Ava Gardner Reflects on Ava Gardner

Annex - Gardner, Ava (Killers, The)_04.jpg
Ava Gardner in The Killers, 1946.

This might be my favorite quote from a Hollywood star:

“Deep down, I’m pretty superficial.”

Born to a poor cotton and tobacco farmer in North Carolina, Ava Gardner (1922-1990) was the youngest of seven children. She didn’t wear shoes until she was about 13 years-old. She regularly attended church.

Discovered by a still photographer in 1941, Gardner’s ethereal beauty drew the attention of MGM. Gardner and her sister Bappie moved to Hollywood where Gardner, after appearing in a dozen uncredited bit parts, finally got her big break in The Killers, 1946. As the ultimate femme fatale opposite Burt Lancaster, Gardner rocketed to stardom.

Fame and money are a heady brew and before too long Gardner was drinking heavily, dancing all night, and being courted by Mickey Rooney, MGM’s biggest little star. Her marriage to Rooney—he relentlessly cheated on her—lasted a year.

She did even worse by marrying crazy man, Artie Shaw, real name: Arthur Jacob Arshawsky, who was determined to educate his tobacco road wife. On their honeymoon, Shaw gave her a stack of books that included War and Peace and Das Kapital.

Ava yawned.

The egomaniacal band leader was further upset when he discovered that his movie star wife had no idea how to iron his shirts, and this seething cauldron was enraged when she didn’t fill his coffee cup to the precise level he indicated. Their disastrous marriage also lasted one year.

Can a woman do worse than Artie Show?

How about Frank Sinatra?

That train wreck of booze, abuse and public brawling dragged on for six long years.

Potentially a fine actress, Gardner took to the bottle and in her last years in Hollywood, a producer I know referred to her as, “A bloated and frightening predator.”

She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Mogambo, 1952, but The Killers stands as her best work.

My post on Ava prompted Shrink Wrapped, a fine psychiatrist, to reflect on beauty and narcissism.

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14 Comments

  1. EvelynRuth Ragan
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    The stories about Ava’s poor childhood are ridicuous. Most of it was made up by the MGM publicity crew. Actually the Gardner family was about middle class for that area and that time period. Her father wasn’t a sharecropper but owned the land and had sharecroppers farming off of it. He also ran a sawmill, general store and the teacherage.
    Although she wore shoes, as most of us who grew up in rural North Carolina, we didn’t like to wear them because the grass and clean soil felt better on our feet, especially in the hot summer. Ava actually collected shoes.
    I would suggest if you want to really discover the REAL AVA GARDNER, first: read two books: AVA, MY STORY and GRABTOWN GIRL. Secondly: visit the areas from where she came: Brogden, Smithfield, and Rock Ridge, North Carolina and also visit the Ava Gardner Museum and the North Carolina Museum of History (her 1st grade teacher was Mrs Maggie “Carbine” Williams). Last: watch her movies and TV programs.
    Just remember, though, Ava didn’t allow anyone to be her judge. She pretty much lived her own life as she saw fit and would wonder who are you to judge her? She definately didn’t judge others.

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  2. PCD
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Robert,
    Hart certainly had style in taking that limo to the Convent.

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  3. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted May 27, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Johnny:
    Interesting postscript to Hart’s story. After entering the convent, a young man who was in love with her from their youth, started visiting her regularly and continues to this day. Last I heard , Hart is quite sick.
    I have always loved her work, especially in WTBA. She seems to have entered from another movie, a movie about Joan of Arc.
    BTW, she took a studio limo to the convent.

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  4. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted May 27, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Johnny:
    Rooney was obsessed with, um, Ava’s virginity. And the only way was to marry her. Yup, she was that virtuous at the beginning. Don’t forget that Rooney was Andy Hardy a money machine for MGM, and look, he was quite charming. But he chased every starlet on the lot and ordered hookers by the dozen. He was also a gambler and a boozer. The marriage was doomed from the start.

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  5. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted May 27, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Paladin:
    One of our missions here at Seraphic Secret is to present Hollywood movies and Hollywood personalities as moral landscapes and where morality plays are constantly played out. If you pay close attention, it’s an almost biblical world.

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  6. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted May 27, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Shannon:
    What’s the fascination with Gardner?
    Have you seen The Killers, or The Barefoot Contessa?
    Good grief, that woman could burn up the screen.

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  7. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted May 27, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Jessica:
    Thanks for the correction. As for never having regrets, well, I don’t view that as a virtue. It’s a pretty good indicator of a fatal lack of wisdom one should gain in life.

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  8. Johnny
    Posted May 27, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    At least no one is blaming George Hamilton for Dolores Hart entering a convent. Think what it would have done to his career had she done so right after Where the Boys Are.
    I watched WTBA with my daughter when she was about 9 and I remember thinking how nice it would be if things could be like that when she starts dating. Even what happened to Yvette Mimieux’s character seems tame today.

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  9. Johnny
    Posted May 27, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Okay, what was Rooney thinking when he cheated on her? I’ve seen him in a lot of movies and interviews and he was never mistaken for Clark Gable or Cary Grant. He never seemed as dumb as he would have to be to think he would ever do better. And I don’t remember hearing she was particularly hard to live with.
    She was so gorgeous in Mogambo and worthy of succeeding Jean Harlow. Seeing it while in college on a big screen at a Gable retrospective, her beauty almost enveloped the audience and I am forever thankful it was shot in color.

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  10. Posted May 27, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Another in a series of people who seemingly could have “anyone”, yet who consistently make the worst possible choices again and again. It’s sad.

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  11. Rhiannon
    Posted May 27, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    May I ask what this fascination with Gardner is all about? I prefer the male stars of that era. You can’t say no to Cary Grant. A Republican and an Englishman? I swoon…

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  12. Posted May 27, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Although this is not a terribly positive review of her rather incredible life, Ava made no apologies and had no regrets. I will correct you in one small matter, a silly rumor that plagued her during her lifetime and obviously beyond. Growing up in the Great Depression, Ava’s family was as poor as everyone else, having few luxuries to speak of. However, they never went without, including food and clothing. She preferred to go barefoot, even as an adult, but we have many photos of her at the Ava Gardner Museum (http://www.avagardner.org) as a child wearing shoes.

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  13. Posted May 27, 2010 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    The very fine actress Dolores Hart, fled to a convent just as she was becoming a star. She is still there.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolores_Hart

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  14. PCD
    Posted May 27, 2010 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Maybe there should be a convent for Hollywood starlets to keep them out of trouble and out of other actor’s beds.

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