• Biography of Ava Gardner

  • Although equally as well known for her beauty and her famous husbands as she was for her acting (one Oscar nomination, no wins), Ava Gardner nevertheless gave many memorable performances during her 45-year career.

    Ava Lavinia Gardner was born on December 24, 1922 in the Brogden community, seven miles east of Smithfield N.C. She grew up on a tobacco farm and was the youngest of seven children of Jonas and Mary Elizabeth (Mollie) Gardner. Ava caught MGM's eye as a beautiful teenager and was playing bit parts in films by the time she was 20. She landed her first starring role in Whistle Stop (1946), then made a splash that same year in The Killers, co-starring with Burt Lancaster. But it wasn't until 1953 when John Ford cast her in Mogambo with Clark Gable that her true talent emerged, gaining her one Oscar nomination, for Best Actress. The Barefoot Contessa followed in 1954, then George Cukor's Bhowani Junction in 1956. Other notable films during this period included Show Boat (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), with Gregory Peck, The Sun Also Rises (1957), with Tyrone Power, and On the Beach (1959), again with Peck.

    Her marriages were even bigger news than her films. She married actor Mickey Rooney in 1941; that lasted until 1943. She married bandleader Artie Shaw in 1945; they divorced the followed year. Her marriage to Frank Sinatra was the most famous and the longest-lasting, from 1948 to 1957. (During her marriage to Sinatra, she had to lend him money, since it was during a low point in his career. Sinatra, in turn, paid all her medical expenses after her stroke in 1989, even though they were no longer married.)

    It all became too much, especially when she continued to have trouble getting quality parts, and she moved to Spain in the late 50s, making most of her films in Europe after that. She later moved to London, where she lived until her death. She delivered strong performances in 55 Days at Peking (1963), with Charlton Heston, The Night of the Iguana (1964), with Richard Burton, Seven Days in May (1964), opposite Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. Her beauty continued to be her greatest strength, even when she was over 50. In 1974 she appeared in Earthquake, playing Lorne Greene's daughter in spite of the fact that she was only 6 years younger than him at the time!

    Her final film was an undistinguished 1986 made-for-TV effort called Harem. She spent her final years living in her apartment in London with her housekeeper Carmen and her dog, Morgan (both of whom were taken in by Gregory Peck after she died). She passed away of pneumonia in London on January 25, 1990, at the age of 67. She had just finished work on her autobiography ("Ava, My Story"), but didn't live to see the book published. She is buried in a family plot in Sunset Memorial Park in her hometown of Smithfield. Approximately one mile east of the cemetery, the Ava Gardner Museum honors her life and movie career.


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