She died in January, 1990, in London. Author Peter Evans had recorded Ava Gardner during a personal interview some 20 years earlier. It was a very honest and frank interview that once concluded, Ava forced Peter into silence about it. So, the tapes sat in a box until after 1990. At some point in time, Peter decided with Ava dead, to go through the tapes and finish the book he has started so long ago about her. Of course, Peter was also the last to interview her in 1988 after ava had suffered a stroke that froze part of her face.
Peter Evans manage to finish the book, Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations, before his own death in 2012.
The Ava Gardner mystique was one similar to her replacement, Marilyn Monroe. Ava came from a dirt poor family and childhood from her birth on Dec. 24, 1922 until the legendary stardom slowly began in the early 1940s. The family of seven kids got through the Great Depression as both parents did just about anything that was offered. Her dad as a drinker and smoker, but gentle. He died when she was 13, which she never got over but buried the pain. She was a typist at age 18 when she visited her sister in NYC on Thanksgiving, 1940. Her sister’s husband was a struggling photographer and was struck by Ava’s beauty and took a few portraits of her. He then taped them to the window of his office on 5th Avenue. An office boy for MGM noticed the photo and told an MGM agent. The MGM agent eventually contacted her and an interview was done.
The agent was unable to understand more than a couple of words because of her southern accent. So, he ordered a silent screen test to send to Hollywood! As Ava said, “I had less than no experience, I didn’t know anything about anything, but part of me always knew that one day I’d be a movie queen”. Being from North Carolina, her southern drawl was a real disability in Hollywood. In fact, the sound test made it look bleak. However, because of her beauty, MGM signed her as a walk on for $50 a week. She was beaming. Ava was embarrassed about her southern accent and then took many voice lessons to get rid of it.
She would meet, date, and marry Mickey Rooney in 1942. He was MGM’s biggest star. She finally lost her virginity that year. They were soon divorced, and in 1945, she married Artie Shaw. By 1947, they divorced. She dated a host of men including Howard Hughes. That was a lovehate relationship. She was independent, he was a control freak. The two had an intense fight (covered up by MGM) where he fisted her in the jaw and she responded with a marble vase that splattered his blood all the floor. Ava thought she had killed him.
Ava by this time had only done 12 second rate films for MGM, nothing memorable except her looks. Some of these were minor parts. Her first starring role is Whistle Stop, a noir thriller. That role led to her role with Burt Lancaster as his double-crossing girlfriend in The Killers. That put her on the A-list and her next film, The Barefoot Contessa with Humphrey Bogart made her a star. Her last marriage was to Frank Sinatra and lasted six years. She had been a fan first, listening to his records over and over.
Ava found her niche in Hollywood as an actress, playing the femme fatale. In fact, she defined it for others to follow. As she got older, her roles resembled her real personality as being an earthy person. These movies include, Show Boat, Mogambo, and Night of the Iguana. Her last respectable roles she thought were in the 1980s, Priest of Love and the TV show, Knot’s Landing in 1985.
In 1986, Ava suffered a major stroke that forced her to be bedridden for some time. Her lifelong smoking habit now began to take her toll in her mid-60’s. Peter Evans continued to talk with her with some sadness for a once international, rich, Hollywood star now seeing the end of the ride. These were random things that everyone must face in the later stages.
“Elizabeth Taylor is not beautiful, she is pretty. I was beautiful”, “I am broke (this was in 1988). I either sell my jewels or write a book. I’m kinda sentimental about the jewels”. ” If the book does not replenish my money, dying’s gonna be my only hope”. “It’s a pity nobody believes in simply lust anymore”. “Bogie (Humphrey Bogart) hated learning lines, he fucked up all the time”.
At age 66, Ava agreed to a final photoshoot after calling Peter at 3 a.m. She feared she was losing her sexy looks and appeal. The photoshoot was sad because the cameraman was told to keep telling Ava how beautiful she looked. After a fews shots and looking in the mirror, she sighed. It was gone. Age and taken its toll on the beauty that had made her a once rich and loved person in another time.
“This is it, it is as good as it gets. Part of the brain feels pain and hurt and anger but the happiness is gone“, then, “My body’s falling apart in every which way“.
Another quote rings true with every person reaching the later stages in life, “But life doesn’t stop because you’re no longer beautiful. You just have to make adjustments. Although I’d be lying to you if I told you that losing my looks is no big deal. It hurts, god damn it, it hurts like a son-of-a-bitch.”