Again, we pose the question: is Ava Gardner more interesting today because of the men she married than for the movies she made?
As discussed in Friday’s blog, one of Hollywood’s absolutely most beautiful actresses ever made some pretty good movies (see below) while at the same time wedding some pretty famous men. Which are more remembered, the movies or the men?
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to tie up our consideration of Gardner — wife of the famous and famous movie star in her own right.
What gives her marriages some currency is the forthcoming publication of Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations by the late Peter Evans, which is previewed in the July issue of Vanity Fair. (Legal issues relating to Sinatra prevented publication earlier; Evans died in August 2012.)
The Evans interviews with Ava are just now surfacing. OK, let’s get to what Gardner says about those famous husbands:
— Mickey Rooney (husband number one, 1942 to 1943) first spotted the 19-year-old Gardner (still a virgin) on the MGM lot in 1941, when “Mickey was bigger than Gable.” He later told Ava, “I wanted to fuck you the moment I saw you.” Rooney was “catnip to the ladies…all five foot two of him.” The marriage was opposed by studio boss Louis B.Mayer, but Rooney refused to back down and wed Gardner anyway. “It shows the power — and the guts — Mickey had to stand up to him the way he did.” The marriage was marked by club hopping, some serious drinking and Rooney’s extra-marital flings, which he flaunted in front of Ava one drunken night at the Cocoanut Grove. “That was it! I left”
— Artie Shaw (husband number two, 1945 to 1946) was “difficult, he was complex, but I was stuck on him. To tell the truth, I was always a little afraid of him…not physically…I was afraid of his mind.” The intellectual clarinetist and bandleader would belittle Gardner, pushing her to “improve” herself via correspondent courses at the Univ. of California (she did well, B-pluses all round). Shaw would finally ditch Ava and marry Kathleen Winsor, “the woman who wrote Forever Amber — ‘a fucking potboiler,’ (Shaw) called it.”
— Frank Sinatra (third and final husband, 1951 to 1957) affectionately called her “Angel,” and despite the tempestuousness of their union, they remained close friends for as long they lived. They met in the MGM commissary, and Ava thought, “Jesus, he was like a god in those days, if gods can be sexy.” They married on Nov. 7, 1951, a day, said Ava, “that will live infamy…it was too soon” (just days after his divorce from first wife, Nancy Sinatra, became final). “The trouble was Frank and I were too much alike.” Gardner’s devoted sister Bappie advised against the marriage. But, confessed Ava, “you don’t pay much attention to what other people tell you when a guy’s good in the feathers.”
Gardner died in London of pneumonia in 1990, at age 67, and was buried in her native North Carolina. Her career spanned 45 years and included 68 film and tv titles. Among them, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s The Barefoot Contessa (1954), John Ford’s Mogambo (1953), and John Huston’s The Night of the Iguana (1964).
One of Hollywood’s most beautiful stars is remembered today via a 5,000-square-foot storefront museum on East Market St. in Smithfield, North Carolina. Opened 13 years ago, the Ava Gardner Museum does brisk business.