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What Hollywood Is Whispering About?

The whispers have turned to shouts—and raucous shouts at that. And the cinema cynics who, two months ago, were called crepe hangers when they predicted that Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner would not be Mr. and Mrs. by the end of 1953, are now being hailed as prophets and wise men. After the series of volatile blowups that punctuated their marriage during the last months of 1952, Frankie and Ava would have to be miracle workers to keep from winding up in the divorce courts before Ava’s worn out her trousseau.

Even the most pessimistic—and the most highly imaginative—of the observers of this rocky romance would never have guessed that one of the wildest tiffs would involve Lana Turner, who, by the kind of coincidence only Hollywood takes for granted, is also an ex-wife of Ava’s ex-husband, Artie Shaw.

Ava and Lana, both hurt and lonely—Lana over the breakup of her romance with Fernando Lamas, and Ava over the friction in her marriage—had turned to each other for friendship and understanding. With Frank in Hollywood working on a TV show, Ava invited Lana home to Palm Springs. Frank, the story goes, returned to find the girls there, with Ava’s agent, Benton Cole. Accounts of the incident vary; one report was that the two girls had been “cutting him up conversationally,” so Frank simply ordered them all out.

At the time of this writing, anything is possible in this volcanic marriage. And no matter what does come to pass, it’s easy, as you examine the romance step by step, to see that trouble was foredestined.

When Frankie and Ava were first married, the illusion they created of being happy honeymooners was perfect. They held hands and gazed into each other’s eyes as if they were so in love they couldn’t wait to be alone. But when they were alone, their ardor turned to argument, and the domestic heat generated until they were screaming and throwing things at each other.

As the months piled up and the tensions grew greater, they began to drop even the public pretenses of peace and adoration—and anybody who happened to be handy when their tempers were hot, was treated to a display of emotional fireworks.

There was nothing at all private about the flare-up that preceded Ava’s impulsive return of her wedding ring to Frank this past October. It all happened one-two-three before a packed house at the Riviera Night Club over the Hudson from Manhattan where Frankie was singing. Ava had been in New York for the opening of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and though Frank’s schedule had kept him from going to the premiere with her, as soon as he finished up his first show he piled into a car and tore down New York’s West Side Highway to pick her up and take her back to the Riviera for his late show. The club was packed when they got back—and looking quickly over the crowded room, Ava turned white. Sitting at a table with a group of friends was Marilyn Maxwell.

When Frank sang an old song—a sentimental ballad that he’s been doing for years—Ava took it into her pretty little head to decide that he was singing it for Marilyn. And Ava remembered those Hollywood rumors to the effect Frank used to find Marilyn attractive.

Ava swept out of the Riviera, made her own way back to town, and the next thing Frank knew, she had flown to Hollywood and the wedding ring—wrapped in a furious note—was winging its way across the continent to him.

Now Frank can be just as temperamental —just as erratic—as Ava. And since the thing he cherishes most is his marriage, he’ll go to any extreme to protect it. With the ring burning in his pocket he decided that he’d better get back to Hollywood—at once. He was scheduled to go on to St. Louis for a public appearance, but he didn’t want to appear anywhere except in front of Ava, where he hoped he could get things straightened out.

Contracts? Tear ’em up! Career? Who cares?

Maybe Frankie doesn’t—but his agent and his managers and a half a dozen people whose fortunes are invested in Frank’s voice do care—and care a lot. He was forced to keep his St. Louis commitments (incidentally, he broke every PA record the town has ever had). And Ava partied blithely in Hollywood, while Frankie ate his heart out in a lonely hotel room.

These arguments started months before they were married. Once, in a New York hotel after they’d quarreled, Frank got Ava on the phone, threatened to commit suicide, then pulled his gun and fired a couple of shots in the pillows, to emphasize his point. Ava said later that she knew he was kidding all along.

Another time, in a Nevada resort, it was reported that he took a flock of sleeping pills—maybe to scare her again, maybe to calm his nerves. But a doctor had to be called to bring him out of a deep sleep.

Frankie says that things like that could happen in anybody’s life, but because it’s happening to him they make a “great big federal case out of it.” Of course, he’s right. But that’s the penalty one pays for being famous.

If Frankie had gone on with his plans to be an obscure newspaper man and Ava had never come to Hollywood, they might have been happily wed. But then they probably would never have met at all. Frankie would probably have gone on living with Nancy, eating her spaghetti cooked in clam juice, and have had nothing more to worry about than keeping the kids in shoes.

Instead, he sang his way into fortune and has taken on all the headaches of a millionaire without the temperament or the training to move about in high financial circles.

Swift fame and big dough went to his head with an intoxicating wallop. They brought him the back-slapping guys who were looking for somebody to touch, and they brought him the admiration of beautiful women.

It wasn’t surprising that he began to think of himself as a big man who could do no wrong.

And Ava has been living in a gold fish bowl too, ever since she arrived in Hollywood and married Mickey Rooney. Those who are closest to Ava now say that she never really loved Mickey—that she loved only the excitement of being married to a big name (he was tops in those days).

Her marriage to Artie Shaw was something else again. It was the most overwhelming emotion that had ever hit the still unsophisticated farm girl. Artie kidded Ava about her lack of erudition and her slow mental processes. For him, she began reading books and emulating the poses of the so-called intellectuals who haunt the entertainment world. She began talking about the problems of “the little people,” although it was quite apparent that she was over her head most of the time.

Folks around Hollywood still choose to believe Ava has never got Artie entirely out of her mind and that she never will Certainly, she seemed to be still in love with him up until not too many months before she married Frank. When Artie was appearing in New York’s “Bop City,” Ava arranged with a couple of songpluggers—mutual friends—to take her to see Artie’s show.

