1922 - 1990
Ava Lavinia Gardner came into this world on December 24, 1922 in a little southern town of Grabtown, North Carolina. Born to a farmer and his wife, Ava grew up on a tobacco farm deep in the flue-cured country of North Carolina. She was the last of seven children and being from a large family, the clan was dirt poor because farming was tough in the 20s and 30s, especially with so many mouths to feed.
Being a rural farm girl, Ava loved going barefoot and playing with the boys. By the time she was 18 years old, her beauty was already apparent. Her brother-in-law ran a photography studio in New York, where he put a photo of Ava in the window. Someone with MGM saw it and made inquiries as to it was. One thing led to another and Ava was signed to a contract. Her first 17 roles were with bit parts with WE WERE DANCING being her first picture in 1942.
Ava, no doubt, wondered when her "big break" would come. Finally her first starring role came in 1946 in WHISTLE STOP, a grade-B western. MGM loaned her out to Universal Studios in the big hit THE KILLERS that same year. Back at MGM, the studio execs kept her in the usual run of the mill films. Actually, few of her best movies were even made by them.
Ava arrived in Hollywood with no acting experience whatsoever and now she was beginning to doubt she could make it. It was the great director, John Ford, who saw the true talent in Ava, when he put her in his 1953 hit MOGAMBO. George Cukor then snatched her up for his big film, BHOWANI JUNCTION in 1956. In between she was in the hit THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA in 1954. After three failed marriages to three of the biggest names in show business, Mickey Rooney 1941-1943, Artie Shaw 1945-1946, and Frank Sinatra 1948-1957, Ava started to become disillusioned with the film community in Hollywood. She moved to Spain in the late 50s, where she made her subsequent films, and later to London.
Her last decent movie was called NIGHT OF THE IGUANA in 1964. Her final film ever was KAREM, a made for TV film in 1986. Her acting career never left her satisfied. As one biographer put it, "her looks made have made that inevitable". She was and still is considered the most beautiful actress in Hollywood history. Ava had suffered a couple of strokes which did slow her down somewhat but not for her zest for life. She continued to work on her autobiography entitled "Ava, My Story", which was concluded before she died in London, on January 25, 1990 of pneumonia at the age of 67. She never got to see the book in final print. Ava was laid to rest in Smithfield, North Carolina in the Gardner family plot. An Ava Gardner Museum is located there.