Ava Gardner

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Ava Gardner
Birth name Ava Lavinia Gardner
Born Dec 24, 1922
Brogden, North Carolina USA Flag of USA.png
Died Jan 25, 1990 - age 68
Westminster, London, England, UK
Years active 1941 - 1986
Spouse(s) Mickey Rooney (1942-1943)
Artie Shaw (1945-1946)
Frank Sinatra (1951-1957)
Notable roles Kitty Collins in The Killers
Honey Bear Kelly in Mogambo
Maxine Faulk
in The Night of the Iguana

Ava Lavinia Gardner (December 24, 1922 – January 25, 1990) was an Academy Award-nominated American film and television actress. She is listed as one of the American Film Institute's greatest stars of all time.

Early years

Ava Gardner was born in the small farming community of Brogden, Johnston County, North Carolina, the youngest of seven children (she had two brothers and four sisters) of poor cotton and tobacco farmers; her mother, Molly, was a Baptist of Scots-Irish and English descent, while her father, Jonas Bailey Gardner, was a Catholic of Irish American and Tuscarora Indian descent. While the children were still young, the Gardners lost their property, forcing Jonas Gardner to work at a sawmill and Molly to begin working as a cook and housekeeper at a dormitory for teachers at the nearby Brogden School.

When Ava was thirteen years old, the family soon decided to try their luck in a bigger town, Newport News, Virginia, where Molly Gardner found work managing a boardinghouse for the city's many shipworkers. That job did not last long, and the family moved to the Rock Ridge suburb of Wilson, North Carolina, where Molly Gardner ran another boarding house. Gardner's father died of bronchitis in 1935. Ava and some of her siblings attended high school in Rock Ridge and she graduated from there in 1939. She then attended secretarial classes at Atlantic Christian College in Wilson for about a year.

Gardner, who by age eighteen had become a stunning, green-eyed brunette, was visiting her sister Beatrice in New York in 1941 when Beatrice's husband Larry, a professional photographer, offered to take her portrait. He liked the results and displayed the final product in the front window of his Fifth Avenue studio.

Early Career:New York and Hollywood: MGM

In 1941, a Loews Theatres legal clerk, Barnard "Barney" Duhan, spotted Gardner's photo in the Tarr Photography Studio on 5th Avenue in New York. The photo had been taken in 1939 by the proprietor, Ava's brother-in-law Larry Tarr, who was married to Ava's older sister, Bappie (Beatrice). At the time, Duhan often posed as an MGM talent scout to meet girls, using the fact that MGM was a subsidiary of Loews. Duhan entered Tarr's and tried to get Ava's number, but was rebuffed by the receptionist. Duhan made the offhand comment, "Somebody should send her info to MGM," and the Tarrs did so immediately. Shortly after, Ava, who at the time was a student at Atlantic Christian College, traveled to New York to be interviewed at MGM's New York office. She was offered a standard contract by MGM, and Ava left school for Hollywood in 1941 with her sister Bappie accompanying her. MGM's first order of business was to provide her a voice coach, as her Carolina drawl was nearly incomprehensible.


Gardner was nominated for an Oscar for Mogambo (1953). She lost to Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Many thought Gardner's greatest performance was as Maxine Faulk in The Night of the Iguana (1964), for which she was not nominated. Grayson Hall, as the repressed Judith Fellowes, however, was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category. Gardner showed her depth as an actress in 55 Days at Peking (1963)."Off-camera, she gave off sparks of wit, as in her assessment of John Ford, who directed her in Mogambo: 'The meanest man on earth. Thoroughly evil. Adored him!'"

