Ava Gardner And Her Bullfighter
Ava Gardner settled down on the Nevada shore of Lake Tahoe to wait for her third divorce. But she was being questioned as much about prospective husband number four as about her divorce.
The prospect was in Madrid and his name is Luis Miguel Gonzalez y Lucas—better known to the Spanish-speaking world as Dominguin, the bullfighter.
“What’s this about you and Dominguin?” Ava was asked. “Is he going to be your next husband?”
Ava is basically a gentle, good-natured girl and a truthful one, but when it comes to the men in her life, she is capable of making up some whoppers.
For example, a few months before she married Sinatra three years ago, she said, “Why should I marry him? I know that men in show business usually don’t make good husbands. I’ve had two of them and I’ve learned my lesson.”
Of Dominguin on June 11, Ava declared, “He is just a friend—as is Clark Gable.”
In Madrid Luis Miguel said there was a possibility of his coming to the United States sometime in July or August, and the chances are very good that he will have arrived by the time you read this.
“Would you visit Señorita Gardner?”
“Of course, that would be one of the main reasons for coming!”
“Do you and Señorita Gardner have an understanding?”
“I do not understand,” Dominguin said.
“Do you and Señorita Gardner plan to get married?”
“How long have you known Sefiorita Gardner?”
“Many months,” Dominguin said.
“When she was in Madrid, didn’t you take her out steadily? When she was in the hospital, didn’t you visit her every day? Didn’t you take her out to a famous ranch where the breed fighting bulls? Didn’t you go to the bullfights with her? Wasn’t it you who introduced Señorita Gardner to Ernest Hemingway?”
In Spanish, Dominguin conceded that all of this was true.
“Señorita Gardner,” he confessed, “is one of the most fascinating, one of the most beautiful women I have ever met. She is an aficionada (a bullfighting fan). So is your famous writer el señor Hemingway. He is also my old friend and when the Señorita said to me in the hospital that she had acted in some of his stories and would like to meet him, I asked Ernesto to come to the hospital with me to meet her.
“There was a lunch in the hospital and then before the Señorita Gardner returned to London we went to a breeding ranch. She and Ernesto are very fond of each other.”
Would Dominguin marry Señorita Gardner if he had the chance?
“But she is already married to the singer Sinatra,” he protested.
“But she is getting a divorce.”
“She is my friend,” Dominguin asserted, “and I like her very much but I do not discuss these personal matters.”
But in Lhardy’s, an antiquated saloon near Madrid’s old Puerta del Sol where Dominguin meets his friends, the word is that, “The American actress has cast her spell over Luis.”
One veteran bullfighting critic says, “Now that he is retired, Dominguin is ready to settle down. He has more than a million dollars. Much of it is deposited in the National City Bank of New York. He owns much real estate in Spain and coffee plantations in Brazil.
“That he is crazy about her, few of us in Madrid would deny. When she came to Spain last May she was very tired and weak. Dominguin instilled in her new life, new vitality.
“She even said that she would buy some property in Madrid and build a house here. Of course, she never has liked Hollywood. But I believe it is Luis who is the big attraction for her. She is not the kind of woman who can be without a man.
“Besides, she is very much loved in Spain. She tries to speak Spanish and learn the ways of the people.
“When she was ill, Dominguin visited her every day. She was afraid, the doctors said, to be operated on. She thought the kidney stones could be dissolved. Some days it was very painful. One she fainted from pain.
“She is a wonderful girl. But in my heart I do not think she is the girl for Dominguin. The Spanish people are devoutly Catholic. There is absolutely no divorce. Ava and Dominguin might make a successful marriage in Hollywood but not in Spain.”
In a matter of days Ava will have her third divorce. One might imagine that she would be in no mood to consider marriage—for a little while. But for Ava, marriage is necessary to happiness.
“All I want,” she has always said, “is a good husband and a flock of kids.”
Her career has never meant too much to the thirty-one-year-old Carolina beauty. “But let’s face it—it’s much better than being a secretary,” she has said.
Ava has been married to three Americans—Rooney, Shaw, and Sinatra. Each marriage failed.
Suppose for husband number four Ava should choose a Spanish bullfighter. For years she has loved bullfights. Whenever she can, she drives down to Tijuana in Mexico to watch the imported matadors. Some women find the spectacle too bloody, but not Ava.
If Ava were to marry Dominguin—and undoubtedly she will say she never has given the idea a thought—she would have to live in Madrid which is perfectly all right with her.
Spanish wives are not regarded as equals by their husbands. This is one avenue of nonsense down which Ava Lavinia would not be likely to tread.
Ava is a headstrong girl. She believes in fair play from the opening gong, which is why she dropped Frank Sinatra. She didn’t believe he was playing fair.
In Spain, Luis Miguel happens to be much more famous than Ava. His father was a second-rate bullfighter who taught his son how to toss the cape in front of young heifers when the lad was only five.
By, the time Luis was twenty, he was receiving $15,000 a fight, and he was considered Spain’s second greatest bullfighter.
The first was the immortal Manolete who was fatally gored in 1946 while trying to equal Dominguin’s incredible mastery with the cape. Dominguin had performed ahead of Manolete.
Three weeks later when Dominguin turned up in Barcelona, police advised him to leave town. “The feeling against you is so strong,” they explained, “we cannot be responsible for your safety. We suggest you do not fight here.” But Dominguin fought with such unforgettable bravery that the crowds cheered him as the new king of bullfighters.
