A long time ago, in a universe far far away, in a place called Hollywood, the movie studios and the actors who flourished in those dream factories, celebrated their love of America and enthusiastically indulged in overt displays of patriotism.
L.B. Mayer (b. Lazar Meir) the powerful head of MGM, was a pioneer of the motion-picture industry, and the man who invented the star system. Mayer adopted July 4th as his birthday. Scores of Hollywood historians get all snarky about Mayer’s birthday, claiming that he conveniently changed his birthday in order to cash in on a public identification with America.
What these historians fail to recognize is that Mayer probably did not know the date of his birth.
MGM’s roster of female stars constituted the greatest collection of beautiful and talented women the world has ever known.
One of the greatest was Ava Gardner.
As an emerging starlet in the early 1940’s, before she made a single movie the breathtaking Southern beauty was the talk of the town.
Mickey Rooney was MGM’s golden boy, a versatile star equally adept at musicals, comedy and drama. His signature role as the small-town youngster Andy Hardy made him something of a cash cow for the studio. The Hardy movies were cheap to produce and earned enormous profits.
In his compulsively readable autobiography, Life is Too Short, Rooney claims that his mother worked as a prostitute in order to put food on the table during the depths of the Depression. Thus, it’s not surprising that Rooney pursued women with an obsessive compulsion, seeking affection and love in all the wrong places: call girls, ambitious actresses and mature women–including Irving Thalberg’s widow Norma Shearer–were smitten by Rooney’s brash boyish charm.
The love affair–and I’m using that term loosely–between Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra was doomed from the start. Both stars were emotionally immature with little impulse control. Both were alcoholics, and both had a history of affairs with equally unstable partners.
And so The Voice and The Shape plunged into a tsunami of a relationship and a six-year marriage (1951 – 1957) punctuated by unbridled passion, threats of suicide, and metronomic doses of violence.
In Autumn of 1949 Gardner and Sinatra, not yet lovers, were both guests at the Palm Springs home of producer Darryl F. Zanuck. The liquor flowed, and the two stars locked in on each other like missiles.