Gardner also had a recurring role as Ruth Galveston on the television series Knots Landing in 1985

Marriages and relationships

Mickey Rooney

Soon after her arrival in Los Angeles, Gardner met fellow MGM contract player Mickey Rooney; they married on January 10, 1942 in Ballard, California. She was just a 19-year-old girl. Gardner made several movies before 1946, but it wasn't until she starred in The Killers opposite Burt Lancaster, that she became known as a movie star and sex symbol. (Rooney and Gardner divorced in 1943, mainly because Rooney wouldn't give up his partying ways). Rooney later rhapsodized about Gardner's performance in bed, though upon hearing this Gardner retorted "Well, honey, he may have enjoyed the sex, but I sure as hell didn't." She once characterised their marriage as "Love Finds Andy Hardy".

Artie Shaw

Her second marriage was to Artie Shaw from 1945 to 1946 and it was even more disastrous than the first. It was during this marriage that Gardner began to drink and take refuge in therapy.

Frank Sinatra

Her third and last marriage was to singer and actor Frank Sinatra from 1951 to 1957.

Sinatra left his wife, Nancy, for Ava and their subsequent marriage made headlines. Sinatra was treated poorly by gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the Hollywood establishment, and his fans for leaving his "good wife" for this exotic femme fatale. His career suffered, while Ava's prospered -- the headlines only solidified her sexy screen siren image. The marriage to Sinatra was stormy -- passionate fighting, jealousy, numerous separations. Gardner used her considerable clout to get Sinatra cast in his Oscar-winning role in From Here to Eternity (1953). That role and the award revitalized Sinatra's acting and singing careers. Ava said of her relationship with Sinatra, "We were great in bed. It was usually on the way to the bidet when the trouble began." (This quote inspired the song "Frank and Ava" by Suzanne Vega.) During their marriage, Ava became pregnant, but she terminated the pregnancy due to the volatility of her marriage. She had always wanted children, but she said years later, "We couldn't even take care of ourselves. How were we going to take care of a baby?" Gardner and Sinatra remained good friends for the rest of her life.

Howard Hughes

She dated aviator/film director Howard Hughes in the early-mid 1940's. She soon after rejected him, and their relationship ended.

Ernest Hemingway

She divorced Sinatra in 1957 and headed to Spain where her friendship with famed writer Ernest Hemingway led to her becoming a fan of bullfighting and bullfighters. "It was a sort of madness, honey," she said later of the time.

London: the last years

She moved to London in 1968, undergoing a hysterectomy to allay her worries of contracting the uterine cancer that had killed her mother. That year she made what some consider one of her best films, a Technicolor, English-language remake of Mayerling, in which she played the Austrian Empress Elisabeth opposite James Mason as Emperor Franz Joseph. Later in life she suffered from a severe case of emphysema. After two strokes in 1986, which left her partially paralyzed and bedridden, Frank Sinatra paid her $50,000 medical expenses. Her last words were 'I'm tired' to her housekeeper Carmen. She died of pneumonia in London, England at the age of 67 in 1990. After her death, Sinatra's daughter found him slumped in his room, face wet with tears, unable to raise his voice above a whisper. Ava was not only the love of his life but also the inspiration to one of his most personal and magical songs, "I Am a Fool to Want You", recorded after their separation. Reportedly, a lone black limousine parked behind the crowd of 500 mourners at Ava's funeral. No one exited the vehicle, but it was assumed the anonymous mourner inside, was indeed Frank Sinatra. A floral arrangement at Ava's graveside simply read, "With My Love, Francis".


Gardner is interred in the Sunset Memorial Park, Smithfield, North Carolina; the town of Smithfield now has an Ava Gardner Museum. Ava is buried beside her brothers, and their beloved parents Jonah [1878-1938] and Mollie Gardner [1883-1943].

