Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner

Infobox actor
bgcolour = silver
name = Ava Gardner

caption = from "The Barefoot Contessa" (1954)
imagesize = 230px
birthname = Ava Lavinia Gardner
birthdate = birth date|1922|12|24|mf=y
location = Brogden, North Carolina, USA
deathdate = death date and age|1990|1|25|1922|12|24
deathplace = Westminster, London, England, UK
yearsactive = 1941 - 1986
spouse = Mickey Rooney (1942-1943)
Artie Shaw (1945-1946)
Frank Sinatra (1951-1957)

Ava Lavinia Gardner (December 24, 1922January 25, 1990) was an Academy Award-nominated American actress. She is listed as one of the American Film Institute's greatest stars of all time.


Early years

Ava Gardner was born in 1922 in the small community farming community of Grabtown also known as Brogden, Johnston County, North Carolina near Smithfield, N.C., the youngest of seven children (she had two brothers; Raymond and Melvin, and four sisters; Beatrice, Elsie Mae, Inez and Myra) of poor cotton and tobacco farmers; her mother, Molly, was a Baptist of Scots-Irish and English descent, while her father, Jonas Bailey Gardner, was a Catholic of Irish American and American Indian (Tuscarora) descent. When the children were still young, the Gardners lost their property, forcing Jonas Gardner to work at a sawmill and Molly to begin working as a cook and housekeeper at a dormitory for teachers at the nearby Brogden School.

When Gardner was thirteen years old, the family decided to try their luck in a bigger town, Newport News, Virginia, where Molly Gardner found work managing a boardinghouse for the city's many shipworkers. That job did not last long, and the family moved to the Rock Ridge suburb of Wilson, North Carolina, where Molly Gardner ran another boarding house. Gardner's father died of bronchitis in 1935. Gardner and some of her siblings 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.

Gardner, who by age eighteen had become a stunning, green-eyed brunette, was visiting her sister Beatrice 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.

Early career

In 1941, 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. 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 voice coach, as her Carolina drawl was nearly incomprehensible. [Cannon, Dorris Rollins, "Grabtown Girl: Ava Gardner's North Carolina Childhood and Her Enduring Ties to Home" ISBN 1-878086-89-8]

Oscar nomination

Gardner was nominated for an Academy Award for "Mogambo" (1953); however she lost to Audrey Hepburn for "Roman Holiday". Many thought Gardner's finest performance was as Maxine Faulk in "The Night of the Iguana" (1964), for which she was not nominated. (Grayson Hall, as the repressed Judith Fellowes, however, was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category).

Other films include "The Hucksters" (1947), "Showboat" (1951), "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (1952), 1954's "The Barefoot Contessa" (which some consider to be her "signature film" which mirrored her real life custom of going barefoot), Bhowani Junction (1956), "The Sun Also Rises" in which she played party-girl "Brett Ashley", 1957), and the film version of Neville Shute's best-selling "On the Beach", co-starring Gregory Peck.

"Off-camera, she gave off sparks of wit, as in her assessment of John Ford, who directed her in "Mogambo": 'The meanest man on earth. Thoroughly evil. Adored him!'" [ [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/29/AR2006062901477.html] "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; Page BW08, "One Woman Riot" section, reviewing Lee Server's "Ava Gardner: 'Love Is Nothing'"]

Later life

She moved to London, England in 1968, undergoing a hysterectomy to allay her worries of contracting the uterine cancer that had killed her mother. That year she made what some consider to be one of her best films, a Technicolor, English-language remake of "Mayerling", in which she played the Austrian Empress Elisabeth opposite James Mason as Emperor Franz Joseph.

Marriages and relationships

Mickey Rooney

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. Gardner made several movies before 1946, but it wasn't until she starred in "The Killers" opposite Burt Lancaster, that she became known as a movie star and sex symbol. (Rooney and Gardner divorced in 1943, mainly because Rooney wouldn't give up his partying ways). Rooney later rhapsodized about Gardner's performance in bed, though upon hearing this Gardner retorted "Well, honey, he may have enjoyed the sex, but [goodness knows] I didn't." She once characterised their marriage as "Love Finds Andy Hardy".

Artie Shaw

Her second marriage was to jazz musician and band leader Artie Shaw, from 1945 to 1946 and it was even more disastrous than the first. It was during this marriage that Gardner began to drink and take refuge in therapy.

Frank Sinatra

Her third and last marriage (1951-1957) was to singer and actor Frank Sinatra. Sinatra left his wife, Nancy, for Ava and their subsequent marriage made headlines. Sinatra was savaged by gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the Hollywood establishment, and by his fans for leaving his "good wife" for this exotic "femme fatale". His career suffered, while Gardner's prospered -- the headlines only solidified her sexy screen siren image. The marriage to Sinatra was stormy -- passionate fighting, jealousy, at least one suicide attempt (by Sinatra), and numerous separations.

