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).
A less than glamorous job, most successful screenwriters are solitary individuals who work quietly and diligently at their craft.
But screenwriter Peter Viertel (1920 – 2007) lived the jet-set life that is the glittering exception. Born in Dresden to an artistic and assimilated Jewish family, mother Salka was a screenwriter who was Greta Garbo’s best friend. His father, Berthold Viertel, was also a prominent writer and intellectual. The family moved to Hollywood in 1928. Peter’s childhood was the stuff of dreams: weekends were spent in the company of Garbo, Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.
Young Peter was Hollywood royalty.