Ava Gardner Film Festival

Ava Gardner Film Festival will be held this year on Sept. 28, 29 and 30 in downtown Smithfield. The AGFF will screen 40 plus international independent films, operate 4 theaters, including the historic Howell Theater and The Ava Gardner Museum Theater. There will also be workshops, panels and Q and A sessions with filmmakers. The AGFF is part of the Ava Gardner Festival which is an annual event to celebrate the life of Ava Gardner. Visit http://www.myspace.com/AvaGardnerFilmFestival and http://www.AvaGardner.org

Mini Biography from http://www.IMDB.com

written by Rod Crawford
Ava Gardner at the Internet Movie Database

Born on a tobacco farm, where she got her lifelong love of earthy language and going barefoot, Ava grew up in the rural South. At age 18, her picture in the window of her brother-in- law's New York photo studio brought her to the attention of MGM, leading quickly to Hollywood and a film contract based strictly on her beauty. With zero acting experience, her first 17 film roles, 1942-5, were one-line bits or little better. After her first starring role in B-grade Whistle Stop (1946), MGM loaned her to Universal for her first outstanding film, The Killers (1946). Few of her best films were made at MGM which, keeping her under contract for 17 years, used her popularity to sell many mediocre films. Perhaps as a result, she never believed in her own acting ability, but her latent talent shone brightly when brought out by a superior director, as with John Ford in Mogambo (1953) and George Cukor in Bhowani Junction (1956). After 3 failed marriages, dissatisfaction with Hollywood life prompted Ava to move to Spain in 1955; most of her subsequent films were made abroad. By this time, stardom had made the country girl a cosmopolitan, but she never overcame a deep insecurity about acting and life in the spotlight. Her last quality starring film role was in The Night of the Iguana (1964), her later work being (as she said) strictly "for the loot". In 1968, tax trouble in Spain prompted a move to London, where she spent her last 22 years in reasonable comfort. Her film career did not bring her great fulfillment, but her looks may have made it inevitable; many fans still consider her the most beautiful actress in Hollywood history.

