Ava Lavinia Gardner was born in 1922 in Grabtown, North Carolina. She was the youngest of seven children. Her somewhat muddy education took place in a town called Brogden, approximately 77 miles from the tobacco farm where she and her siblings were raised.
Ava was no glamour girl from the start; she could hold her own with the boys and ran around the rough country-side just as barefoot as could be. . .but it didn't matter how earthy she was. By the time she was eighteen there was no way to deny that Ava was a full-fledged beauty--just the type of girl one would see at the movies.
It was also around this time that Ava went to New York to visit her sister and brother-in-law, Bappie and Larry Tarr. Ironically, Larry was a photographer, and had Ava pose for a few pictures for him that he displayed in his shop window.
Ava had planned on becoming a secretary and settling into the laid-back, southern life, but M-G-M came a-knocking on her door! A scout had seen her picture in the window and inquired as to who the girl was.
It was in no time flat that Louis B. Mayer arranged a screen test for her. According to Ava's nephew, Billy Grimes, the interview went something like this:
"She can't act. She can't talk. She's terrific. Sign her."
Ava was signed to a seven year contract. It was shortly after that Ava was touring the studio while "Babes On Broadway" was being filmed. Well, Mickey Rooney fell head over heals for her and they were married soon after. . . against the studio's wishes; but the studio didn't have to wait long to get the result they really wanted. They divorced 17 months later.
It was at that time when billionaire Howard Hughes began his pursuit for Ava. She had turned him down time after time, but one night after "no" meant nothing to him, she was forced to hit him on the head with a silver candle stick. He was still crazy about her.
Shortly after, Ava met and married band leader, Artie Shaw. This time, the weak link in the chain was Ava's educational background. He constantly rubbed the almost lack of it in her face. It ended in divorce in 1946.
It wasn't long after that Ava fell for who other than the famous crooner, Frank Sinatra. It couldn't have come at a worse time, too. Three years earlier, Ava had hit the spotlight in the movie, "The Killers". Her fame was so new and she had turned to her friend, the drink, to help her handle the stress. The Roman Catholic singer was married and had two kids, and even the shadow of the word "divorce" was scandalous.
Here's what Ava had to say about it:
"When Nancy said, "My married life with Frank has become unhappy and almost unbearable," the shit really hit the fan. In the next few weeks, I received scores of letters accusing me of being a scarlet woman and worse. One correspondent addressed me as "Bitch-Jezabel-Gardner," the legion of Decency threatened to ban my movies, and Catholic priests found the time to write me accusatory letters. I even read where the Sisters of Mercy and Joseph asked their students at St. Paul Apostle School in Los Angelos to pray for Frank's poor wife. I didn't understand then and still don't why there should be the purient mass hysteria about a male and a female climbing into bed together and doing what comes naturally."
They had a hard enough time even having an affair, and getting married would be even more difficult. Both Frank and his wife Nancy were Roman Catholic, and couldn't divorce. Finally, they were granted legal separation, and Frank married Ava 72 hours later in 1951. All the scandal and so forth had already strained the relationship, and Frank had hit rock bottom while Ava's career flourished. The marriage reeked of jealousy.
Frank even created ideas that Ava was having affairs, and one night she was wearing an expensive gold bracelet that the constantly rebuffed Howard Hughes had given her. He accused her of being in love with Hughes, and she took off the bracelet and threw it out the window. He would do things like call her and say "I just wanted to say good bye" and she would hear a loud gun shot. She would hysterically run over to find him sitting by himself in his room. She would confront him about the gunshot and he would say "Gunshot? What gunshot?".
Then again, if she would watch him at a night club act even think she saw him looking at another woman she would get upset and say that he humiliated her. It was on both sides.
1952 looked a little better for them, though. She was cast in "Mogambo" with Clark Gable and Grace Kelly, while Frank was starting to work his way back up.
He was trying for the movie "From Here To Eternity". He got the role of Maggio, but it is rumored that Ava sealed the deal. Nevertheless, both were nominated for Academy Awards. Frank won, Ava didn't. . . .another strain.
Probably the biggest strain of all was that while filming "Mogambo", Ava learned that she was pregnant. She quickly flew to London to have an abortion. In her autobiography she stated "Frank and I could barely look after ourselves, we certainly couldn't look after a child". In fact, it has been said that Ava aborted three of Frank's children, but only one was documented. It killed Frank. In 1954 they separated and Frank dated actress Jeannie Carmen.
In the same year, Ava travelled to Spain to work on "The Barefoot Contessa". It was there that she fell in love, not with a man, but with a country. . . .though she did like the bullfighters. She would eventually move there; she never really liked Hollywood. After ten years in Spain, she moved to London. She occasionally worked, but only for money.
It has been said by many that Ava's years in London were very lonely. All of a sudden she looked old, and her heavy duty life style was catching up with her. She was very self-deprecating, and she accepted what her later years brought to her. After she left the TV show "Knot's Landing", she became very ill, and according to actress Donna Mills, would not take visitors. She suffered a stroke in 1989, and died in 1990. . . .Sinatra, the love of her life, took care of all her final costs, but did not attend her funeral.
Ava dished out a lot of pain in her life, but accepted a lot more. It's been said by many that all she wanted out of life was to be happy. . . maybe she would have been better off being that secretary she would have happily been.
I think it hurt Ava that all people saw was her glorious face and nothing else. I'm not quite sure that she would like being remembered, and the title still holds today, "as the most beautiful actress in ever Hollywood". Her face and body was her job, and that's all. It is not fair that people were so hard on her, and still judge for the mistakes that I'm sure she regretted later in life. It was hard enough living through them, but to have people constantly reminding her of them, even in death, would have driven any woman crazy. Ava was a strong person, and accepted her punishment. She gave us-- her fans-- her life. . . I think that we owe it to her to to forgive her.