Three Men and a Goddess: Once Hollywood’s most irresistible woman—wed to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra—by 1988 Ava Gardner was nearly broke, ravaged by illness, and intent on selling her memoirs. But the man she chose as her ghostwriter, Peter Evans, had his own problems, not least a legal war with Sinatra.
“Is that why you want to write a book?,” I asked warily. “You want to put the record straight?”
“I’m broke, honey. I either write the book or sell the jewels.” I was surprised at the frankness with which she admitted it. “And I’m kinda sentimental about the jewels,” she added.
The stroke she’d had a year and a half earlier had partially paralyzed her left side and frozen half her face in a rictus of sadness. It would have been a hard blow to bear for any woman, but for an actress who had once been hailed as “the world’s most beautiful animal,” it was a tragedy.
“Going to the fights every Friday night in L.A., that was an education. We’d go along with George Raft and Betty Grable. Mickey always insisted on sitting ringside. Those little bantamweights were the worst—they’d nearly kill each other to entertain us. That fact bothered me more than any of the rest of it—the things people would do to please you if you were famous enough, and there was nobody more famous than George Raft, Betty G., and Mickey in those days. You have to remember Mickey was bigger than Gable in those days. At least, his pictures took more money than Gable’s, although they each earned the same five grand a week when $5,000 was real money.
“I remember asking him one evening, shortly after we were married, what he thought of me that first time we met. We had a kind of truth game we used to play in bed. We’d spend a lot of time in the sack in the early days, a lot of time: talking, laughing, making love. I must have seemed so fucking awkward, so fucking gauche. Anyway, I asked him what went through his mind when he saw me on the set that day.
“I still didn’t know that he was the biggest wolf on the lot. He was catnip to the ladies. He knew it, too. The little sod was not above admiring himself in the mirror. All five foot two of him! He probably banged most of the starlets who appeared in his Andy Hardy films—Lana Turner among them. She called him Andy Hard-on. Can we say that—Andy Hard-on?” “I don’t see why not,” I said. “It’s a funny line.” “No wonder, when I think of that marriage now, I think of nightclubs: the Palladium, Ciro’s, the Cocoanut Grove, where we danced to Tommy Dorsey’s band. Guys didn’t trouble me much—most of them knew I was Mickey’s wife—but that’s where I learned to drink, I mean to drink seriously. All the clubs were hot on under-age drinking, but Mick would slip me dry martinis in coffee cups. Sipping a dry martini out of a coffee cup seemed as glamorous as hell to me.”
"[Artie Shaw] He’d just come out of the navy when he met Lana. He was deaf in his left ear from when he was bombed at Guadalcanal. Lana was 18. The classic MGM starlet. Artie had an I.Q. of—I don’t know what it was. It was right up there. The intellect isn’t connected to the pelvis, he told me once when I asked what had attracted him to her. [Gardner’s chronology is wrong. Shaw married Turner in February 1940, when she was 19. They divorced seven months later, and he enlisted in the navy in 1942.]
“Artie was another kind of bully. I was afraid of his mind. He was a dominating son of a bitch. He used to put me down so much I lost complete confidence in myself. When I went into analysis—that was something else he made me do—I insisted on taking an I.Q. test, because I was at the point where I thought there was something seriously wrong with my mind. Well, it turned out very well indeed. I didn’t have an enormous I.Q., but I did have rather a high one. “I don’t think in my heart I genuinely wanted a baby at all. I just thought, I’m going back to school, I’m getting an education, I’m being the good wife—to make it perfect I’ll have a child. Maybe I was playing a part, who the hell knows?”
“I fell for the oldest con in the world. Frank said it didn’t matter a damn if I’d slept with Mario or not, it was in the past. He just wanted me to be honest with him. He said if I told him the truth, it would all be forgotten. So I told him the truth, and, of course, it was never forgotten. He brought it up every goddamn argument we had. He never forgave me.” “But he still married you,” I said.
“November 7, 1951. A day that will live in infamy. Only days after his divorce from Nancy became final. It was too soon, but that was Frank all over,” she said. “Plenty of people told me I was mad to marry him. Lana Turner had had an affair with him after she divorced Artie. ‘I’ve been there, honey,’ she told me. ‘Don’t do it!’
“The trouble was Frank and I were too much alike. Bappie said I was Frank in drag. There was a lot of truth in that. He was the only husband I had that Bappie didn’t approve of straight off the bat. I’m not saying she disliked him. On the contrary, she thought he was great—but not for me. I should have listened to her.” “Why didn’t you?,” I said. “He was good in the feathers. You don’t pay much attention to what other people tell you when a guy’s good in the feathers,” she said.
The film’s strengths are its cinematography by Elwood Bredell, which is wonderfully stark, as well as Ava Gardner’s sexy performance as Kitty Collins, the woman the Swede falls for and who eventually leads him to his downfall. Her allure and sultriness make for a one of a kind femme fatale, and it is easy to see how she can manipulate the Swede or anyone else she wants. It is a shame she does not have a bigger role in the film. Source: sbccfilmreviews.org
Ava Gardner was loaned to Universal by MGM in late February 1947 for "Singapore", which reminisced of Casablanca's story. Fred MacMurray, whom French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville had called "the inventor of underplaying", got along well with Ava who thought he was great.