The year is 1988. I am living my relaxed 2 year old baby life including wild activities like sleeping, eating & playing on repeat. Somewhere else in the world Ava Gardner starts her secret conversations with writer Peter Evans about her truly wild years in the Golden Era of Hollywood (1940s-1950s). At that time in her life, Ava is broke. So broke that writing a book with anecdotes about the glamorous, yet not so innocent Hollywood heydays, seems her only way out. This book is not the classic autobiographic book that you might aspect. It’s very honest, but at the same time also very realistic. At the time it was so honest, that Ava herself stopped the book from being published. Ava died in 1990. And it wasn’t until 2012 that her memoirs could be published.
Why did I want to read this book
Let me explain why I wanted to read this book in the first place. To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of vintage lifestyle is Old Hollywood. Reading about life back in the old days simply fascinates me. The movies, but also the Hollywood machine behind it and ofcourse the movie stars that we still know by this day is also part of that. Back in the day, there were Hollywood forces at work that made sure that certain movie stars would be remembered forever. And they did well. When I say: Rita Hayworth, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Humprey Bogart, Lana Turner….most of these names speak for itself.
Some time ago, I was reading an article about the life of Frank Sinatra. Ava Gardner was of course inseparably linked to his story because of their turbulent marriage. The movie ‘Mogambo’ is part of my Old Hollywood collection and I’ve seen many pictures of her, but other than that I didn’t know much of her Old Hollywood icon status. That article described Ava in such a way that I’ve put her in my ‘woman with balls’ catergory and I became curious about her (Hollywood) life story. She was in certain ways ahead of her times and definitely not your average Hollywood star. It didn’t take me long to decide which book to choose about her. Why read a random biography if you can read secret, raw and honest anecdotes about Old Hollywood!
Fly on the wall
I have to say, I was not dissapointed by this book. It was a little bit different than I expected. However, I totally understand why she chose Peter Evans (who died just before the publication of this book in 2012) as her ghostwriter. The writing skills of Peter Evans take you back to the late 1980s, as if you’re a fly on the wall during their secret conversations. An eavesdropping fly, that’s for sure.
So first of all, Ava may looked like a silver, screen goddess, she certainly didn’t talk that way. Which is why this book and the anecdotes in it are so unique, honest and raw. Ava sure had a funny and blunt, but highly intelligent way of describing certain events, acts and stories, f— words included on every page. It’s actually what makes this book so authentic. It also says something about the personality of Ava and her insecurities.
Pre-Hollywood life: Shyness before the witty, sassy storm
Long before here heartbreaker reputation, Ava was actually really shy. She grew op in North-Carolina with one sister, Beatrice, and here parents. ‘”If you’re gonna be poor, be poor on a farm” is how she described her early years. In 1941, she was photographed by her brother-in-law. He was so satisfied with his portrait of Ava, that he displayed the portret in front of his photostudio in New York. An MGM talent scout spotted Ava’s portrait. And that was the beginning of Ava’s turbulent Hollywood life. Ava was close with her family during her Hollywood days. When her parents passed away, she remained close to her sister.
Hollywood Life: Pleasures, burdens and heartbreakers
Ava was full of lust, love, life in her heydays. Or actually I should say, Hollywood was full of lust & love. The most eyeopening moments I had, were about Hollywood in the 1940s & 1950s through Ava’s eyes. Exhausting as it may sound to me, there were a lot of Hollywood stars who married 5-8 times back in those days. And those marriages lasted shorter than the average Hollywood marriage today.
Next to that, Hollywood was one big meat inspection with the pleasures and occasionally the pleasures AND the burdens, if you decided that someone was marriage material. When the burdens would become too big, divorce was the magic word. Preferably, a ‘quickie’. Some anecdotes from Ava which include quotes from her good friend Lana Turner cracked me up. There is one specific quote about Mickey Rourke that will stay with you forever. And if you read this book, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about.
In a way this book also shows that women were ahead of their times in that area, although men still called the shots around there. Around that time, there were a few studios that dominated the Hollywood market. And they controlled everything of an actor’s life: name, hairstyle and even marriage choices. They sure knew how to make or brake someone’s career. There is actually enough proof of that.
Norma Jeane Baker became Marilyn Monroe and Margarita Carmen Cansano became Rita Hayworth because of these studios. Also, becoming a movie star as a woman had very less to do with acting talent and everything with your appearance. If you did what you were told, they would make you a Hollywood star, if you didn’t you could kiss your (aspiring) Hollywood career goodbye.
There were more eye-opening moments, as I read Ava’s anecdotes. If you search for pictures of Old Hollywood actresses, you will not find any bad picture. That’s because there were no bad pictures of actresses (and actors for that matter) back then. Why? Photographers back then were always looking for the perfect picture. If a photographer took one bad image (or more) they either destroyed that image or all the negatives. That’s how badly they wanted great pictures of their favorite movie stars and that is why you’ll only find perfect, glamorous pictures of your favorite Old Hollywood actors and actresses.
Hollywood Life: Turbulent marriage to Frank Sinatra
Ava got married three times, but her most talked marriage was with Frank Sinatra. Ava described their their unusual and ehmm explosive first date. It’s definitely one for the books and it set the tone for their relationship and later their marriage. They were married for six years in total (Ava’s longest marriage). In the end they couldn’t live with each other, but also not without each other.
When you read the book, you’ll notice that years after their marriage the subject ‘Frank’ was still a touchy one. even for Ava, who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Ava would call Frank the love of her life and they remained close throughout the rest of their life. Rumor has it, that when Ava stopped the publication of this book, she received money from Frank that she would’ve made if this book was published in the late 1980s.
Why should you read this book?
If you want to get an unusual, but honest peak into the Hollywood world of the 1940s and 1950s, this is definitely for you. There are many ‘What did I just Read’ Hollywood anecdotes in this book, that you will never find in any other biography. Of course this is the point of view from one person, but if you’ve read other Old Hollywood stories, you’ll notice that Ava’s anecdotes will confirm some statements and events that you may have read somewhere else. Also when you read between the lines, there are some interesting life lessons from Ava Gardner wrapped in package of sarcastic humor, wittiness and f-words. Words to live by? Not always. Words you will remember? Definitely.
All pictures via Wikimedia Commons