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.
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.
Said Ava about her great rival, Elizabeth Taylor: “She was pretty. I was beautiful.”
We continue our survey of the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1960s.
For the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1950s, click here.
For the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1940s, click here.
For the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1930s click here.
For the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1920s click here.
4. The Manchurian Candidate, 1962.
Movies are time capsules.
We view a Hollywood production from, say, the 1930s and we get a series of messages—visual and verbal—that are instant snapshots of the culture from which the narrative was birthed. There are, of course, the fashions, the hairstyles, even the make up, that let us us know that we are in a particular time and place. And of course, the narratives are witnesses to how society viewed itself. The attitudes and values of American culture are on full display, in all their myriad forms, in the movies.
Some movies date better than others. The screwball comedies of the 1930s still play beautifully for contemporary audiences because the battle of the sexes is timeless. Sadly, the women’s weepies of the 40s—take a look at Now Voyager (’42), an amazing Bette Davis film—fare less well because they are seen by today’s women as regressive and misogynistic. Busby Berkeley musicals are fun, admired for their abstraction of the human form, but they are relics, kitch for the priests of high culture.
And this is one of the reasons why The Manchurian Candidate is such an astonishing movie. It is deeply contemporary, post-modernism before the term was invented.