Evans's notes and sections of his draft of Gardner's autobiography, which he based on their taped conversations, were published in the book Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations after Evans's death in 2012.

Award nominations[edit]

Gardner was nominated for an Academy Award for Mogambo (1953); the award was won by Audrey Hepburn for Roman Holiday. Her performance as Maxine Faulk in The Night of the Iguana (1964) was well reviewed, and she was nominated for a BAFTA Award and a Golden Globe.

Film portrayals[edit]

Gardner has been portrayed by Marcia Gay Harden in the 1992 TV mini-series Sinatra; Deborah Kara Unger in HBO's 1998 television movie The Rat Pack; Kate Beckinsale in the 2004 Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator; and Anna Drijver in the 2012 Italian TV film Walter Chiari - Fino all'ultima risata.[13] (Strangely for a Martin Scorsese film, The Aviator commits a huge mistake by showing Hughes escorting her to the premiere of the 1939 movie The Women—a full two years before she even arrived in Hollywood.)

Filmography[edit]

Film
YearTitleRoleNotes
1941Fancy AnswersGirl at RecitalShort film
Uncredited
1941Strange TestamentWaitressUncredited
1941Shadow of the Thin ManPasserbyUncredited
1941H.M. Pulham, Esq.Young SocialiteUncredited
1941Babes on BroadwayAudience memberUncredited
1942Joe Smith, AmericanMiss Maynard, SecretaryUncredited
1942We Do It Because-Lucretia BorgiaShort film
Uncredited
1942This Time for KeepsGirl in car lighting cigaretteUncredited
1942Kid Glove KillerCar HopUncredited
1942Sunday PunchRingsiderUncredited
1942Calling Dr. GillespieGraduating student at Miss Hope'sUncredited
1942Mighty Lak a GoatGirl at the Bijou box officeShort film
1942Reunion in FranceMarie, a salesgirlUncredited
1943Hitler's MadmanFranciska Pritric, a StudentUncredited
1943Ghosts on the LooseBetty
1943Young IdeasCo-edUncredited
1943Du Barry Was a LadyPerfume GirlUncredited
1943Swing FeverReceptionistUncredited
1943Lost Angel (film)Hat Check GirlUncredited
1944Two Girls and a SailorDream GirlUncredited
1944Three Men in WhiteJean Brown
1944Maisie Goes to RenoGloria Fullerton
1944Blonde FeverBit RoleUncredited
1945She Went to the RacesHilda Spotts
1946Whistle StopMary
1946The KillersKitty Collins
1947SingaporeLinda Grahame/Ann Van Leyden
1947The HuckstersJean Ogilvie
1948One Touch of VenusVenus
1949The BribeElizabeth Hintten
1949The Great SinnerPauline Ostrovsky
1949East Side, West SideIsabel Lorrison
1951Pandora and the Flying DutchmanPandora Reynolds
1951My Forbidden PastBarbara Beaurevel
1951Show BoatJulie LaVerne
1952Lone StarMartha Ronda
1952The Snows of KilimanjaroCynthia Green
1953Knights of the Round TableGuinevere
1953Ride, Vaquero!Cordelia Cameron
1953The Band WagonHerself
1953MogamboHoney Bear KellyNominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
1954The Barefoot ContessaMaria Vargas
1956Bhowani JunctionVictoria JonesNominated — BAFTA for Best Foreign Actress
1957The Little HutLady Susan Ashlow
1957The Sun Also RisesLady Brett Ashley
1958The Naked MajaMaria Cayetana, Duchess of Alba
1959On the BeachMoira DavidsonNominated — BAFTA for Best Foreign Actress
1960The Angel Wore RedSoledad
196355 Days at PekingBaroness Natalie Ivanoff
1964Seven Days in MayEleanor Holbrook
1964The Night of the IguanaMaxine FaulkNominated — BAFTA for Best Foreign Actress
Nominated — Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama
1966The Bible: In the BeginningSarah
1968MayerlingEmpress Elizabeth
1970Tam-LinMichaela Cazaret
1972The Life and Times of Judge Roy BeanLily Langtry
1974EarthquakeRemy Royce-Graff
1975Permission to KillKatina Petersen
1976The Blue BirdLuxury
1976The Cassandra CrossingNicole Dressler
1977The SentinelMiss Logan
1979City on FireMaggie Grayson
1980The Kidnapping of the PresidentBeth Richards
1981Priest of LoveMabel Dodge Luhan
1982Regina RomaMama
Television
YearTitleRoleNotes
1985A.D.AgrippinaMiniseries
1985Knots LandingRuth Galveston7 episodes
1985The Long Hot SummerMinnie LittlejohnTelevision film
1986HaremKadinTelevision film
1986MaggieDiane WebbTelevision film

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://connect.afi.com/site/DocServer/stars50.pdf?docID=262
  2. ^ Server, Lee (2007-05-15). Ava Gardner: "Love is Nothing". ISBN 9780312312107. 
  3. ^ Ava Gardner 1940s, The Pop History Dig
  4. ^ Ava Gardner, TCM website
  5. ^ Cannon, Dorris Rollins, Grabtown Girl: Ava Gardner's North Carolina Childhood and Her Enduring Ties to Home; ISBN 1-878086-89-8
  6. ^ Washington Post article, "Movie Stars: The odd and amazing careers of Ava Gardner, Barbra Streisand, Patricia Neal and Ed Sullivan", short reviews by Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post Book World, Sunday, July 2, 2006
  7. ^ Harris, Mark. Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of New Hollywood. New York: Penguin Books, 2008, pg. 238
  8. ^ Kaplan, James, Frank The Voice, Doubleday, 2010, p. 416
  9. ^ Gardner, Ava. Ava: My Story. New York: Bantam, 1990.
  10. ^ Gardner, Ava. Ava: My Story. New York: Bantam Books, n.d. Print.
  11. ^ Gail Bell. "Ghost Writers", The Monthly (March 2010).
  12. ^ a b Sabatini, Patricia (2012-12-02). "Obituary: Benjamin Tatar/Actor was Jackie Gleason's aide, lived with Ava Gardner January 23, 1930 - November 29, 2012". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2012-12-24. 
  13. ^ site (Italian) [1].

"Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations"

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]