It truly amazes me that someone who considered herself “just a lousy movie star” is still receiving accolades 24 years after her death. And not just a few. Since August 2012 Ava Gardner has been the subject of three memoirs, one a New York Times bestseller. She has been featured in Vanity Fair, Southern Living, Ralph Lauren, Reminisce, and other magazines. Max Factor is using her in a current international ad campaign. Movie deals based on two of these books are developing as I write. The upcoming March issue of Our State magazine will feature her, including one of Bert Pfeiffer’s stunning portraits on the cover. The City of Granada, Spain, will devote its annual classic film festival, Retroback 2014, February 21-March 2, to her memory. The Ava Gardner Museum Board is graciously allowing me to take a traveling exhibit to Granada for the ten-day event, and I will be joined there by Carmen Vargas, Ava’s beloved housekeeper, as we accept the 2014 Retroback Award for our hometown star at the opening gala on February 22.
What is it about this Hollywood has-been that keeps people watching her movies, collecting her memorabilia, and visiting her museum? I have not read every biography and every feature article ever written about her (although they are all pretty much at my fingertips in the museum’s archives), but I have read and heard enough to realize there was something extraordinary about Ava Gardner even beyond her breath-taking beauty. Her genuineness–she was a real person with real flaws who made no apologies for being herself–strikes a chord with many, especially the younger generation. Although looked upon as royalty by some, she is well remembered for being personable and at ease around “little people.” After all, she had once been one herself. Carmen recalls in her later days she often brought homeless persons to her London flat to give them food or call a cab to take them to a doctor. She was passionate about racial equality–something instilled by her parents–and even held a life membership in the NAACP beginning in 1968. I wonder how many other Hollywood stars had such a record. For these and other reasons, this barefoot beauty from North Carolina will not soon be forgotten.
As time and technological connectivity permit, I will be posting highlights from my trip to Spain, so stay tuned.
Ava Gardner Museum