Is isn’t every girl who marries three famous men. But then it isn’t every girl who looks like Ava Gardner.
Husband No. 1 — On the morning of Jan. 10, 1942, in the small town of Ballard deep in California’s Santa Ynez Mountains, Ava Gardner wed 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 bride fretted about how she’d perform on her wedding night. For the record, Ava stood four inches taller than Rooney’s 5-feet 2- inches — without heels.
When she first met Rooney, she 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!
Whatever the height difference, Rooney seemed to have capably handled the traditional functions of a new groom. As, for her part, did Ava 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.
As she put it, we were two young kids having a whale of a time.
Eventually, despite being “madly in love,” Ava tired of Rooney’s infidelities and wanted out. By January 15, 1943 — one year and five days after their nuptials — the couple formally separated. By the following May, the marriage was over.
Husband No. 2: (From 1945 to 1946) — Artie Shaw (pictured above with Ava) 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 intellectually formidable musician/bandleader (a huge swing favorite at the time of the marriage) would belittle Gardner, pushing her to “improve” herself via correspondence 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. The marriage to Shaw was the least happy of Gardner’s three unions.
Husband No. 3 (below) — Frank Sinatra (1951 to 1957) affectionately called Ava “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.