When writer Peter Evans received a phone call out of the blue from screen legend Ava Gardner [edit: I named my daughter after her], asking to write her life story, he knew he’d struck gold. It was 1988, two years before Gardners’ death. Evans himself would also not live to see the publication of the book. Gardner backed out, stating she’d changed her mind, though many believe it was because of her loyalty to her ex-husband Frank Sinatra. The almost completed manuscript was given the blessing of Ava’s estate last year. Whatever the reason it failed to be published first time around, we will never know if this book was what either of them expected
Ava Gardner was arguably the most beautiful woman to grace a movie screen. Even Elizabeth Taylor was in awe of her beauty. Her acting ability rarely came into the equation. To lift a comment that was once directed at Jean Harlow ‘no one ever starved possessing what she’s got’
I have to confess upfront, I am a huge Ava Gardner fan and approached this book with trepidation. As I have discovered with many of my long-gone cinematic heroes of that era, there’s a period of time, after their real-life story is told, that knocks the gloss off the vision you hold of them. It takes a while get it back and love them for it even more. Could I stand to read an older woman, ravaged by years of drinking and smoking, recanting her life stories to supplement her dwindling fortune?
Her story is undeniably fascinating – itself almost like something out of a movie. Born on Christmas Eve 1922 Ava was a beautiful girl, born to a large, working-class family in North Carolina, is spotted by a big Hollywood studio and becomes one of the most famous movie stars in the world – leaving a string of famous husbands and lovers in her wake. She appeared in such hits as The Killers, Mogambo, Showboat, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Barefoot Contessa.
Her first day at MGM she caught the eye of Mickey Rooney, then the biggest star in Hollywood. They were married for less than a year. Next up was bandleader Artie Shaw, a consummate snob who went through wives like cheap suits. After a year of put-downs and patronising, Shaw became ex-husband number two.
Next up was Frank Sinatra, the love of Ava’s life. They were matched equally in passion and in temper. The press dubbed them the ‘battling Sinatras’ – they simply couldn’t live with each other. Though their bond lasted right up until Ava’s death in 1990. Frank had been paying her medical expenses.
There were also a string of torrid affairs with matadors, leading men and most notably, Howard Hughes – whom she refused to marry. Her life was characterized by her appetites, be it for men, booze, cigarettes or anything else.
This book isn’t quite the tell-all you might have been expecting, though she does go further here than in any previous book or interview. Loyalty seems to have been important to Ava.
While this book is a must for Ava fans, film fans will find it disappointing as it has very few details on the movies she made. By turns she’s honest, profane and at times seems painfully lonely. The book is more like an intricate dance between Gardner and Evans, which does wear thin after a while.
Nevertheless, this is a fascinating book about a fascinating subject.
Ava herself said
“You can sum my life up in a sentence honey: She made movies, she made out, and she made a fucking mess of her life. But she never made jam.”