Ava Gardner


Ava Gardner Ava Gardner (1922-1990) was an actress and singer who also featured in a lot of popular pin-up pictures. From the 1940s to 1970s, she appeared in many high-profile Hollywood films, and she is included in the American Film Institute’s list “25 Greatest Female Stars of Classic Hollywood Cinema”.

MGM’s publicity office put out a lot of images of Ava Gardner as promotional material for their movies; sometimes for movies in which she hardly even had a role. She also posed for a lot of “leg art” (pin-up pics) which MGM mass-printed for generalized publicity campaigns.

Short facts about Ava Gardner

Name Ava Lavinia Gardner
Birth December 24, 1922

in Grabtown, North Carolina, USA

Education Rock Ridge High School

Atlantic Christian College

Occupation Actrees


Pin-up model

Professional years 1941-1986
Husbands Mickey Rooney

Married 1942, Divorced 1943

Artie Shaw

Married 1945, Divorced 1946

Frank Sinatra

Married 1951, Divorced 1957

Death January 25, 1990 (aged 67)

in Westminster, London, England

Grave site Sunset Memorial Park, Smithfield, North Carolina, USA

Early life

Ava Lavinia Gardner was born in the countryside, near the farming community Grabtown in North Carolina in 1922. As the youngest in a family with seven children, Gardner had four older sisters and two older brothers. Her parents Jonas Bailey Gardner and Mary Elizabeth (called Molly) Gardner, neé Baker, were poor farmers growing cotton and tobacco. Molly Gardner was a Baptist and Ava was raised in that faith.

Ava Gardner While Ava was still a young child, the family lost their farm. Jonas found a job at a sawmill, while Molly started working at a dormitory for teachers at the nearby Brogden School, where she was both cook and housekeeper.

Move to Newport News, Virginia

When Ava was 7 years old, the family left the countryside and moved to the city Newport News in Virginia. In the city, Molly was hired to manage a boarding house for shipworkers.

Move to Rock Ridge, North Carolina

In 1938, when Ava was 15 years old, her father Jonas died from bronchitis. After his death, the family moved back to North Carolina, where Molly ran a boardinghouse for teacher in Rock Ridge, near Wilson.

In 1939, Ava graduated from Rock Ridge High School. She then took secretarial classes at Atlantic Christian College in Wilson for about a year, before she left for a career in Hollywood.

Signed to the MGM

In 1941, while still living in North Carolina, Ava Gardner visited her sister Beatrice in New York City. Beatrice was married to the professional photographer Larry Tarr, who photographed his sister-in-law and displayed her portrait in the front window of his Tarr Photography Studio on Fifth Avenue.

Her portrait caught the attention of a legal clerk named Barnard Duhan, who worked for Loews Theatres. At the time MGM was a subsidiary of Loews, and Duhan would exploit this fact to pose as an MGM talent scout. He tried this trick to get Ava Gardner’s phone number, but the receptionist at the Tarr’s studio refused to give it to him. Duhan then commented that “Somebody should send her info to MGM”, and that was what the Tarrs did.

At this point, Gardner had already returned to North Carolina, but she returned to New York City when to be interviewed by Al Altman, head of MGM’s New York talent department. The interview included filming a sequence where Gardner was instructed to walk towards the camera, turn and walk away, and re-arrange some flowers in a vase. Her Southern accent was so thick that Altman had difficulties understanding her, and he didn’t even attempt to record her voice.

Later on, Louis B. Mayer, head of the studio, sent Altman a telegram: “She can’t sing, she can’t act, she can’t talk, she’s terrific!”

Ava Gardner signed a standard contract with the MGM and moved to Hollywood in 1941, accompanied by her sister Beatrice. In Hollywood, MGM assigned her a speech coach.

Ava Gardner

Break-through role

After five years of playing bit parts, many of them uncredited, Gardner was casted to play the femme fatale Kitty Collins in the film noir “The Killers”. The movie, which permiered in 1946, became a huge hit and proved to be Gardner’s big break in Hollywood.