Gardner used her considerable clout 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. Gardner said of her relationship with Sinatra, "We were great in bed. It was usually on the way to the bidet when the trouble began." (This quote inspired the song "Frank and Ava" by Suzanne Vega.) During their marriage Gardner became pregnant, but she had an abortion due to the volatility of her marriage. She had always wanted children, but she said years later, "We couldn't even take care of ourselves. How were we going to take care of a baby?" Gardner and Sinatra remained good friends for the rest of her life.

Howard Hughes

She began dating billionaire aviator Howard Hughes in the early to mid-1940s, a relationship that lasted into the 1950s.

Ernest Hemingway

She divorced Sinatra in 1957 and headed to Spain where her friendship with famed writer Ernest Hemingway led to her becoming a fan of bullfighting and bullfighters such as Luis Miguel Dominguín (who was currently with China Machado), with whom she had a tempestuous affair. "It was a sort of madness, honey", she said later of the time.

Final years

After a lifetime of smoking, Gardner suffered from emphysema, in addition to an autoimmune disorder (which may have been lupus). After two strokes in 1986, which left her partially paralyzed and bedridden, Frank Sinatra paid the cost of her ($50,000) medical expenses. Her last words (to her housekeeper Carmen), were, "I'm so tired", before she died of pneumonia at the age of 67. After her death, one of Frank Sinatra's daughters found him slumped in his room, crying, and unable to speak. Gardner was not only the love of his life but also the inspiration for one of his most personal and magical songs, "I'm a Fool to Want You", recorded after their separation. Reportedly, a lone black limousine parked behind the crowd of 500 mourners at Ava's funeral. No one exited the vehicle, but it was assumed that the anonymous mourner was indeed Frank Sinatra. A floral arrangement at Gardner's graveside simply read: "With My Love, Francis".


Gardner was buried in the Sunset Memorial Park, Smithfield, North Carolina, next to her brothers and their much-loved parents, Jonah (1878-1938) and Mollie Gardner (1883-1943). The town of Smithfield now has an Ava Gardner Museum.


*"Shadow of the Thin Man" (1941)
*"H. M. Pulham, Esq." (1941)
*"Babes on Broadway" (1941)
*"Joe Smith, American" (1942)
*"This Time for Keeps" (1942)
*"Kid Glove Killer" (1942)
*"Sunday Punch" (1942)
*"Calling Dr. Gillespie" (1942)
*"Reunion in France" (1942)
*"Hitler's Madman" (1943)
*"Ghosts on the Loose" (1943)
*"Young Ideas" (1943)
*"DuBarry Was a Lady" (1943)
*"Swing Fever" (1943)
*"Lost Angel" (1943)
*"Two Girls and a Sailor" (1944)
*"Three Men in White" (1944)
*"Maisie Goes to Reno" (1944)
*"Blonde Fever" (1944)
*"She Went to the Races" (1945)
*"Whistle Stop" (1946)
*"The Killers" (1946)
*"Singapore" (1947)
*"The Hucksters" (1947)
*"One Touch of Venus" (1948)
*"The Bribe" (1949)
*"The Great Sinner" (1949)
*"East Side, West Side" (1949)
*"Pandora and the Flying Dutchman" (1951)
*"My Forbidden Past" (1951)
*"Show Boat" (1951)
*"Lone Star" (1952)
*"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (1952)
*"Ride, Vaquero!" (1953)
*"The Band Wagon" (1953) (Cameo)
*"Mogambo" (1953)
*"Knights of the Round Table" (1954)
*"The Barefoot Contessa" (1954)
*"Bhowani Junction" (1956)
*"The Little Hut" (1957)
*"The Sun Also Rises" (1957)
*"The Naked Maja" (1958)
*"On the Beach" (1959)
*"The Angel Wore Red" (1960)
*"55 Days at Peking" (1963)
*"Seven Days in May" (1964)
*"The Night of the Iguana" (1964)
*"" (1966)
*"Mayerling" (1968)
*"Tam-Lin" (1970)
*"The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" (1972)
*"Earthquake" (1974)
*"Permission to Kill" (1975)
*"The Blue Bird" (1976)
*"The Cassandra Crossing" (1976)
*"The Sentinel" (1977)
*"City on Fire" (1979)
*"The Kidnapping of the President" (1980)
*"Priest of Love" (1981)
*"Regina Roma" (1982)

hort Subjects

*"Fancy Answers" (1941)
*"We Do It Because" (1942)
*"Mighty Lak a Goat" (1942)
*"Some of the Best" (1949)
*"On the Trail of the Iguana" (1964)
*"Vienna: The Years Remembered" (1968)


External links

* [http://www.avagardner.org/ Ava Gardner Museum]

NAME=Gardner, Ava
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Gardner, Ava Lavinia
SHORT DESCRIPTION=American actress
DATE OF BIRTH=December 24, 1922
PLACE OF BIRTH=Brogden, North Carolina
DATE OF DEATH=January 25, 1990
PLACE OF DEATH=London, England

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