Nationality: American. Born: Ava Lavinnia Gardner near Smithfield, North Carolina, 24 December 1922. Education: Attended Smithfield High School; Atlantic Christian College, Wilson, North Carolina. Family: Married 1) the actor Mickey Rooney, 1942 (divorced 1943); 2) the musician Artie Shaw, 1945 (divorced 1946); 3) the singer/actor Frank Sinatra, 1951 (divorced 1957). Career: 1941—contract with MGM; 1946–47—roles in The Killers and The Hucksters established her as a leading sex symbol; 1958—contract with MGM expired; freelance actress; lived for many years in Spain and, from 1968, in London; 1985—in TV mini-series The Long Hot
Summer and A.D. ; in TV series Knots Landing . Died: In London, England, 25 January 1990.
Films as Actress:
Fancy Answers (Wrangell—short); H. M. Pulham, Esquire (King Vidor) (as girl); Maisie Was a Lady (Marin)
Joe Smith, American ( Highway to Freedom ) (Thorpe) (as girl); We Were Dancing (Leonard) (as girl); This Time for Keeps (Reisner) (as girl in car); Kid Glove Killer (Zinnemann) (as carhop); Sunday Punch (Miller) (as ringsider); Calling Dr. Gillespie (Bucquet) (as girl); Mighty Lak a Goat (Glazer—short); Reunion in France ( Reunion ; Mademoiselle France ) (Dassin)
Pilot No. 5 (Sidney) (as girl); DuBarry Was a Lady (Del Ruth) (as girl); Ghosts on the Loose ( Ghosts in the Night ) (Beaudine) (as Betty); Hitler's Madman (Sirk) (as Katy Chotnik); Young Ideas (Dassin) (as girl); Swing Fever (Whelan) (as girl)
Lost Angel (Rowland) (as hatcheck girl); Three Men in White (Goldbeck) (as Jean Brown); Two Girls and a Sailor (Thorpe) (as Rockette girl); Maisie Goes to Reno ( You Can't Do That to Me ) (Beaumont) (as Gloria Fullerton); Music for Millions (Koster); Blonde Fever (Whorf)
She Went to the Races (Goldbeck) (as Hilda Spotts)
Whistle Stop (Moguy) (as Mary); The Killers (Siodmak) (as Kitty Collins)
The Hucksters (Conway) (as Jean Ogilvie); Singapore (Brahm) (as Linda)
One Touch of Venus (Seiter) (title role)
The Great Sinner (Siodmak) (as Pauline Ostrovski); The Bribe (Leonard) (as Elizabeth Hinton); East Side, West Side (LeRoy) (as Isabel Lorrison)
My Forbidden Past (Stevenson) (as Barbara Beaurevel); Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Lewin) (as Pandora Reynolds); Showboat (Sidney) (as Julie Laverne)
Lone Star (Sherman) (as Martha Ronda); The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Henry King) (as Cynthia)
Ride, Vaquero! (Farrow) (as Cordelia Cameron); The Bandwagon (Minnelli) (as the Movie Star); Mogambo (Ford) (as Eloise Kelly); Knights of the Round Table (Thorpe) (as Guinevere)
The Barefoot Contessa (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) (as Maria Vargas)
Bhowani Junction (Cukor) (as Victoria Jones)
The Little Hut (Robson) (as Lady Susan Ashlow); Around the World in Eighty Days (Anderson) (as spectator)
The Sun Also Rises (Henry King) (as Lady Brett Ashley)
La maja desnuda ( The Naked Maja ) (Koster, Italian version directed by Mario Russo) (as Duchess of Alba)
On the Beach (Kramer) (as Moira Davidson)
The Angel Wore Red ( La sposa bella ) (Johnson) (as Soledad)
55 Days in Peking (Nicholas Ray) (as Baroness Natalie Ivanoff)
Seven Days in May (Frankenheimer) (as Eleanor Holbrook); The Night of the Iguana (Huston) (as Maxine Faulk)
La Bibbia ( The Bible . . . in the Beginning ; The Bible ) (Huston) (as Sarah)
Mayerling (Terence Young) (as Empress Elizabeth)
Tam Lin ( The Devil's Widow ) (McDowall) (as Michaela)
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (Huston) (as Lillie Langtry)
Earthquake (Robson) (as Remy Graff)
Permission to Kill (Frankel) (as Katina Peterson)
The Bluebird (Cukor) (as Luxury)
The Cassandra Crossing (Cosmatos) (as Nicole); The Sentinel (Winner) (as Miss Logan)
City on Fire (Rakoff) (as Maggie Garyson)
The Kidnapping of the President (Mendeluk) (as Beth Richards)
Priest of Love (Miles) (as Mabel Dodge Luhan)
Regina ( Roma ) (Prate)
The Long Hot Summer (Cooper—for TV) (as Minnie)
Harem (Hale—for TV) (as Kadin); Maggie (Hussein—for TV)
By GARDNER: book—
Ava: My Story , New York, 1990.
