In 1988, only two years before her death, Ava Gardner, living in semi-seclusion in London, unable to get work, and running dangerously low on funds, asked the late British author Peter Evans to ghostwrite her autobiography.
Deadpanned Gardner: “I either write the book or sell the jewels, and I’m kinda sentimental about the jewels.”
Only now, years after Ava and Evans’ death, has this frank memoir been published. Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations is a sad and intimate book about the fate of a great Hollywood star. Born poor in rural North Carolina, Ava was given a Hollywood screen test thanks to a radiantly innocent photo of 18 year-old Ava, displayed in a shop window.
After meeting with Ava in her London flat, Evans realized that the aging star was deeply conflicted about publishing an honest memoir. He also realized that she was a hopeless drunk. But the lure of working with one of Hollywood’s legendary stars trounced the author’s common sense. Already, in the preliminary stages, Gardner, drunk, depressed, and lonely, was calling Evans in the middle of the night, and rambling on, quite candidly, about the glorious, yet often sordid past. Evans, a solid, if sleep-deprived pro, faithfully recorded her reminiscences in a notebook he parked on his night stand.
Here, Ava explains how she got the star-making role of Kitty Collins in the noir classic, The Killers (’46).
“I did one film in ’45, a loan-out: Whistle Stop, with George Raft. MGM got five thousand dollars for me that time. I didn’t mind. I liked George. He was coming to the end of his career, and mine still hadn’t got started, but we dated a few times. He was a wonderful dancer—for his age! He must have been in his late forties at that time but he still had a good figure. I had to slap him down a few times to keep him in line. He still thought of himself as a lady-killer, a bit of a Casanova; apart from that he was okay. We had some laughs together. I told you, I first met him with Mickey [Rooney] when we used to go to the Friday night fights in L.A. He was going steady with Betty Grable in those days. They were a hot item for a while.
“Whistle Stop was my first leading role. I was very nervous, and I wasn’t very good. I still didn’t know my ass from my elbow acting-wise. But there was one scene that got me noticed. I kissed George with my mouth open! It was a mistake, I shouldn’t have done it. It was forbidden by the Breen office, but it had the guys in the audience hanging on the ropes. [“With the dynamics of Gardner and Raft in it, Whistle Stop is certainly not a dull place,” Variety noted.]
“Fortunately, it slipped by the production Code people. They were very hot on what they regarded as lustful kissing in those days. But John Huston spotted it. He said it was the scene that got me the role in The Killers, my breakthrough movie as they call it today. It made me realize you didn’t have to be an actress to sell tickets at the box office!”