  • Nickname = Snowdrop, Angel
  • Height = 5' 6" (1.68 m)
  • Chosen by Empire magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history (#68). [1995]
  • Her singing voice in Show Boat (1951) was dubbed by Annette Warren, although her voice is left in on the soundtrack album.
  • Mother, Mary Elizabeth 'Molly' Gardner, nee Baker; father, Jonas Gardner, tobacco farmer, died of bronchitis 1935.
  • Youngest of 7 children, her older siblings were Raymond, Melvin 'Jack', Beatrice 'Bappie', Elsie Mae, Inez and Myra.
  • Her early education was sketchy; by 1945, she had read two books, the Bible and "Gone with the Wind." In later life, she more than made up for this lack by continual self-education.
  • She sang in her own voice for The Killers (1946) but in all MGM films her singing voice was dubbed (much to her disgust).
  • Flamenco became one of Ava's favorite pastimes after she learned it for The Barefoot Contessa (1954); increasingly proficient and needing little sleep, she often danced all night.
  • While in Spain, she also became a bullfight fan.
  • In a promotion for The Little Hut (1957), a small island in Fiji was renamed Ava Ava and leased to a contest winner.
  • She was continuously under contract at MGM, 1941-1958.
  • There is an Ava Gardner Museum of memorabilia in Smithfield, North Carolina.
  • She spent her final years as a recluse in her London apartment -- her only companions were her longtime housekeeper Carmen Vargas and her beloved Welsh Corgi, Morgan. Frank Sinatra paid all her medical expenses after her 1989 stroke, which left her partially paralyzed and bedridden. Vargas took her body home to her native North Carolina for private burial. None of her ex-husbands attended.
  • After her death in 1990, Ava's longtime housekeeper, Carmen Vargas, and her dog, a Welsh Corgi named Morgan, were taken in by her former co-star Gregory Peck.
  • Ava Gardner met J.R.R. Tolkien and neither knew why the other was famous.
  • Daughter-in-law of Joe Yule.
  • Was a good friend of Lena Horne, despite the fact that they both competed for the part of 'Julie' in Show Boat (1951).
  • When shooting Earthquake (1974), she surprised director Mark Robson by insisting that she do her own stuntwork, which included dodging blocks of concrete and heavy steel pipes.
  • A statue of her from The Barefoot Contessa (1954) was given to Frank Sinatra as a gift. He kept it in his backyard garden well after their divorce. When he married Barbara Marx, she forced him to get rid of it.
  • When married to Frank Sinatra, he was at the lowest point of his career. She often had to lend him money so he could buy presents for his children.
  • Part of On the Beach (1959) was filmed in a Berwick, a suburb of Melbourne. Ava had a street which was being developed at the time named after her. It is of course called "Gardner Street."
  • Measurements: 36-23 1/2-37 (Source: Celebrity Sleuth magazine)
  • Once named The World's Most Beautiful Animal (in a 1950s publicity campaign).
  • Chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest American female screen legends (Number 25).
  • Is portrayed in The Aviator (2004) by Kate Beckinsale and by Marcia Gay Harden in Sinatra (1992) (TV).
  • Although she often gave the name of her North Carolina hometown as Grabtown, and at other times as Smithfield, the town's name is actually Brogden. "Grabtown" is a nickname given to it by locals. Smithfield is a larger town nearby.
  • Is portrayed by Deborah Kara Unger in The Rat Pack (1998) (TV), by Christine Andreas in Love and Betrayal: The Mia Farrow Story (1995) (TV), and by Jon Mack in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999) (TV).
  • Frank Sinatra was broke by 1951. Ava had to pay his plane ticket, so he could accompany her to Africa, where she shot Mogambo (1953).
  • Frank Sinatra nicknamed her "Angel".
  • Appeared in three films based on Ernest Hemingway stories--The Sun Also Rises (1957), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), and The Killers (1946).
  • During her final years living in London, she became the dinner companion of director Michael Winner.
  • Was a good friend of writer Ernest Hemingway, whom she called "Papa." Both were aficionados of bullfighting, though Gardner's interest in bullfighters went beyond their exploits in the ring.
  • An Australian reporter found that Gardner was quite adept at foul language, and her swearing was "like a sailor and a truck driver were having a competition." She threw a glass of champagne at the reporter, who said that at the moment she did so "the only thing I could think was how bloody gorgeous the woman was.".
  • Production designer John Hawkesworth, an Englishman who was the set-dresser on her starring vehicle Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), said of Gardner that she "could eat twice as much as anyone and drink three times as much.".
  • Her three husbands were married a total of twenty times between them.
  • Had an abortion with Frank Sinatra's child, because he was still married to his first wife.
  • Her father was Irish and her mother was Scots-Irish.
  • Her The Angel Wore Red (1960) co-star Dirk Bogarde nicknamed her "Snowdrop" because, he said, anything less likely was difficult to imagine.
  • A distant cousin of Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
  • She also had Tuscarora Native American ancestry.
  • Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives." Volume Two, 1986-1990, pages 319-321. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.
  • In Italy, most of her films were dubbed by Rosetta Calavetta. She was occasionally dubbed by Dhia Cristiani, Lidia Simoneschi, and Andreina Pagnani.
  • Suffered from a severe case of emphysema in later life and could not travel far without an oxygen tank.
  • When her first husband, Mickey Rooney, brought his hugely successful musical "Sugar Babes" to London in the late 1980s, Gardner confessed to him that she had contemplated suicide after being left partly paralyzed by two strokes in 1986.
Personal Quotes
  • All I ever got out of any of my marriages was the two years Artie Shaw financed on an analyst's couch.
  • I have only one rule in acting -- trust the director and give him heart and soul.
  • When I lose my temper, honey, you can't find it any place.
  • I don't understand people who like to work and talk about it like it was some sort of goddamn duty. Doing nothing feels like floating on warm water to me. Delightful, perfect.
  • I must have seen more sunrises than any other actress in the history of Hollywood.
  • I haven't taken an overdose of sleeping pills and called my agent. I haven't been in jail, and I don't go running to the psychiatrist every two minutes. That's something of an accomplishment these days.
  • Nobody ever called it an intellectual profession.
  • I couldn't imagine a better place [Australia] for making a film on the end of the world.
  • Deep down, I'm pretty superficial.
  • After my screen test, the director clapped his hands gleefully and yelled, "She can't talk! She can't act! She's sensational!"
  • Everybody kisses everybody else in this crummy business all the time. It's the kissiest business in the world.
  • What's the point? My face, shall we say, looks lived in.
  • I made it as a star dressed, and if it ain't dressed, I don't want it.
  • I wish to live until 150 years old but the day I die, I wish it to be with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other.
  • [in 1985, on why she came out of retirement to appear on a prime-time soap opera] "For the loot, honey, for the loot.
  • What I'd really like to say about stardom is that it gave me everything I never wanted.
  • Maybe I just didn't have the temperament for stardom. I'll never forget seeing Bette Davis at the Hilton in Madrid. I went up to her and said, "Miss Davis, I'm Ava Gardner and I'm a great fan of yours." And do you know, she behaved exactly as I wanted her to behave. "Of course you are, my dear," she said. "Of course you are." And she swept on. Now that's a star.
  • Although no one believes me, I have always been a country girl and still have a country girl's values.
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) $50,000
The Night of the Iguana (1964) $400,000
On the Beach (1959) $400,000
Ride, Vaquero! (1953) $100,000
Knights of the Round Table (1953) $17,500/week
The Bribe (1949) $1,250/week
The Killers (1946) $350/week
Kid Glove Killer (1942) $150/week

