Years ago I headed to the Santa Anita racetrack and found myself in a diner in Arcadia, California. Living in LA as long as I did, I never really saw that many movie stars – Matthew Modine checked out my beard one day at Farmer’s Market on Fairfax, but that’s another blog entirely. But sitting at the bar of the diner that morning was none other than Mickey Rooney. Mickey is a tiny, jovial guy and a Hollywood legend. But all I could think staring at him was, “That guy was married to one of the most beautiful women who ever lived.” Ava Gardner.
Ava was a knockout of the highest order. She was literally discovered in a store window, or a photograph of her at least, by an employee of Loews theaters who fancied himself a talent scout for his parent company – MGM. Ava was only nineteen when she screen tested for movie mogul Louis B. Mayer. He purportedly said that she couldn’t do anything, but the camera absolutely loved her. A star was born.
In my opinion, Ava’s most iconic role was her first along with Burt Lancaster’s in the 1946 thriller The Killers. She played a dangerous beauty in the black and white and what a showstopper she was. The two ascending stars were gorgeous together. Interesting how she went from loving Burt on screen to marrying Mickey off. Their marriage only lasted a year and later Mickey could never stop talking about the sex. Funny, Ava said there was nothing to talk about.
No, Ava’s true love would end up being ole’ blue eyes, The Chairman himself – Frank Sinatra. Sinatra left his wife Nancy for Ava and was crucified in the press and in Hollywood for being such a louse. But then again, he left his wife for Ava Gardner and the two would end up loving each other for the rest of their lives. And they were good for each other. Ava was especially good for Sinatra. She would use her considerable star power to get the crooner an important role in From Here To Eternity – which would earn him an Oscar. And Frank confessed later that Ava taught him how to really sing a torch song. By his own account, he wrote I’m a Fool to Want You for Ava. And what fool wouldn’t want a woman so undeniably beautiful.
Dear Ava would die of emphysema at the age of 67 after a life in front of the screen. She never one an Oscar, but her mark on film will forever be The Barefoot Contessa with Humphrey Bogart. Ava was said to love to run around in her bare feet on and off the silver screen. She was earth angel after all. And I can’t help smiling every time I see her on camera. The girl whose picture was in a store window became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. The story is so improbable it’s probably true. No matter. Ava was destined for fame. One look at her and you know she’s the kind of woman who gets what she wants. And in return, we get to stare at this rare beauty decades later and wonder how Mickey Rooney – the tiny guy at the bar – got so damn lucky.