On GARDNER: books—
Higham, Charles, Ava: A Life Story , New York, 1974.
Bernard, Andre, Ava Gardner , Paris, 1976.
Romero, J., Sinatra's Women , New York, 1976.
Parish, James, with Gregory Mank and Don Stanke, The Hollywood Beauties , New York, 1978.
Kass, Judith M., Ava Gardner , New York, 1979.
Rampling, Matthew, Ava Gardner , Paris, 1981.
Daniell, John, Ava Gardner , New York, 1982.
Flamini, Roland, Ava: A Biography , New York, 1983.
Dagneau, Gilles, Ava Gardner , Paris, 1984.
Fowler, Karin J., Ava Gardner, A Bio-Bibliography , New York, 1990.
Wayne, Jane Ellen, Ava's Men: The Private Life of Ava Gardner , New York, 1990.
On GARDNER: articles—
Current Biography 1965 , New York, 1965.
Vincent, Mal, "Ava Gardner," in Films in Review (New York), June/July 1965.
Domarchi, J., "Pour Ava, beau monstre touché par la grâce," in Cinéma aujourd'hui (Paris), May/June 1976.
Hauptfuhrer, Fred, "Ava Gardner Is Back and Beautiful at 59—But All She Wants Is Peace and Quiet," in People Weekly (New York), 11 January 1982.
Shipman, David, in Radio Times , 27 March 1982.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 26 August 1982, and 30 August 1984.
Kobal, John, "Heavenly Bodies: Worshipping at the Shrine of Hollywood's Goddesses," in American Film , July/August 1986.
Obituary in New York Times , 26 January 1990.
McBridge, Joseph, obituary in Variety (New York), 31 January 1990.
Thomas, Walter, "Amorous Ava," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), February 1990.
Murphy, Kathleen, "Farewell My Lovelies," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1990.
Schickel, Richard, "Ava Gardner: Nominee for Mogambo in London," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1992.
Atwood, M., "Ava Gardner Reincarnated as a Magnolia," in Michigan Quarterly Review , no. 4, 1995.
"Kino Releases Crawford and Gardner '50s Movies," in Classic Images (Muscatine), 10 January 1996.
* * *
Although Ava Gardner appeared in more than 25 films during the 1940s, her screen identity did not really emerge until the 1950s. A product of the studio system, Gardner was put under long-term contract at MGM in the early 1940s. After playing small roles in mostly minor films, she won acclaim in Robert Siodmak's The Killers , emerging (along with Burt Lancaster) as a star, and she is a radiant presence in The Hucksters , Singapore , Pandora and the Flying Dutchman , and Showboat , among others. To an extent, the studio succeeded in promoting her as a sex goddess because of her extraordinary beauty and sensuality. Gardner, however, never fulfilled the expectation that she would become a sex symbol.
In fact, during the 1950s, Gardner undermined this status, specifically by not exploiting her physicality or attempting to develop identification with a cinematic stereotype that would make her accessible to the male audience. The feminist critic Marjorie Rosen ( Popcorn Venus ) asserts that Gardner embodied the "ideal fantasy creature" in several films, including Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa ; but, on the contrary, Gardner refutes this concept of objectification in the film. The film's tensions are produced through her sensitive characterization of a woman who insists in having a right to a subjective identity. She plays a similar "rebel" character in George Cukor's Bhowani Junction . Cukor, aware that her potential had been undeveloped because she was treated by the studio as a beautiful object to be featured in mediocre films, encouraged Gardner to explore her emotional range through this challenging assignment. Her other outstanding performance is in John Ford's Mogambo , which has the feel of a Hawks film in the construction of the central heterosexual relationship and the sense of ease in the narrative's flow. In the film, Gardner, like the Hawksian heroine, displays "masculine" strength without losing her feminine appeal.
Unfortunately, by the end of the decade, Gardner already was appearing in films that required her to be a star presence projecting an image of ravaged beauty. When given a substantial role, however, she could offer a performance to match her character. Such was the case in The Night of the Iguana , in which she played a lusty hotel proprietor opposite Richard Burton's defrocked minister. Her last substantial portrayal came in Roddy McDowall's Tam Lin ( The Devil's Widow ), an interesting, but unsuccessful, attempt to explore a woman's fear of aging.
As a star of the 1950s, Gardner's screen identity was uncharacteristic of a period that attempted to equate women's sexual desirability with the size of their physical endowments. Still, no more sublimely beautiful woman ever appeared on a movie screen. Like a number of her characters (such as Pandora Reynolds in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman and Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises ), Gardner became an American expatriate, living for many years in London. She died there of pneumonia after having completed her autobiography, which was published posthumously.
—Richard Lippe, updated by Rob Edelman