Love Begins At 30—Ava Gardner & Frank Sinatra
During Ava Gardner’s playgirl period, before she had become the second Mrs. Frank Sinatra, she frolicked in a Hollywood night club with that perennial escort of beautiful women, Peter Lawford.
Ava danced with verve and abandon and grace. She sang as she danced, and occasionally her lips would break into a wide smile as Lawford whispered sweet nothings. Back at her table, she imbibed freely, chain-smoked, greeted friends with warmth and delight; in on she appeared to be a classic Hollywood Sybarite.
One man, a wise old MGM executive sitting in a corner booth with his wife, wasn’t fooled. “You see Ava Gardner?” he asked. The wife nodded.
“There,” said the old man, “sits the most. mixed-up girl in Hollywood. This one,” he went on, “doesn’t know whether she feels sad or glad.”
“A very beautiful girl,” the wife of the MGM executive said. “In fact, the most beautiful girl here.”
The studio executive nodded slowly. “Unfortunately,” he said, “it’s all exterior beauty. All on the face. Inside, ” he tapped his chest lightly, “the poor kid is bedeviled. A million little devils scurrying inside her soul. I don’t think she’ll get rid of them until she is thirty. Maybe not even then. Time will tell.”
A few weeks ago, he was reminded of his appraisal of Miss Gardner and assured that she is thirty years old now. Does he think she is emotionally unscrambled?
The executive smiled wryly. “To begin with, Ava is now Mrs. Frank Sinatra.”
Does that make so much difference?
The executive paused and lit a cigarette. “Being married to Frank Sinatra,” he said good-naturedly, “would not exactly simplify any woman’s life. Another thing,” he added, “Ava’s been abroad a great deal of the time. I don’t see as much of her as I used to.”
Weren’t you in London recently?
“Yes, and I saw her there. She had a very nice apartment out at Regent Park and a very nice secretary. And when I was there, Frank was with her.”
How were they getting along?
“I will tell you,” the executive continued, “Ava gets more beautiful with the passage of time.”
De you think Ava’s rid of all those little devils that used to plague her?
The executive thought for several moments. Then he mashed his cigarette in the ash tray. “Well, Ava is happier now than she was five years ago. She has grown up intellectually and emotionally. She has also discovered that as an actress, she has talent. Not so much talent as Sinatra. Did you see Frank in Eternity? A sensational performance. Academy Award caliber. The guy is really great.
“Ava,” the producer continued, “has developed her talent through hard work. It’s a source of satisfaction to her. What you must never forget about Ava is this: when she came out to Hollywood, she had nothing. She couldn’t sing, she couldn’t dance, she couldn’t act. All she could do was pose for cheesecake. As for her mentality—well, you remember. She didn’t show much judgment in her private life.
“But she has come a long way since then. A long, long way. And shall I tell you something? The guy most responsible for her mental development is Artie Shaw. Whatever you say about Artie, you must admit that primarily he’s a scholar, a man who worships the intellect, a student of art and literature and good music. In my opinion, he’s the one who really developed Ava. He showed her the door to knowledge. He forced her to read books. He made her brain come alive. As a husband, the dames say he’s impossible. But certainly, he stimulated their pretty heads. He attracts intellectuals.
“All right, so his friends are all in analysis—that’s neither here nor there. The point is that he taught Ava plenty. She began to assess herself, to take stock. Unfortunately, she is more emotional than intellectual. I mean she knows when she’s doing wrong or taking chances, but she goes ahead, anyway.
“A few years ago when Sinatra was down in Texas, she knew she shouldn’t have flown down to him, but she did, anyway. I’m sure her brain told her not to marry Frank, but her heart told her just the opposite. She listens to her heart.
“Why do she and Frank fight? They both have violent natures; they are both creatures of emotion. Ava is happier now than she has ever been before. Her new contract calls for $5,000 a week for the next five years, so she doesn’t have any money worries. She didn’t like most of the pictures we put her in, but she’s no Garbo. She doesn’t like Hollywood because she doesn’t have very many friends here. Just Les Koenig, Fran Heflin and a few others. She says she wants six kids, but I don’t think she’d ever give up her career.
“Maybe, now that she’s financially fixed, she and Frank will adopt a couple of kids. Maybe that’s what she needs to fulfill her life. You ask me if, at thirty, Ava Gardner is a happy woman. I think she is happier than she was five years ago, but she is still an unfulfilled woman; she is unrequited. She has found flashes of love but she is still bedeviled.
“As I told you before, that’s just my opinion. Why don’t you interview her friends and acquaintances? Ask people about Ava. See what they say.”
Directors producers, publicity men, old friends, old lovers, old schoolmates, shopkeepers, people who somewhere along the line had made contact with Ava Gardner—all had different interpretations of Miss Gardner.
A director said, “I don’t know Ava except professionally. She’s a good actress if you don’t ask too much of her. She is cooperative. She doesn’t hold you up, and she’s easy to work with. One of these days she’s going to get a role she falls in love with, then watch out. She’s going to surprise the world. Is she really thirty? You’d never think it.”