Pin-up Gallery


  • Fancy Answers (1941) (short subject)
  • Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
  • H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941)
  • Babes on Broadway (1941)
  • We Do It Because- (1942) (short subject)
  • Joe Smith - American (1942)
  • This Time for Keeps (1942)
  • Kid Glove Killer (1942)
  • Sunday Punch (1942)
  • Calling Dr. Gillespie (1942)
  • Mighty Lak a Goat (1942) (short subject)
  • Reunion in France (1942)
  • Hitler's Madman (1943)
  • Ghosts on the Loose (1943)
  • Young Ideas (1943)
  • Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)
  • Swing Fever (1943)
  • Lost Angel (1943)
  • Two Girls and a Sailor (1944)
  • Three Men in White (1944)
  • Maisie Goes to Reno (1944)
  • Blonde Fever (1944)
  • Music for Millions (1944)
  • She Went to the Races (1945)
  • Whistle Stop (1946)
  • The Killers (1946)
  • Singapore (1947)
  • The Hucksters (1947)
  • One Touch of Venus (1948)
  • The Bribe (1949)
  • The Great Sinner (1949)
  • East Side, West Side (1949)
  • Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)
  • Show Boat (1951)
  • Lone Star (1952)
  • The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952)
  • Knights of the Round Table (1953)
  • Ride, Vaquero! (1953)
  • The Band Wagon (1953) (Cameo)
  • Mogambo (1953)
  • The Barefoot Contessa (1954)
  • Bhowani Junction (1956)
  • The Little Hut (1957)
  • The Sun Also Rises (1957)
  • The Naked Maja (1959)
  • On the Beach (1959)
  • The Angel Wore Red (1960)
  • 55 Days at Peking (1963)
  • On the Trail of the Iguana (1964) (short subject)
  • Seven Days in May (1964)
  • The Night of the Iguana (1964)
  • The Bible: In The Beginning (1966)
  • Vienna: The Years Remembered (1968) (short subject)
  • Mayerling (1968)
  • Tam-Lin (1970)
  • The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
  • Earthquake (1974)
  • Permission to Kill (1975)
  • The Blue Bird (1976)
  • The Cassandra Crossing (1976)
  • The Sentinel (1977)
  • City on Fire (1979)
  • The Kidnapping of the President (1980)
  • Priest of Love (1981)
  • Regina Roma (1982)
  • The Long Hot Summer (1985)

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