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Ava Gardner, Hollywood Sex Goddess

Updated on October 26, 2011


Ava Gardner was famous for the famous men she married - Frank Sinatra, actor Micky Rooney and bandleader Artie Shaw.

But there was much more to her than just famous husbands, and she merited fame and adulation in her own right.

She gave many memorable acting performances during her 45-year acting career and she is considered by many to be the yardstick of beauty, by which other Hollywood actresses should be judged.

The Starlet

Ava Lavinia Gardner was born in 1922 on a tobacco farm in North Carolina and had a happy, settled childhood, with no connections to the theatre or movies.

Typical early image of Ava
Typical early image of Ava

In 1941 MGM were sent some photographs of her taken by her photographer brother in law and they invited Ava to take a screen test which she passed with flying colors.

She had a coltish, unsophisticated manner which was totally made over by the studio into a conventionally glamorous image. She was also provided with a voice coach, as her Carolina drawl was nearly incomprehensible.She became one of hundreds of well-groomed young starlets on MGM's books and in her first few years in Hollywood, Ava posed for many pin-up photographs which concentrated on her body and legs, but virtually ignored her most striking and unusually beautiful feature - her face.

Gradually, however, she became noticed, particularly when, in 1946, she was loaned out to United Artists for "Whistle Stop", a cheap B movie starring George Raft but it gave Ava her first leading role.

She was requested by Universal for another good role in "The Killers". She received good reviews and MGM took notice. Henceforward there would be no more walk on roles for Ava Gardener.

The young movie star
The young movie star

Movie Star

The most immediate change was in how Ava was photographed. Instead of the standard outdoor 'cheesecake in swimsuit' poses, her publicity stills now showed her in sophisticated, tight dresses in nightclub or cocktail bar interiors.

The emphasis of the pictures changed from her body and legs to her finely sculpted face. Ava quickly achieved international recognition as a great beauty and photographers everywhere sought the chance to picture her.

She continued her climb to movie stardom, making "One Touch Of Venus" in 1948 and by the early 1950s she had become one of the best-known actresses in America. She attracted good notices for her performance in Show Boat (1951), but her best was yet to come.

Her next six films were amongst her best ever work and show that Ava was not only a majestic presence on screen, but also a more than able actress, capable of holding her own in the highest company. The films are: Showboat (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) with Gregory Peck, then Mogambo with Clark Gable in 1953, for which she was nominated for Best Actress, The Barefoot Contessa (1954), then George Cukor's Bhowani Junction in 1956, and The Sun Also Rises (1957), with Tyrone Power.

Her sensitive characterizations in On the Beach (1959), and The Night of the Iguana (1964) received much critical praise and reinforced her position as a major box office attraction. Ava was now an international superstar.


Personal Life

Despite her adulation by the movie-going public and her successful movie pedigree, Ava did not achieve critical recognition from the Hollywood establishment, a fact which continued to hurt her for the rest of her life. She was generally looked on as the glamorous and frothy screen presence, but not as a serious actress.

This was reinforced by newspapers, and scandal magazines which gloried in portraying her in less than flattering ways, saying that she was unhappy and searching unsuccessfully for emotional fulfillment. Her private life, her outgoing, exuberant personality and in particular, her choice of husbands, had contributed in no small way to this image.

Ava and Mickey Rooney
Ava and Mickey Rooney

Ava and Micky

Soon after her arrival in Los Angeles, Gardner met actor Mickey Rooney; they married on January 10, 1942 in Ballard, California. She was 19 years old. They divorced in 1943, mainly because Rooney wouldn't give up his partying ways. He later said he just was not ready for monogamy. 

Ava and Artie Shaw
Ava and Artie Shaw

Ava and Artie

Her second marriage was to clarinetist and bandleader Artie Shaw from 1945 to 1946. He was abusive to her and the marriage was doomed to be even more disastrous than her first.

It was during this marriage that Gardner began to drink and start taking therapy.

To make matters worse, and considerably more public, in 1948 she began a stormy and inevitably very public relationship with a married man. The wrong man. He was called Frank Sinatra.

Ava and Frank Sinatra
Ava and Frank Sinatra

Ava and Frank

Ava's third husband was already a controversial figure, rarely out of the public eye. At the beginning of their relationship, Frank Sinatra's career had hit a low point, but the press was still following him closely. He was a philanderer, he was selfish, volatile and lacked discipline. A quiet family life was not for him. Many of these qualities could also have been applied to Ava and there was little chance their relationship would proceed discreetly.

Shortly after their relationship started Sinatra's wife left him. The Catholic Church decided that they should get invlolved, and denounced both parties. (Sinatra and his wife were Catholics.) Some church members were instructed to boycott Sinatra's records and Ava's movies.

In 1951, 6 days after his divorce, Sinatra and Ava were married but their personalities were too similar and they quarrelled constantly. Sinatra gave her a six-carat diamond engagement ring. But she threw a tantrum and flung it out of the window into the street. It was never found. Under constant media scrutiny their volcanic relationship had to give and they separated in 1953 although they did not divorce until 1957.


Later Years

In 1958 Ava left Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to become an independent actress. She continued to appear in films through the 1960s and '70s, though, as her career wound down, usually in less-important roles than before. Her last quality starring film role was in 1964 in The Night of the Iguana. In 1968, tax trouble in Spain prompted a move to the UK and she spent the last 22 years of her life in comfortabe retirement in London.

Ava’s last role was a recurring character on the TV soap Knots Landing.

Ava had suffered a couple of strokes which slowed her down but didn't diminish her zest for life. She continued to work on her autobiography entitled Ava, My Story, which was concluded before she died in London, on January 25, 1990 of pneumonia at the age of 67. Her final words were “I’m tired.”

She was buried in Smithfield, North Carolina in the Gardner family plot. An Ava Gardner Museum is located there.

Ava Tribute

Ava Gardner DVD's and Books


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    • km6ln profile image


      8 years ago from Los Angeles

      Every time I listen to Sinatra's "In The Wee Small Hours" LP, the experience is rendered more poignant knowing that he was picturing Ava with every word.

    • Truth From Truth profile image

      Truth From Truth 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      Nice Lady that ava

    • profile image

      jack brown 

      10 years ago

      without a doubt one of the worlds most beautiful women of all time,the only other women comparable to her are proberbly garbo and hedy lamarr.


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