Ava Gardner

On this date in 1922, actress Ava Lavinia Gardner was born in Grabtown, N.C., the last of seven children born to her Irish Catholic father (a tenant farmer who died when Ava was 16) and Scottish Baptist mother. Biographer Charles Higham wrote this of the family: "Books were no part of the texture of their life: only the Bible stood on the shelves, and it was not until Ava was 16 that she was permitted to read any novel not assigned in school." She grew up attending Baptist services and enrolled for a year at Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College), affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. Visiting her sister in New York City in 1939, she caught the eye of a photographer with ties to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. Two years later, she signed a seven-year contract with MGM for $50 a week and married Mickey Rooney. She soon divorced him and then bandleader Artie Shaw before marrying Frank Sinatra in 1951. They divorced in 1957. While she had relationships with other men throughout her life, including Howard Hughes, John Huston and Ernest Hemingway, she never again married. She never had children and ended at least two pregnancies with abortions. Gardner's acting career expanded from small, walk-on roles to starring with Clark Gable in "The Hucksters" and "Mogambo." In between she had a leading role in the musical "Show Boat." Gardner exuded "sultry" as a femme fatale in her four-decade film career. She was nominated once (in 1953) for a Best Actress Oscar as Eloise "Honey Bear" Kelly in "Mogambo," losing to Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday." Gardner's only Golden Globe nomination was for 1964's "Night of the Iguana," won by Anne Bancroft for "The Pumpkin Eater."

Religion never played a positive role in her life, according to biographers and Gardner herself, in her autobiography Ava: My Story. Her friend Zoe Sallis, who met her on the set of "The Bible" when Gardner was living with Huston in Puerto Vallarta, said Gardner always seemed unconcerned about religion. When Sallis asked her about religion once, Gardner replied, "It doesn't exist." Gardner ended her acting career on the small screen with several TV roles in the mid-1980s. She suffered a stroke in 1986 and was plagued by lung problems before dying at home in 1990 of pneumonia at age 67.

Public domain photo by Eiga no Tomo via Wikimedia

 

“[N]obody wanted to know Daddy when he was dying. He was so alone. He was scared. I could see the fear in his eyes when he was smiling. I went to see the preacher, the guy who’d baptized me. I begged him to come and visit Daddy, just to talk to him, you know? Give him a blessing or something. But he never did. He never came. God, I hated him. Cold-ass bastards like that ought to . . . I don’t know . . . they should be in some other racket, I know that. I had no time for religion after that. I never prayed. I never said another prayer.”

—"Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations," by Peter Evans and Ava Gardner

Compiled by Bill Dunn

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