Monday, August 03, 2015

“Ava Gardner: Love Is Nothing”– Book Review



This summer, I’ve been reading, “Ava Gardner:  Love Is Nothing” – a biography by Lee Server.


On Christmas Eve of 1922, Ava Gardner was born into a family of modest means in the small southern town of Grabtown, North Carolina.  If only men knew at the time what trouble they would be in for in decades to come.  In her late teens, Ava visited her much-older sister Beatrice (nicknamed “Bappie”) in New York City, which turned out to be a major turning point in her life.  A friend of Bappie’s was a professional photographer who recognized a striking young woman when he saw one:  he asked Ava to pose for a photograph that he could put in the window of his shop – and when it was noticed by an executive from the MGM motion picture company, Ava soon got a screen test and was offered an acting contract.  Not long after, she and her sister were off to Los Angeles to prove to the world what a big deal she was. 

After a few small roles, Ava finally got her big break when she appeared as a femme fatale opposite another Hollywood newcomer, Burt Lancaster, in “The Killers”, an adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway short story.  Eventually, she was on her way to be known as one of the sexiest movie stars in the motion picture business (although not much was made of her acting ability at the time; MGM had to give her speech lessons to rid Gardner of her southern accent).  Ava’s first marriage was to another MGM employee, actor Mickey Rooney, who by then was already a major star; he was also a major womanizer, which was why the marriage didn’t last very long.  Ultimately, Ava remarried – this time to bandleader Artie Shaw, who emotionally/psychologically abused her, effectively ending that marriage, too (he would belittle her in front of others because of her limited education).  In better days, Shaw memorialized their sex life by penning a song titled, “The Grabtown Grapple”. 

Her final – and arguably most notorious – marriage was to singer Frank Sinatra.  They were an explosive pair and separated for a long time before eventually divorcing (several reconciliations were attempted at various points).  Although Gardner never married again, she and Sinatra remained on again/off again lovers for years after.  Having lost her interest in acting, she took fewer and fewer roles starting in the 1960’s and by the following decade was semi-retired; she only took jobs when her bank account dipped a little too low.  Her last jobs were television work in the 80’s; toward the end of that decade, she fell ill and her health went into slow decline before finally passing away at the age of 67 in 1990, about a month after her last birthday. 


This book could just as easily have been titled, “Ava Gardner:  Wotta Woman!” not only because she was a great beauty but also because she was a real handful for all of her acquaintances – but especially the men in her life with whom she had plenty of romances.  The only thing more impressive than the many adventures in Gardner’s life is the list of men she had, both famous and obscure.  Some she left a wreck (like Sinatra) and some left her a wreck (like Shaw and George C. Scott, who had an affair with her during filming of “The Bible”, in which they got into many drunken brawls which resulted in her taking a beating at his hands). 

Author Lee Server has not only put together an entertaining book – at 500 pages, it really flew by – but also one that was extraordinarily well-researched.  The level of detail – including Gardner’s family background and the number of quotes from friends and colleagues – is most impressive indeed.  There are two sections of photographs; if there is any quibble with the book, it is here, albeit a minor one.  Missing are photos from Gardner’s childhood; also, all of the pictures are in black and white, even the ones from later years, so that’s a bit of a disappointment (but one that can be easily overlooked). 

If you are looking for a good beach read for what remains of the summer (or are planning a winter vacation where you’re expecting to be beach-side), “Love Is Nothing” would be an excellent choice; by the way, the book’s title is derived from a portion of a quote from Gardner when a friend asked the actress about her love life, “Love is nothing but a pain in the ass”, she replied.  This bold woman was a feminist before it was fashionable; she lived her life on her own terms and spoke bluntly.  While married to the scrawny Sinatra, she was asked, “What do you see in that 120 pound runt?”; Gardner’s pithy answer was, “He may be only 120 pounds, but 20 of those pounds are pure c*ck!”.  Ava Gardner was a woman as refreshing as a taste of watermelon on a hot summer afternoon.

When Ava Gardner appeared on the old TV game show “What’s My Line?” back in 1953:

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