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The Last Words of Ava Gardner: Hollywood's Femme Fatale

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before the fame

before the fame

Getting closer to fame

Getting closer to fame

Near the end

Near the end

Stardom debut in The Killers

Stardom debut in The Killers

In High School

In High School

A Hollywood Star

A Hollywood Star

She died in January, 1990, in London. Author Peter Evans had recorded Ava Gardner during a personal interview some 20 years earlier. It was a very honest and frank interview that once concluded, Ava forced Peter into silence about it. So, the tapes sat in a box until after 1990. At some point in time, Peter decided with Ava dead, to go through the tapes and finish the book he has started so long ago about her. Of course, Peter was also the last to interview her in 1988 after ava had suffered a stroke that froze part of her face.

Peter Evans manage to finish the book, Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations, before his own death in 2012.

The Ava Gardner mystique was one similar to her replacement, Marilyn Monroe. Ava came from a dirt poor family and childhood from her birth on Dec. 24, 1922 until the legendary stardom slowly began in the early 1940s. The family of seven kids got through the Great Depression as both parents did just about anything that was offered. Her dad as a drinker and smoker, but gentle. He died when she was 13, which she never got over but buried the pain. She was a typist at age 18 when she visited her sister in NYC on Thanksgiving, 1940. Her sister's husband was a struggling photographer and was struck by Ava's beauty and took a few portraits of her. He then taped them to the window of his office on 5th Avenue. An office boy for MGM noticed the photo and told an MGM agent. The MGM agent eventually contacted her and an interview was done.

The agent was unable to understand more than a couple of words because of her southern accent. So, he ordered a silent screen test to send to Hollywood! As Ava said, "I had less than no experience, I didn't know anything about anything, but part of me always knew that one day I'd be a movie queen". Being from North Carolina, her southern drawl was a real disability in Hollywood. In fact, the sound test made it look bleak. However, because of her beauty, MGM signed her as a walk on for $50 a week. She was beaming. Ava was embarrassed about her southern accent and then took many voice lessons to get rid of it.

She would meet, date, and marry Mickey Rooney in 1942. He was MGM's biggest star. She finally lost her virginity that year. They were soon divorced, and in 1945, she married Artie Shaw. By 1947, they divorced. She dated a host of men including Howard Hughes. That was a love\hate relationship. She was independent, he was a control freak. The two had an intense fight (covered up by MGM) where he fisted her in the jaw and she responded with a marble vase that splattered his blood all the floor. Ava thought she had killed him.

Ava by this time had only done 12 second rate films for MGM, nothing memorable except her looks. Some of these were minor parts. Her first starring role is Whistle Stop, a noir thriller. That role led to her role with Burt Lancaster as his double-crossing girlfriend in The Killers. That put her on the A-list and her next film, The Barefoot Contessa with Humphrey Bogart made her a star. Her last marriage was to Frank Sinatra and lasted six years. She had been a fan first, listening to his records over and over.

Ava found her niche in Hollywood as an actress, playing the femme fatale. In fact, she defined it for others to follow. As she got older, her roles resembled her real personality as being an earthy person. These movies include, Show Boat, Mogambo, and Night of the Iguana. Her last respectable roles she thought were in the 1980s, Priest of Love and the TV show, Knot's Landing in 1985.

In 1986, Ava suffered a major stroke that forced her to be bedridden for some time. Her lifelong smoking habit now began to take her toll in her mid-60's. Peter Evans continued to talk with her with some sadness for a once international, rich, Hollywood star now seeing the end of the ride. These were random things that everyone must face in the later stages.

"Elizabeth Taylor is not beautiful, she is pretty. I was beautiful", "I am broke (this was in 1988). I either sell my jewels or write a book. I'm kinda sentimental about the jewels". " If the book does not replenish my money, dying's gonna be my only hope". "It's a pity nobody believes in simply lust anymore". "Bogie (Humphrey Bogart) hated learning lines, he fucked up all the time".

At age 66, Ava agreed to a final photoshoot after calling Peter at 3 a.m. She feared she was losing her sexy looks and appeal. The photoshoot was sad because the cameraman was told to keep telling Ava how beautiful she looked. After a fews shots and looking in the mirror, she sighed. It was gone. Age and taken its toll on the beauty that had made her a once rich and loved person in another time.

"This is it, it is as good as it gets. Part of the brain feels pain and hurt and anger but the happiness is gone", then, "My body's falling apart in every which way".

Another quote rings true with every person reaching the later stages in life, "But life doesn't stop because you're no longer beautiful. You just have to make adjustments. Although I'd be lying to you if I told you that losing my looks is no big deal. It hurts, god damn it, it hurts like a son-of-a-bitch."

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perrya (author) on August 23, 2015:

I don't claim to the expert and neither should anyone else unless a verified photo of her exists in her last days.

Bill on August 22, 2015:

There are a few mistakes in this post. I'll clear up just four. Ava Gardner did not agree to a last photo shoot at age 66 that required the photographer to tell her how beautiful she looked. She agreed to meet with potential book publishers in person at her home and she requested a well known lighting technician to fix the lights so as to look her best before the publishers. It was not a marble ashtray but a brass bell. The film she made after The Killers (1946) was not The Barefoot Contessa (1954). And, the most ridiculous is the photo you posted of a woman you claim to be her "near the end." There are paparazzi pictures of Ava Gardner taken about a year or so before her death which clearly show her as older and with a slight contortion to her face due to the stroke but still visibly Ava Gardner.

perrya (author) on August 05, 2015:

And how would you know? age change people.

LLR on July 29, 2015:

I am highly insulted and disgusted that the "Near the end" picture herein is purported to be one of Ava Gardner's last. There is no way that the woman pictured is Ava. The saddest thing is that people shall see it and believe it, even though it is an outright lie. R.I.P., Ava Lavinia.

Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on July 07, 2013:

Nope. I was on vacation from my job with an auto company in Detroit. Somewhere I'd heard about Puerto Vallarta and decided to check it out. I may have heard that they were making a movie there from Tennessee Williams's play. It was a memorable vacation. In my rich fantasy life I imagined that my attraction to Elizabeth Taylor was mutual.

perrya (author) on July 07, 2013:

@deeds, I bet! Were you in the film biz? or, just at the right place at the right time?

Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on July 07, 2013:

Nice Hub! It brought back memories of my vacation in 1964 when I happened to be in Puerto Vallarta when Ava Gardner, Katherine Hepburn, Sue Lyons and Richard Burton were there and were wrapping up "Night of the Iguana." The rumor was that Ava had had a truckload of booze shipped down from the States and was holed up in condo with several Mexican beach boys. I didn't see her during the week I was there, but I did see Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton walking hand-in-hand down the main street. And the hight point of my vacation was exchanging glances with Taylor who was sitting at an adjacent table in the bar at the Oceano Hotel (then the only hotel in town at that time). Taylor was not in the movie, but was there with Burton in her condo in "Gringo Gulch.' I didn't see Katharine Hepburn either, but I did encounter Sue Lyon of "Lolita" fame riding on a rental horse. One of my last and most memorable vacations as a bachelor!

Selina Kyle on July 07, 2013:

Beautiful lady and interesting story to boot. I think I would have liked her had I ever had the chance to meet her. There are some actors and actresses that have a personality that burns like a flame when they are on camera or off. Some seem to almost disappear when the cameras isn't on them but not Ava. She was a spark plug till the very end.

Jayfort on July 07, 2013:

Interesting Hub about an interesting lady, Perry! Well done. Voted Up and Interesting.

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