Last January, Luis Miguel came to Mexico. Already a millionaire, he seemed to lack his previous enthusiasm for the sport. He went to Venezuela where a bull drove a horn into his right thigh. It was his eighth and worst wound. But he continued fighting, mostly for the money.
In Bogota he annnounced, “I once love bullfighting like a madness. But now I’ve lost the joy of fighting. That’s when accidents, fatal accidents, happen. Today I’ll make ten or twelve thousand dollars. But now it doesn’t matter.”
After this fight in Colombia, Dominguin cabled his mother. “You can be calm now. I have fought my last bull.”
Ava knows Dominguin’s story. She is three years older than Luis. But he has more money, more fame, more education. Inequality in intellect has never disturbed Ava. She has always thought her husbands much smarter than she.
But she is disturbed by inequality of affection. She seems to love much more than she is loved. Certainly this was true of her first two husbands, Mickey Rooney and Artie Shaw. Whether it holds true for Frank Sinatra is open to dispute.
Deborah Kerr said recently that when she was in Hawaii making From Here To Eternity with Sinatra, “I never saw a man so much in love with his wife. Frank spent every spare minute trying to get phone calls through to Ava in Spain.”
But it was too late by then.
What will develop between Ava and Luis Miguel Gonzalez y Lucas, we shall have to wait and see. Should the “close friends” have a rendezvous in Hollywood within the next few weeks the newspapers will be jammed with predictions.
If Dominguin cannot come to this country, he and Ava will meet again in Madrid. Ava has much more privacy there.
Dominguin is the best thing that’s happened to Ava this year. In January she said that she was divorcing Sinatra. No one believed her. Then she flew off to Spain and Italy. She looked thin and wan when. she showed up in Rome for The Barefoot Contessa. She was mentally torn when Sinatra kept up his barrage of long distance telephone calls but she decided that when she returned to the States she would file for divorce. Reconciliation, she told herself, was hopeless.
Frank sent her a chocolate coconut cake via Lauren Bacall who was flying to Italy to visit Humphrey Bogart. But although Ava appreciated the cake, and even ate it, she knew in her heart that the marriage was finished. She threw herself into The Barefoot Contessa.
In February when the company moved to San Remo she almost lost her life.
One Friday Ava went sightseeing off the coast with director Joe Mankiewicz, Italian stars Valentina Cortese and Rossano Brazzi. The sea was calm when they left in a tiny boat. But they lost control of the craft as the Riviera currents sucked it out to sea.
When Ava failed to show up for some scheduled shooting, the film crew became alarmed. A large yacht owned by the Rizzoli Film Company was ordered out. After a four-hour search, Ava and her friends were sighted and towed to safety.
Ava was taken to her room and put to bed. “I was scared stiff out there,” she said.
When The Barefoot Contessa was finished in March, Ava, accompanied by her sister Beatrice, flew to Spain for a rest. Ava had met Dominguin the year before. In Madrid they became inseparable.
Then she had an attack of kidney stones. She was hospitalized in May.
Later that month, after kissing Luis goodbye, Ava took off for London and returned to Hollywood.
Reporters asked her about Sinatra and Dominguin. Of Sinatra, Ava said, “I told you six months ago that I was going to divorce Frank, and I’m anxious to get it over with. Unless MGM has an immediate assignment for me I would like to establish residence in Nevada and do it there.
“If not, I will get the divorce in California. I can’t make any plans until I’ve talked to my studio.”
“He is just a very good friend,” she asserted. “If he’s coming here I don’t know anything about it.”
A week later, Ava, between hospital examinations, was suspended by MGM for refusing to star in Love Me Or Leave Me. She blithely drove down to Tijuana to see the bullfights.
Then she picked up her two sisters, their maid, and Ben Cole, business manager to the ex-wives of Artie Shaw. In two cars, they drove to Zephyr Cove, a resort on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe.
Here, in a rented house named Twin Cedars, Ava said she would establish residence for a Nevada divorce from Frank Sinatra.
Because he owns a two per cent interest in the Sands Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, Frank is registered in the State of Nevada as a licensed gambler. Reporters wondered why Ava wasn’t securing the divorce in Las Vegas.
“I’ve had fun around Lake Tahoe before,” she explained. (Three years ago she visited Sinatra at Lake Tahoe.) “And I like Reno very much. That’s why I chose this spot.”
Ava might have been avoiding Las Vegas because all of the men she had been married to—Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra—happened to be entertaining there.
“Not at all,” she said. “I simply prefer Tahoe and this whole district.”
“What will be your grounds for divorce?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “The usual grounds.” (Mental cruelty.)
A photographer asked for a picture.
“Honest, fellas!” Ava exclaimed. “Just look at me!” She was dressed in an old blue wool shirt and a grey tweed skirt belonging to her maid.
“These aren’t even my clothes,” she explained. “I look like the devil. We shipped a trunk up to Reno and we can’t find it. I don’t have a stitch to wear.
“Why don’t you come back tomorrow? Say at two-thirty. And I’ll be glad to pose for you then.”
The photographer said, “Fair enough.” Next day when he turned up, Ava was gone and her sister Beatrice said she was terribly sorry but Ava said she couldn’t pose for any photos. Later, Ava changed her mind when she was accused of having double-crossed the press. She posed for a few shots. But the newspapermen were more interested in hearing about Dominguin.
And as Ava discussed her plans in Nevada, Luis Miguel was making plans of his own in Madrid some 6,000 miles away to visit his “amiga Americana,” presumably at this very minute.
—BY STEVE CRONIN
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1954