Ava Gardner was one of Hollywood’s most beautiful female stars; some would say the most beautiful of all. Her personal life was as fascinating as the plots of the movies she made and received as much public attention. She was married and divorced three times, and to three of Hollywood’s top stars: Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra. Sinatra privately admitted that he never got over losing her. In addition she had flings with rich and famous men, from Howard Hughes, owner of RKO studios, to Dominguin, the Spanish bullfighter.
The seventh and youngest child of poor tobacco farmers and a barefoot tomboy as a young girl, Gardner was invited for an interview at MGM on the grounds of her astonishingly good looks which a talent scout had noticed in a photographer’s window in New York. She moved to Hollywood in 1941, where, after five years busy learning her trade in ‘B’ parts, in everything from unbilled bits to romantic leads in East Side Kids movies, she was perfect as Kitty Collins, the film noir temptress of ‘The Killers’ in 1946, leaving Burt Lancaster such a shell that he doesn’t resist being assassinated.
Ava’s tumultuous love life attracted as much public interest as her professional life on screen. Even before she was famous she had attracted the passionate attentions of one of the biggest stars in Hollywood at the time, Mickey Rooney, whom she had met in 1941, shortly after she arrived in LA. Rooney was the hero of MGM’s Andy Hardy series and a major figure in Hollywood. Ava, the ingenue, was flattered by his attention and they married in January 1942. The marriage foundered after just 12 months due mainly to Rooney’s determination to continue carousing with his bachelor friends instead of staying home with his lovely young wife.
Ava’s second husband was band leader Artie Shaw, in 1945. Shaw married eight times in all, and Ava was wife number 6. He criticised and made fun of her lack of formal education, to the point of being abusive. Ava reacted badly and began to drink heavily. The marriage, unsurprisingly ended after just one year.
Ava’s third and final attempt at marriage was to singer, actor, and future superstar, Frank Sinatra. When they began a relationship Sinatra was already married and Ava received heavy criticism for being a marriage wrecker. They married in 1951, just 72 hours after the legal ending of Sinatra’s first marriage. Sinatra’s career had hit a low and it was through Ava’s influence that he landed the role of Maggio in ‘From Here to Eternity’ in 1953, for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and which stabilised his career. The marriage could not withstand Sinatra’s jealous temperament and Ava’s drinking and the couple separated in 1954 and divorced 3 years later. Sinatra never got over losing her.
She was now a Hollywood star, but she did not immediately get much interesting work; she was cast for her looks as a goddess in ‘One Touch of Venus’ in 1948 and her voice was dubbed among the chocolate box surroundings of ‘Showboat’ in 1951. In ‘Pandora and the Flying Dutchman’, also in 1951, she has her most rounded role, as a conflicted temptress who drives men to ruin but also yearns to join James Mason in the afterlife.
Gardner shimmers in ‘The Barefoot Contessa’ in 1954 as a star modeled on Rita Hayworth but channeling her own personal and career demons. She moved to Spain in 1955 following her tempestuous marriage and divorce from Sinatra, and many of her subsequent movies were made abroad. Her perspiring, fraying glamour fits well into the all-star worlds of ‘The Sun Also Rises’ in 1957, ‘On the Beach’ in 1959, and ‘The Night of the Iguana’ in 1964.
Wonderfully witch-like in the little-seen ‘Tam Lin’ in 1970, she also gamely shows up in ‘Earthquake’ in 1974 and ‘The Cassandra Crossing’ in 1976. In 1968 Ava moved to London and spent her final years almost as a recluse. She suffered a stroke in 1989 that left her bedridden, and her third husband Sinatra paid all her medical expenses. He hadn’t forgotten her.
Ava suffered a second stroke which further limited her, and she died in London of pneumonia on January 25, 1990. She was 67.
Source by Chris G Whiteley