Don’t Be Unhappy—Ava Gardner
There’s a new arc light in Hollywood. It’s Ava Gardner’s happy face, and it lights up the whole town.
Anyone who can change as dramatically as Ava has in the last few months should be required in the public interest to spread her secret around.
Ava, you will remember, was the kid who had everything—and nothing. Before she was twenty, she had all the things most young girls think they want—the kind of beauty that drives cosmeticians crazy because it cannot be improved by anything in a jar, a starring contract at M-G-M, with the fame and fortune that go with it, and, on a platter, the hearts of every eligible male in town. And she was so miserable she cried herself to sleep night after night.
Three years later she was scarred in spirit by two unsuccessful marriages, to Mickey Rooney and Artie Shaw. Whereupon, lonely and terribly unsure of herself, Ava was ready to look for help in any quarter where a friendly hand was extended.
Today the frightened, lonely little girl Ava used to be is no more. Today Ava is suddenly a woman, mature and more beautiful than ever. And she is radiantly happy.
“It’s simple,” she says, “I just found out that it’s too hard to be unhappy.”
It wasn’t simple, of course—except in looking backward.
Ava was sick, physically and emotionally exhausted, when she reached the turning point in her life.
She changed, because she couldn’t go on in the old way. She had to take a good long look inside herself, find out why she drove herself the way she did, and then she had to change, deeply, adopt a whole new attitude to life, and a whole new set of motivations.
“You must change to be well,” her doctors told her.
And her doctors helped her to change.
Essentially, what Ava found out about herself—the discovery she made which paved the road to her new happiness—was that it wasn’t necessary for her to go on trying yo be a dozen different people running off in a dozen different directions.
“I was trying with all my strength to be anything and everything I thought I had to be—to make good as Ava Gardner,” she says. “But what I had to face as that none of the people I was trying to be was the real Ava Gardner.”
It wasn’t necessary to go on running. And it was much too hard.
“I had, I realized, worked like a dog at being unhappy; never relaxed. So I’d never had a chance to find out what I really was like, what I really wanted.”
This is a pitfall always handy for girls like Ava. And it’s disastrous.
When Ava arrived in Hollywood, contract in pocket, she was just eighteen. And a very young eighteen, for she was fresh off the South Carolina farm where she had grown up in a big, poor family.
“I didn’t know anything,” she recalls. “I had barely finished high school—at a rural school three miles’ walk from my home. Except for a few months with my sister in New York, I had never been off the farm. And here I was, plumped down in Hollywood, required—or so I thought—to be a glamour girl.”
So Ava became a glamour girl. Or tried to.
“I spent hours in beauty shops having my hair glued into fancy hair-do’s—I didn’t have enough sense to know I looked terrible with fancy hair-do’s. I piled on make-up and hid what was really a very nice young girl’s skin. And I bought slinky clothes and fancy hats, and made like a sex boat.”
It was a terrible effort, but worth it, Ava says, so long as she managed to convince herself that she was getting away with it. And then one night at a party, when Ava arrived done up in black satin and ropes of pearls, a woman guest laughed. The woman was Ruth Rosenthal, the wife of a young attorney, and now one of Ava’s best friends.
Ruth laughed, but not unkindly, when Ava came in, and said, “You poor child. You look like a little girl dressed up in her mother’s clothes.”
“I felt sick,” Ava recalls. I wasn’t getting away with it.”
But she had no time to weep for the ghost of her glamour-girl self. By now, she was obsessed with a new dream—and Ava thinks this kind of dream, too, is a stock dream for most American girls—the dream of young love.
“I bought it,” she says. “I bought all the formula illusions.
“I was dream-driven when I was a kid. First I wanted to be a boy, to run as fast, and throw as straight as my brothers—I almost made it, and I have the scars to prove it. It’s only in the past few months that I’ve realized how really wonderful it is to be a woman.
“Then I wanted to be a school teacher, and I followed the country school marm who roomed at our house all over the county, picking up the pearls of wisdom as they fell. But did it make me a teacher?
“You know what happened to the glamour girl try. But I couldn’t catch on. Now I had to fall for that old bromide about the beauty and innocence of young love.”
Ava married Mickey Rooney before she was nineteen, knowing even less about the realities and responsibilities of marriage than she had known about the glamour of Hollywood.
Young love is innocent, all right, Ava found out. But it isn’t very intelligent. She was married to the boy, and she didn’t even know him. “I had been acting a part,” she said, “I suppose he had been, too. But when you’re married to a man, you have to live with him, you have to take off the false face you’ve been wearing around and be yourself. You can’t act all the time. You have to relax sometime.
