I grew up on a steady diet of MGM movie musicals. My dad watched them all the time, and by the time I was 7 or 8, I knew all the words to every song in Singin in the Rain. One of my fondest memories of my dad before he died was about 10 years ago, when the two of us went to a fancy screening of An American in Paris and got to meet Leslie Caron. My dad — who always had something to say — was absolutely tongue tied. And that night he told me that the only other person he could think of that he would react that way to meeting would be Ava Gardner.
I didn’t know much about Ava Gardner, honestly. I had seen her in The Killers (because, hello, Burt Lancaster) and in Show Boat, but other than that, nothing. And of course, I knew about her crazy personal life. The marriages, the lovers, and the beauty made me want to know more about her.
And then, a few weeks ago, I read this review from xoxoxoe of a new book about Ava and her life. And I picked the book up at the library and read it in about two hours. And while it isn’t a great book (I hate the writing style), it does have some great Hollywood stories in it.
The book is written in a conversational style (mostly transcripts of conversations between Gardner and Evans, both on and off the record), with the occasional passage written for the memoir that was never published. Apparently, after months of working on the book together, Ava found out that Evans had been sued years prior by Frank Sinatra, and refused to work with him further. When Evans died in 2012, his publishers found his notes and tapes and got permission from Gardner’s estate to publish them as a “book”. But the stories as they are, don’t really stand up on their own. For me, there was too much filler about Evans’ trepidation about Gardner, and not enough about life as the world’s most beautiful woman.
However, if you are at all interested in old Hollywood, then you could certainly do worse than reading this. Gardner’s life in the public eye from the age of 18 until a series of strokes in her 60s was filled with men and booze and cursing and more men. She drops details about all three of her marriages (Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and of course, Frank Sinatra), as well as her long-time lover Howard Hughes (before he went insane, she is quick to clarify). She admits she wasn’t much of an actress at first, but that she knew how to work her looks and use them to her advantage on screen.
And she talks and talks and talks about the drinking and the smoking and the sex — and she hints at a fair amount of violence, as well. Some of the stories made me laugh out loud (her comments about Frank marrying Mia Farrow, for example), and some of them were simply so crazy, I’m not sure I believe them (shooting out all of the glass in the entire town of Indio, CA one drunken evening?!?!?).
But I loved the insight into the era, and seeing how studios like MGM were run (both for better and for worse). I loved the tidbits about Lana Turner and Clark Gable and Robert Mitchum.
The book wasn’t great, but it made me think of my dad, and I really can’t ask for more than that.