Well, it’s February again. That wonderful month of love and the fake Hallmark created holiday we all know and love as Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day, that day when we express our love in chocolate and dollars, telling the most important person in our lives how much we love them all the while pretending that the little things about them don’t really drive us all that crazy; yes, it’s here again.
I, being the romantic that I am have spent the last few Februarys posting about famous love affairs, or things that relate to love in general.
Some of the 188 posts in the “Famous Love Affairs” section are true love stories filled with great passion and drama.
But in reality, many marriages or relationships are simple happy unions of two people who met, fell in love, married, and produced a family that is beautiful in its own way.
Frankly, after 188, I’m having to dig deep to find one that will interest me, much less you – dear reader.
I don’t have them all written this year – I usually have this done a month ahead – I am not even sure if I’ll do all that many – and I’m not sure you’ll want to finish a few.
Yes, most out there are as dull as dishwater, but every once in a while you come UP with one like this…
Ava Lavinia Gardner was born, the youngest of seven children, on a farm near Grabtown, North Carolina.
Her parents, poor cotton and tobacco farmers, raised Ava in the Baptist church. Times were hard in the Depression Era South, and while Ava was young, her father literally “lost the farm,” and went to work in a sawmill. Mom, Molly became a cook and housekeeper at a teachers’ dormitory. Hoping for a better life, the family moved to Newport News, VA when Ava was seven.
Eight years in, Mr. Gardner died and the family moved back to North Carolina, settling in Rock Ridge.
Ava graduated in 1939 and attended Atlantic Christian College, where she took secretarial courses.
One of the sisters, Beatrice, escaped rural NC and landed in New York City. Ava hotfooted it UP there for a visit, and Beatrice’s husband, a photographer, offered to take her portrait.
The result was so good he put the photo front and center in his studio window.
Barnard Duhan, a Lowes Theaters legal clerk spotted the photo on his way to work, and pretending to be a talent scout, which he often did to meet girls, tried to get Ava’s number, but was “rebuffed” by Tarrs, the brother in law.
On exiting, he said, “Someone should send her information to MGM.”
Tarrs did just that, and Ava headed back to NYC for an interview with Al Altman.
Altman, the head of MGM’s New York talent department got the cameras rolling, and told 18 year old Ava to walk towards the camera, turn and walk away, rearrange some flowers in a vase, and cut!
He recorded no sound because he couldn’t understand her Southern accent!
When Louis B. Mayer saw the film, he sent a telegram to Altman that said, “She can’t sing, she can’t act, she can’t talk. She’s terrific!
A week later, Ava dropped out of school and along with her sister Beatrice as a chaperon, headed for Hollywood.
Things moved quickly for Ava; within a year, she met and married superstar, Mickey Rooney. Mayer was terrified that a married Mickey would cause his legions of fans to desert him and did all he could to keep the union quiet. It didn’t matter; the marriage was doomed as Rooney was a “serial adulterer.”
Her career moving forward, her beauty increasing, Ava could have had most any man in Hollywood – or that USA for that matter – but in 1945 she eloped with “serial groom” Artie Shaw!
Divorced twice by the age of 25, Ava found love once again in the likes of Frank Sinatra.
In 1951, Sinatra divorced his wife, Nancy for Ava, and the Hollywood gossips – Louella and Hedda – went wild.
For Sinatra it was “lust at first sight.” He even claimed, “I’m gonna marry that girl some day.”
But it took a while. Their paths crossed again in February of 1949. Gardner was headed to MGM’s silver anniversary party when she passed Sinatra on the highway. Idling beside one another at a light, she recalled that “…he was so handsome, his thin boyish face, bright blue eyes and incredible grin. And he was so enthusiastic and invigorated, clearly pleased with life, himself, and at that moment, me.”
Asking her out once again, she complied and they took off on a alcohol fueled drive from Palm Springs to Indio shooting out street lights and store windows along the way.
Their first date was prophetic. Their marriage would be just as rocky.
Frank was 35, Ava 28 and they were crazy in love, mad about each other. It was fodder for all the Hollywood magazines – a great story that included scandalous infidelity, a heartbroken spouse with three small children, and a scolding from the Catholic Church.
Marital bliss eluded the couple; insane jealousy, hot tempers, booze, lust, and international fame all got in the way.
One friend said “…being with them was like sitting on a cracked egg. You never knew if there were going to be verbal daggers.”
And of course, there was infidelity, on both sides, but many referred to Ava Gardner as a “sexual volcano.”
They fought, the made UP, they fought, they made UP. It was a vicious cycle. She claimed, “…the problem was never in bed, it was on the way to the bidet…” The marriage ended in divorce but included at least two abortions, epic fights, Sinatra slashing his wrists, and numerous visits by the police.
Gardner once told ex-husband, Artie Shaw, “…with him it’s impossible…it’s like being with a woman. He’s so gentle, it’s as though he thinks I’ll break…”
The couple, though divorced, remained friends and according to Gardner, in love for the remainder of her life.
His daughter, Tina, said in an interview, “Dad and Ava moved permanently from turbulent romance to entitled friendship, and no one replaced her.”
Some say he never got over Ava, although Sinatra married Mia Farrow, divorcing after two years, and marring his wife Barbara after that.
Ava soldiered on, never remarrying; she was never without love, carrying on with the likes of Hemmingway, a bull-fighter in Spain, and Howard Hughes.
In her autobiography, published after her death, Ava said, “…Francis and I became lovers forever, eternally. Big words I know, but I truly felt that no matter what happened we would always be in love.
Sinatra died in 1998, Ava had gone on ahead eight years earlier.