“The trouble with all of us dream-driven kids, and this goes for Mickey—who is really a nice person—as well as for me, is that we expect too much of people. You can get hurt that way. There isn’t a chance for happiness in marriage or anything else unless you accept people—and especially yourself—for what they really are.”
It’s so easy when you’ve been hurt, Ava says, to blame the other person.
“I wouldn’t do that, I used to say. Maybe not . . . But I would have done something else. I’m human.”
Ava says her young marriage failed for the reason so many young marriages fail; it was built upon flimsy illusions.
“Girls dreaming of Clark Gable marry the boy next door. They wouldn’t believe for a minute that the Clark Gables are just as difficult to live with—human beings just like the boys next door.
“They run away from an imperfect marriage, looking for a perfect one. There isn’t such a thing as a perfect marriage.”
Ava knows that now.
“But don’t think I wouldn’t like to be married. Every normal woman wants a good marriage more than anything else in the world. But I know now that marriage is the hardest—if the most challenging and rewarding—job in the world. I’ll be ready and willing next time to work hard to make my marriage work.
“When I married Mickey I had bought the lovely dream. ‘You’re in love now, Ava. You’re married. All your problems are solved.’ ”
Marriage makes new problems, it doesn’t solve the old ones, Ava had to find out. She should have known that from her own parents’ good marriage, built in the face of poverty and struggle. But Ava wasn’t looking homeward for help. She was afraid to look back.
The new problems were too much for Ava and Mickey and their marriage crashed. And it took what was left of Ava’s ego along with it.
Now she had failed at everything, her sick heart told her. She was more insecure than ever. And to cover up, she says, she acted harder than ever.
“I was the gay girl, the good-time kid. I went out on the town night after night when I would far rather have stayed at home. I would feel, ‘I must talk! I must say something bright.’ And I’d chatter on endlessly, stupidly.
“That big act may go over on the first date, it may be a very intriguing act, very appealing—but remember, you have to relax sometimes! Your self, whatever it is, is always better than what you’re trying to be!”
But Ava hadn’t learned that important fact yet.
She met, and married Artie Shaw. Artie is a fascinating man, and Ava frankly admits she still finds him fascinating. And he is an intellectual. With the chameleon-like techniques she had developed to cover up her deep feelings of inferiority, Ava set out to make herself over once more—this time into an intellectual, the sort of woman she thought Artie wanted his wife to be.
Already weary from her wild flight from herself, taxed to her physical limits by her arduous motion picture schedule, Ava nevertheless enrolled in correspondence courses at U.C.L.A. and sat up nights when she should haves been sleeping, trying to beat English literature and the nineteenth century economists into her harried brain.
This effort too, was doomed to fail. And Ava found herself at twenty-three, twice divorced, exhausted and ill, haunted by her “past” and afraid for the future.
Fortunately for Ava, help was available when she came to the end of her rope, help in the person of trained and understanding doctors who know that unhappiness—no less than tuberculosis or cancer—is a disease, a disease which can be cured.
The cure for Ava, and for girls like her everywhere, lies in self recognition; in the knowledge that one’s own real self is better than any of the false faces, that is the only self with which one can live happily.
Today, Ava knows herself for what she is, a young, unsophisticated girl who is glamorous only if the glamour comes from the inside. It cannot be superimposed. She knows that her background—those years of learning and work and love on the farm with her solid, industrious family—is not something to run away from, not something which must be concealed if she is to “make good,” but the very basis of her talent and her creativeness.
She knows that love and marriage are more than a game which one can play with a part of one’s self. The whole woman is involved, must be involved, if love is to live, and marriage to work.
She knows what she is, and she knows what she wants, which is to live honestly and happily as—and with—her self. . . .
For Ava, it was the end of the rope, she says: “I had to get on to myself.”
The process of “getting on to herself” was long and difficult, and, at times, the cure was as agonizing as the disease, but Ava has come through it. This South Carolina farm girl is made of sturdy stuff.
“I had to take a good long look at myself,” she says. “I had to face some important facts: Who I was, really, what I really wanted. It was too hard to be unhappy. I had to find an easier way to live. And I don’t think I’m the only girl in the world who will find out, after a soul-searching like mine, that the easier way is the way to happiness.”
It’s a confused world at best, Ava feels. It’s hard enough to stay afloat when we’re completely honest. We have to be honest, at least with ourselves.
Ava has stopped wasting her energies in a mad pursuit of things she never wanted in the first place. And she’s happy for the first time in years.
—BY PAULINE SWANSON
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MARCH 1950