From a publicity representative: “Ava Gardner is a lot better than some actresses we’ve handled. You know what they say about actors and actresses—they need you on the way up, and they need you on the way down, and in between you can go to hell Ava has never been like that. Of late, she has regarded us with a jaundiced eye but the still men swear by her, and you could never call her anything but cooperative.
“She’s really a level dame. If she gives you her word, you can count on it. She never pulls rank, either. At heart, she’s a nice kid. I’d say that she has given us less trouble than practically any other actress. To a large extent, she owes her success to publicity, and she knows it.”
Said one reporter: “She’s okay, I guess. I’ve written about twenty stories on Ava. I’ve always asked my photographer to get her best angles. Never once has she sent me a-thank-you note. I wrote one yarn about her fights with Frank and right away I was the prize heel of all time. A lousy double-crosser. Boy! You should have heard her.”
And a man who used to take her out says, “She’s a beautiful girl. No doubt about it. But when she’s got you on the hook, she can really give it to you. Maybe deep down she hates men. Some of them have given her a hard time. Anyway, I’m glad she’s married to Sinatra, and not to me.”
An old schoolmate from Newport News, Virginia, says, “I haven’t seen Ava Gardner since she was twelve or thirteen. Her family came from North Carolina, I think. I don’t know how long they lived in Newport News. She was in my class at school and seemed very shy, almost backward. Maybe it was because she was new. I never thought she would become famous. Just goes to show you.”
A fellow-citizen of Grabtown, North Carolina: “She comes from good old stock. Her daddy never made much money. He shared crops around here. I think there were seven kids in the family. Her mother died of cancer a couple of years back. A fine woman she was. They say she was plumb crazy about her brother, Ava was. Family kinda scattered now. Lot of nephews and nieces. They all speak very well of her. She used to send money home. Very proud of Ava Gardner in North Carolina. She and Kay Kyser. Right nice girl, Ava Gardner. They say she married that Italian crooner fellow, Perry Como, or somebody like that.”
A Hollywood girl who knows Ava well: “Ava’s a doll, a beautiful doll. Not a phony thing about her. Speaks her mind. When L. B. Mayer tried to take care of her because she was dating Frank, she told him right off, told him, but good. Anything she’s got she’s earned the hard way. She’s very honest. She thinks that making movies is a whole lot easier than working at a typewriter. She doesn’t mind saying so, either. None of this dramatic coach business with her. She calls the shots as she sees them.”
A British Newspaperman reports, “Ava’s a good interview, speaks frankly, once in a while claims she’s being misquoted. I was down in Africa with her on that Mogambo location. I heard some funny stories about her and Sinatra. I don’t know how true they are, but here’s one.
“One night when she and Frank were way out on location—no cities or towns nearby—they got into a battle royal. ‘I’ve had it,’ Frankie said. ‘I’m finished. I’m getting out.’ And with that, he walked out into the jungle. Incredible! Where could he have gone?
“I think they wanted Lana Turner for that picture, originally, and I don’t think Ava was a particular favorite of the director, John Ford, but she gave an excellent performance. The British fans like her quite well. She had an apartment in London when she was there, and she had English friends.
“I understand she suffers from an inferiority complex and is wary of people. Oddly enough, she never seems especially happy. Do you think her marriage with Frank Sinatra will last? Over here, we don’t.”
A Hollywood actor indulges in a little professional jealousy, perhaps. “I judge Ava on the record. She married Mickey Rooney in 1942. She divorced him in 1943. She got $25,000 for her heartache. She married Artie Shaw in 1945, divorced him in 1946. She got $5,000, a liberal education, and an introduction to psychiatry. I read all the time about this poor, fear-ridden, insecure little girl from North Carolina. This poor lil’ ole Ava honey-chile is gettin’ five grand a week, and I wish I were she. I can’t work up one ounce of sympathy for Ava.”
A Hollywood agent discusses her: “Ava’s a sweetie but when it comes to men, she has no judgment at all. She is attracted to men in show business because she speaks their language. That’s why she married Rooney, Shaw, and Sinatra.
“My wife said to me only the other day, ‘Ava Gardner should have married a doctor,’ and I said, ‘And what would she have talked to him about?’ With people in other professions—doctors, engineers, lawyers, scientists—Ava feels strange. She doesn’t belong with them.
“She’s like Lana Turner. They are lusty, frank, down-to-earth, laugh it up, live it up, tell-him-off girls. Ava has a lot of bounce; so has Lana. An unhappy marriage? Okay, try again. These girls go out and do things.”
Another former escort from Hollywood says, “Ava likes the simple things, informal clothes, plain food, staying at home and having a good time. In Hollywood she stays out of the night clubs now. She’s crazy about kids and if she has any sense she’ll adopt a few. Joan Crawford has four, and they keep her darn busy between pictures. That’s what Ava needs. From Here To Eternity should make it easier for Frank to get jobs in town. Maybe he wont have to be on the road so much, and maybe Ava won’t have to spend so much time worrying about him. Both of them are truly wonderful people, and I hope they do settle down and be happy now.”
—BY WILLIAM BARBOUR
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1953