1940s movies after The Killers

Year Title Role
1947 Singapore Linda Grahame/Ann Van Leyden
1947 The Hucksters Jean Ogilvie
1948 One Touch of Venus Venus
1949 The Bribe Elizabeth Hintten
1949 The Great Sinner Pauline Ostrovsky
1949 East Side, West Side Isabel Lorrison

The 1950sAva Gardner

Some of the most notable films that Ava Gardner appeared in during the 1950s were Show Boat (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), Mogambo (1953), The Barefoot Contessa (1954) , Bhowani Junction (1956), The Sun Also Rises (1957), and On the Beach (1959).

Mogambo was a massive hit, and Gardner was nominated for an Academy Award in the category Best Actress in a Leading Role. The film was also nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Film.

Gardner also received a lot of praise for her role as the Maria Vargas in The Barefoot Contessa, where she starred alongside Humphrey Bogart. Saturday Review called her “one of the most breathtaking creatures on earth”.

Movies in the 1950s

Year Title Role Awards and nominations
1951 Pandora and the Flying Dutchman Pandora Reynolds  
1951 My Forbidden Past Barbara Beaurevel  
1951 Show Boat Julie LaVerne  
1952 Lone Star Martha Ronda  
1952 The Snows of Kilimanjaro Cynthia Green  
1953 Knights of the Round Table Guinevere  
1953 Ride, Vaquero! Cordelia Cameron  
1953 The Band Wagon Herself  
1953 Mogambo Honey Bear Kelly Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
1954 The Barefoot Contessa Maria Vargas  
1956 Bhowani Junction Victoria Jones Nominated – BAFTA for Best Foreign Actress
1957 The Little Hut Lady Susan Ashlow  
1957 The Sun Also Rises Lady Brett Ashley  
1958 The Naked Maja Maria Cayetana, Duchess of Alba  
1959 On the Beach Moira Davidson Nominated – BAFTA for Best Foreign Actress

The 1960s

Gardners last major leading role in a critically acclaimed film was in “The Night of the Iguana” (1964), a movie based on a play by Tennessee Williams and directed by John Huston. In this film, which was shot in Mexico, Gardner played alongside Richard Burton and Deborah Kerr. She was billed below Burton but above Kerr. For her performance, Gardner was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe Award, and she won the Prize San Sebastián for best actress.

Towards the end of the 1960s, Ava Gardner moved to London, England.

Movies in the 1960s

Year Title Role Awards and nominations
1960 The Angel Wore Red Soledad  
1963 55 Days at Peking Baroness Natalie Ivanoff  
1964 Seven Days in May Eleanor Holbrook  
1964 The Night of the Iguana Maxine Faulk Nominated – BAFTA for Best Foreign Actress

Nominated – Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress – Drama

Awarded the Prize San Sebastián for Best Actress

1966 The Bible: In the Beginning… Sarah  
1968 Mayerling Empress Elizabeth  

The 1970s

In the 1970s, Gardner appeared in several distaster movies, such as Earthquake (1974), The Cassandra Crossing (1976) and City on Fire (1979).

Movies in the 1970s

Year Title Role
1970 Tam-Lin Michaela Cazaret
1972 The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean Lily Langtry
1974 Earthquake Remy Royce-Graff
1975 Permission to Kill Katina Petersen
1976 The Blue Bird Luxury
1976 The Cassandra Crossing Nicole Dressler
1977 The Sentinel Miss Logan
1979 City on Fire Maggie Grayson

The 1980s

In the 1980s, Gardner acted primarily on television, such as the mini-series remake of The Long, Hot Summer (1985) and the CBS prime time television soap opera Knots Landing (also 1985).

Her last movie was Regina Roma, which premiered in 1982.

Gardner worked as an acress until 1986, four years before her death in 1990 (aged 67).

Movies in the 1980s

Year Title Role
1980 The Kidnapping of the President Beth Richards
1981 Priest of Love Mabel Dodge Luhan
1982 Regina Roma Mama

Television in the 1980s

Year Title Role Type
1985 A.D. Agrippina Miniseries
1985 Knots Landing Ruth Galveston

(in 7 episodes)

Prime time soap opera
1985 The Long Hot Summer Minnie Littlejohn Television film
1986 Harem Kadin Television film
1986 Maggie Diane Webb Television film