Ava Gardner

“Deep down, I’m pretty superficial.”

“When I lose my temper, honey, you can’t find it anyplace.”

My earliest movie memory: Green satin dress; a close up on olive skin; red lips quivering to the Showboat song “Can’t Help Loving That Man Of Mine”. Lips that belonged to Ava Gardner. I was 4 and it wouldn’t be until much later that I discovered some troubling news–Ava’s vocals had been dubbed. She hadn’t actually sung the songs I remember so vividly. Imagine the day you discovered Santa Claus was fictional. While Show Boat is an affinity of mine all in itself, its Ava who made it so memorable. Maybe because of her wide set green eyes or that I subconciously recognized her as someone who was also raised in North Carolina–for whatever reason, she was certainly a gateway drug of sorts for all the other actresses I would grow to admire. While many people posess recordings of themselves singing their first songs as a child–“the itsy, bitsy spider”, “mary had a little lamb”–the recordings of my first song were straight from Broadway. Imagine a 4 year old with a painfully strong southern accent singing what was once vocalized by Lena Horne. “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly…can’t help loving that man of mine.” Obviously quite grown up lyrics for such a young girl. It only further stresses the fact that Ava’s performances which have been often overlooked by critics had a profound effect on me.

The basics, shall we? Ava Lavinia Gardner (sounds beautiful, I know) was in fact born in North Carolina. 1922 to be exact.And she grew up, stereotypically of North Carolina, on a tobacco farm. Its here that she’s buried and where her museum operates. I’m ashamed to say I’ve not yet made the pilgrimage to Smithfield to see it. Soon, though, soon. By the time she was 23, Ava reportedly had only read 2 books– The Bible and Gone With the Wind (staples for a southern girl at the time). After visiting her sister and photographer brother in law in New York, she was given a screen test (which was silent due to her thick accent) and was signed with MGM.

Following two failed marriages and a near-obsessive pursuer in famed billionaire Howard Hughes, Ava began an affair with the then married (and Catholic) Frank Sinatra causing quite the scandal. About it, she said “I didn’t understand then and I still don’t why there should be the purient mass hysteria about a male and a female climbing into bed together and doing what comes naturally.”

Frank and Ava being both volitale, bold individuals, their marriage did not work out. After moving to Spain to film a movie, Ava took up Flamenco dancing and stayed in the country for a few years before moving to London.

Ava was recently potrayed by Kate Beckinsale in The Aviator, the movie based on the life of her persistent admirer Howard Hughes. Kate Beckinsale is, by all accounts, attractive and a great actress, but when you’re embarking on a role that will leave you to be compared to such a legendary beauty, you just can’t win.

Essentially, discussion of Ava’s beauty or even of her career doesn’t compare favorably to discussion of her as a person–elegant, sexy and honest. Not concerned with public oppinion or even of her acting which she viewed as simply a way to earn a living. Like Julie in Showboat, Ava seemed all-knowing and yet laid back, possibly attributed to her southern childhood. She was witty and un-apologetic and, yes…quite the brunette bombshell.

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~ by avantdeb on January 4, 2009.

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