The morning of Jan. 10, 1942, in the small town of Ballard deep in California’s Santa Ynez Mountains, Ava Gardner wed the first of her three husbands, Mickey Rooney.
The bride, the first of Rooney’s eight wives, was a 19-year-old virgin not long off a low-rent tobacco farm in North Carolina. At 21, he was MGM’s biggest star — bigger, even, than Clark Gable.
The remote location of the ceremony was deliberate as was the fact that the wedding party was kept to a minimum. MGM boss Louis B. Mayer worried that marriage might dent Rooney’s box office power among love struck adolescent girls. The less publicity the better.
The bride fretted about how she’d perform on her wedding night.
Hello, everybody. Your classic movie guys, considering again Ava and her initial hubby, a union that still mystifies. Our recent blogs about Gardner’s husbands drew some reader mail particularly wondering about her choice of Rooney as spouse No. 1.
Our reader Dawn wrote: It stills baffles me that she ever married.. Mickey Rooney.
His MGM star Esther Williams wondered about the very same thing. She wrote in her autobiography — The Million Dollar Mermaid, coauthored by Digby Diehl — that she found Ava’s marriage to the diminutive Rooney (all of 5-feet-2-inches tall) “absolutely unimaginable, at least from a physical point of view.” For the record, Ava stood four inches taller than Rooney, without heels.
Since we’ve unearthed new information about the Ava-Mick marriage, we thought we’d revisit the topic and tell you once and for all about what drew the blushing bride to been-around-the-block husband.
As we’ve previously noted, Ava explained in her newly published Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations, coauthored by Peter Evans (Simon & Schuster) that when she first met Rooney, Ava was put off by his shortness. But there was definitely something appealing about him. He had thick, red-blond wavy hair, crinkly Irish green eyes and a grin that was…well, it definitely wasn’t innocent, honey, I can tell that!
It certainly wasn’t. By the time he married Ava, the Mick had accumulated a considerable amount of sexual experience, which came in handy on their marriage’s opening night. It was a perfect wedding night, Ava told coauthor Evans, despite her shyness.
But I caught on quickly. Very quickly. I enjoyed the whole thing thoroughly. Mickey was tender, actually he was sweet. He couldn’t have been a better first lover for a lady. He’d been around quite a bit, of course — and marriage didn’t stop him for very long either.
Whatever his addictions to gambling at race tracks, golf, drinking, night club hopping and hamming it up for his buddies, Rooney felt about Ava as she did about him. Mick and I were crazy in love although we were still almost strangers to each other when we married.
As she put it, we were two young kids having a whale of a time…We were discovering new things about each other all the time…Like he was athletic in the sack, and I was pretty verbal, and we were both very, very loud.
Sex was the the basis of the union. The problem was his infidelity. Hospitalized for a spell after an appendectomy, Ava returned to the couple’s apartment to discover evidence that Mick had been screwing somebody in our bed…That ain’t a very nice thing for a nineteen-year-old bride, quite pretty too, to discover.
There had, in fact, been quite a bit of philandering around on his part. His “little black book” was filled with the numbers of willing female partners. He was just a lecherous sod who loved getting his rocks off, is how Ava put it.
Despite being “madly in love,” Ava said she decided to end the marriage. By January 15,1943 — one year and five days after their nuptials — the couple formally separated. By the following May, the marriage was over.
But after the separation and before the final divorce decree, Gardner and Rooney continued on intimate terms. After all, we were still married and the sex was legal — and still pretty good, thank God. There was no point in giving that up just because we were semi-detached.