Real name: Ava Lavinia Gardner
Birthdate: December 24, 1922
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Ava Lavinia Gardner (December 24, 1922 – January 25, 1990) was an Academy Award-nominated American film and television actress. She is listed as one of the American Film Institute's greatest stars of all time.
Gardner was born in the small farming community of Brogden, Johnston County, North Carolina, the youngest of seven children (she had two brothers and four sisters) of poor cotton and tobacco farmers; her mother, Molly, was a Baptist of Scots-Irish and English descent, while her father, Jonas Bailey Gardner, was a Catholic of Irish American and Tuscarora Indian descent. While the children were still young, the Gardners lost their property, forcing Jonas Gardner to work at a sawmill and Molly to begin working as a cook and housekeeper at a dormitory for teachers at the nearby Brogden School.
In 1941, a Loews Theatres legal clerk, Barnard "Barney" Duhan, spotted Gardner's photo in the Tarr Photography Studio on 5th Avenue in New York. The photo had been taken in 1939 by the proprietor, Ava's brother-in-law Larry Tarr, who was married to Ava's older sister, Bappie (Beatrice). At the time, Duhan often posed as an MGM talent scout to meet girls, using the fact that MGM was a subsidiary of Loews. Duhan entered Tarr's and tried to get Ava's number, but was rebuffed by the receptionist. Duhan made the offhand comment, "Somebody should send her info to MGM," and the Tarrs did so immediately. Shortly after, Ava, who at the time was a student at Atlantic Christian College, traveled to New York to be interviewed at MGM's New York office. She was offered a standard contract by MGM, and Ava left school for Hollywood in 1941 with her sister Bappie accompanying her. MGM's first order of business was to provide her a voice coach, as her Carolina drawl was nearly incomprehensible.
She dated American aviator/film director Howard Hughes in the early-mid 1940's. She soon after, rejected him and their relationship ended. She did not approve of him at the very least and complained as he was an invasion to her privacy and left their house in a mess of objects arranged in clutter.
Sinatra left his wife, Nancy, for Ava and their subsequent marriage made headlines. Sinatra was treated poorly by gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the Hollywood establishment, and his fans for leaving his "good wife" for this exotic femme fatale. His career suffered, while Ava's prospered -- the headlines only solidified her sexy screen siren image. The marriage to Sinatra was stormy -- passionate fighting, jealousy, numerous separations. Gardner used her considerable clout to get Sinatra cast in his Oscar-winning role in From Here to Eternity (1953). That role and the award revitalized Sinatra's acting and singing careers. During their marriage, Ava became pregnant, but she terminated the pregnancy due to the volatility of her marriage. She had always wanted children, but she said years later, "We couldn't even take care of ourselves. How were we going to take care of a baby?" Gardner and Sinatra remained good friends for the rest of her life.
Gardner was nominated for an Oscar for Mogambo (1953). She lost to Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Many thought Gardner's greatest performance was as Maxine Faulk in The Night of the Iguana (1964), for which she was not nominated. Grayson Hall, as the repressed Judith Fellowes, however, was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category. Gardner showed her depth as an actress in 55 Days at Peking (1963).