Ava herself says that’s all over now. Completely. And that there’s nobody she’d dream of using the word “love” about except Frankie.

Despite a lot of tempestuous behavior which would seem to belie the fact, it’s probably true that Ava and Frank really do love each other—as much as any two egocentric, spoiled people can. But neither one has ever learned to compromise, nor learned to be reconciled to being anything but kingpin in his own bailiwick.

Frank seems to have gone farther in this direction than his wife. The story of the sacrifices he made to marry her is old and familiar by now—the moral censure of his public, the break with his Church, the heavy financial penalties. But though the reading public may take them all for granted, Frank himself still smarts under their hurt. But he wouldn’t take one step backward to have these harms undone.

He knew what he was sacrificing to marry Ava. And he’ll regret those sacrifices only if the marriage should collapse.

Then what’s the trouble all about?

Although some people say that much of the fuss stems from Frank’s financial troubles, that’s by no means the root of it all. Certainly Frank has had his tough times, and the fact that one-third of every-thing he ever earns is ear-marked for Nancy and the children, doesn’t make it easy for him to meet his bills. But he’s gradually pulling himself out of debt. The red ink on his balance sheet with Uncle Sam is being replaced by black.

On this score, the story goes that Ava dipped deeply into her own bank account to help pull Frankie up financially. And it’s this fact that now makes it imperative for her to stay out of the United States for a full eighteen months (in order to benefit from income tax exemptions) so she can save some money.

Despite stories to the contrary, Frank has never worried enough about money. He’s always operated blithely on the theory that there was no need, for instance, for flying in a public plane when he could charter one for himself. And he’s been almost madly generous—with lavish gifts to all his friends (he’s bought gold cigarette lighters literally in dozen lots) and with financial help to anyone who’s ever asked it of him.

That’s why he was so opposed to Ava’s going off on the “Mogambo” location trip. It was not that he was afraid she would have a torrid African romance with Clark Gable, as so many people have suggested He simply didn’t want her that far away for so long. Earning money did not seem to him to be nearly a good enough reason for such a long and agonizing separation.

And that’s why—against the advice of his agent and manager—he turned heaven and earth to try to arrange singing engagements that would keep him near her during this trip, no matter how that would affect his career at home.

The rough spots in their romance don’t seem to have been created by career competition, either, though that’s another theory that’s making the rounds. “How,” people ask, “can you expect things to be any different—when she keeps moving upward all the time—and he keeps sliding down?”

Things could be very different indeed. Ava has said a dozen times that she’d give her career up in a second, if she could find real happiness in her heart. It’s common knowledge that, when she and Frank were first married, she wanted nothing more than to become a mother. And she says that if she had a child she would make it her life.

Since the marriage, she’s been downright cavalier about her movie commitments—and, at least at first, was willing to flaunt any authorities, even to go on suspension, as she once did, just to be with Frank.

And as far as his own career is concerned, Frank is not the least bit worried. “I can still make a buck,” he says. And he’s right. He can. There are literally hundreds of cities, in the United States and abroad, where he has never appeared, and where he could still pack ’em in, as witness his recent St. Louis and Riviera record-breaking appearances.

Though his voice is, perhaps, not quite as true as it once was (medical authorities say this is the direct result of his emotional upsets), he is a better showman than he ever was. And audiences still love him!

Then if it isn’t the money, and it isn’t career, what is the ruckus all about?

It’s all deep-rooted—and difficult to define. It’s a job for a psychiatrist and not really for a magazine writer. But here’s the way it seems to shape up:

These two do love each other. If they didn’t, would he have put himself through the fiery hoops he did to marry her? And would she be so violently jealous of him?

But does she have any cause to be jealous? Those who know them both best answer with a positive and vehement “No!” Though Frank was once supposed to be more than mildly guilty of a roving eye, things have changed entirely since November 7, 1951, when he married Ava. Since then, he has not so much as looked at another woman. When they’ve had to be separated, he has always carried a color picture of Ava with him (a stunning portrait from “Sombrero”) and this goes on his bedside table. He has even gone so far as to give up his old men friends whom Ava happened not to like.

Is it then, perhaps, some ask, that he may look back nostalgically on the comparatively peaceful days with Nancy, that he may be yearning for a return to her? Again, the answer is “No.” Though many of his closest friends have suggested to him that this would be the wisest step he could take—that it would assure him tranquility, and practically guarantee the continued success of his career, he isn’t having thank you. Nancy has indicated that would go back to him (the rumor is she telephoned him in St. Louis after sent back the wedding ring), but Frank says that could never be. He and Nancy says, were washed up years ago, long fore Ava ever came into their lives. Ava was not the cause of their breakup, he said. But she was the only woman whom he ever truly loved—loved enough to get him the strength to face the breaking of his home and the censure of the world.

Then what?

The finger points to Ava.

And the words are hard to choose.

Even though she denies any feeling for Artie Shaw, the wounds of that love seem to have left deep and ugly scars, and a desperate need to take revenge. Not on Artie, because he’s out of her life now. But on any man she loves. And Frankie is that man. So, without meaning to, without wanting to do so, she hurts him, hurts him deeply. And she hurts herself.

Does she know that she’s doing it? Not consciously. And she hates herself when she does. She fights against it diligently. Somehow she just can’t help herself.

But she’s trying. For a long time now, she’s been seeing a Hollywood psychiatrist, hoping that he can give her the strength she can’t quite summon up within herself. And this was the cause of one more marital battle. She wanted Frank to start psychiatric treatment too, and when he refused, a quarrel ensued.

But he’s thought better of it lately. Though he’s by no means sure that this would be the solution, he says now that he’d try anything. If that will save the marriage, then he’ll take any treatment that Ava wants him to.



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