10 Things We Learned About Ava Gardner from her Memoir

It was either sell the jewels or write a book. And Ava Gardner was sentimental about jewels, honey. So she wrote a memoir.

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It was either sell the jewels or write a book. And Ava Gardner was sentimental about jewels, honey. Or so she told reporter Peter Evans, the writer she called up out of the blue to see if he’d be interesting in penning her memoir.

Recognized throughout the world as a film star and femme fatale and known to a smaller circle as a Grabtown, North Carolina farmer’s daughter, Aa-vah Gahd-nuh lived a storied life that was the stuff of Hollywood headlines. Though she promised her third husband Frank Sinatra she would never write a memoir, her movie career dried up and eventually so did her money, and she had a change of heart—or at least she did at first.

Though Gardner eventually pulled the plug on the book, worried she had revealed too much, the transcripts of her and Evans’ conversations (many of which took place during the early hours of the morning with an insomniac Gardner greeting Evans with a “Hi, honey. What’s happening?”) remained intact. With the permission of her estate, these candid chat sessions have finally come to light in Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations. A tough, smart woman who evoked a touch of Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard, Gardner lived a rags to riches fable with a lot of sass, sex, and booze stirred in.

On her name: “I was named after Daddy’s spinster sister, Ava Virginia. She lived with Mama and Daddy all her life. I guess she never had the marrying gene—but neither did I.”

On her parents: “Daddy was a sharecropper, a tenant farmer… Mama’s full name was Mary Elizabeth but everybody called her Molly… Daddy was my favorite, but I loved Mama, too… People like us, my Daddy and Mama, Bappie, my whole family, we sweated and slaved and made ends meet our whole goddamn lives.”

On her childhood: “I was the goddamnedest tomboy you ever met. In the summertime I went barefoot, that was what farm kids did. Of course, we were poor. It was the Great Depression, everybody was poor. It cost you just to breathe. But being hard-up didn’t make us dirt poor, fahcrissake.”

On acting: “I loved the movies, but I never had any interest in being an actress. One time, I tried out for a play in high school. I was the first kid to be eliminated. Out! Don’t Call us! We’ll call you!”

On being discovered: “I do remember that my heart was thumping when I read the letter asking me to come to Hollywood.” 

On the Zombie, the cocktail she was drinking the night Mickey Rooney proposed: “Bacardi, dark rum, light rum, pineapple juice, lime juice, apricot brandy, orange juice, a sprig of mint, and a cherry. Only I always told them to hold the mint and the cherry!”

On Louis B. Mayer’s disapproval: “I swear to God, I had no idea of the fuss I was creating. I had no idea that Mayer—uncle L.B. as Mickey called him—had ordered Mick to stop seeing me. He’d actually forbidden it! That shows you the power Mayer wielded in those days. And it shows the power—and the guts—Mickey had to stand up to him the way he did.”

On Frank Sinatra: “Practically every song he recorded has a memory for me… I’m a Fool to Want You,’ that’s one that stands out. He wrote some of the lyrics himself.” 

On finding humor after her stroke: “I fell down in Hyde Park with a friend who’d had a hip operation and neither of us could get up. People must have thought we were a couple of drunks rolling around and walked on by.”

On what she misses: “Frank—or rather I miss my fights with Frank… I miss a lot of things: playing tennis; Spain I miss, of course, and dancing to flamenco music late at night.”

Photo credit: thefoxling / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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  • http://www.avagardner.org Donna Bailey-Taylor

    Being on the Ava Gardner Museum Board of Directors for over 15 years and developing exhibits for our visitors to learn more about the life and career of Ava Gardner…I have learn many, many things about her as well. What stands out for me is her strength of character — she believed in equality before the Civil Rights era, she raised funds for the American Cancer Society in the 40s after her Mom died of cancer, she visited troops in countries around the world something she did early in her career in the 40s — all without sending our press releases or seeking publicity. She was real — and we are proud she was from North Carolina and our rural community of Johnston County. Just another plug, the Ava Gardner Festival is scheduled for October 4-6, and we will be featuring the movie, “The Night of the Iguana” and Ava’s friendship with director John Huston. Hope you can visit us in October!

    • lucy lofland

      I am from NC , can’t wait for the Film Festival again this year..thank you for posting this !!! She was one of a kind !! There will never be another Ava, even though many try…

  • http://www.visitsmithfield.org Donna Bailey-Taylor

    We now have some information up on the Ava Gardner Website and tickets are available in the gift shop…looking forward to another great festival.