True Love & Wedding Number 3: Ava Gardner & Frank Sinatra

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The Ava Gardner Museum is participating in Hometowns to Hollywood’s Wedding Bells Blogathon! This is our third and final post for the blogathon. For more posts about weddings on and off screen during the Golden Age of Hollywood, head over to Hometowns to Hollywood’s blogathon page for links to the other participants’ blogs.

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Ava met the man who would become her third husband while she was still married to her first. Years later she would meet him again and begin a love story that would ultimately last the rest of her life, even if the marriage itself didn’t.

Frank Sinatra was one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century. He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, and an Academy-award winning actor, but when he and Ava first started their relationship he was in a career slump.

You'reMyThrill

In 1949, early in their romance, Frank recorded this demo of the song “You’re My Thrill” as a tribute to Ava. The song was composed by Jay Gorney with lyrics by Sidney Clare and was released in the 1950s by Billie Holiday and Doris Day. This recording by Frank Sinatra was never released. There are 3 known copies including this one which was a part of Ava’s personal record collection. It is now in the Ava Gardner Museum’s collection and is currently on view as part of the Frank and Ava exhibit.

Frank and Ava began their relationship in 1949 while Frank was still married to his wife Nancy Sinatra, though Frank and Nancy had been on and off and estranged for some time.

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Ava was on Frank’s celebrity softball team, The Swooners, in 1947, before their relationship became romantic. Frank played second base and Ava was a bat girl.

Ava ran into Frank, who she had already met and liked, at a party and their relationship began to turn into more. She described that meeting in her autobiography, Ava: My Story: “And who should arrive at my elbow, dry martini in hand, but one of those guests. The blue eyes were inquisitive, the smile still bright and audacious, the whole face even friendly and more expressive than I remembered. Oh, God, Frank Sinatra could be the sweetest, most charming man in the world when he was in the mood.”

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When Frank and Ava’s relationship became public, Frank and Nancy Sinatra began a very lengthy and public divorce proceeding. When the divorce was finally granted in October 1951, Ava and Frank wasted no time, having been ready to wed for some time, and were officially married on November 7, 1951 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ava was 28 years old and Frank was 35.

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For Ava’s third and final wedding she wore a mauve marquisette cocktail dress, a double strand of pearls, and pearl and diamond earrings, her “finger itching to receive the narrow platinum wedding ring that Frank and I had chosen.” She forwent the corsage this time and instead carried a clutch bouquet of camellias and miniature carnations. The wedding was attended by Ava’s sister Bappie, Frank’s parents, and several of Frank’s friends.

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After the ceremony, Ava changed into a blue traveling suit and the two hurried off for their honeymoon, trying their best to evade photographers. In the rush, Ava forgot her suitcase, meaning for the first stop of the honeymoon, in Miami, she had none of her own clothes.

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Frank and Ava’s courtship, wedding, and marriage garnered a lot of press attention, which limited their privacy, something the two struggled with during the course of their relationship.

“So I slept in Frank’s pajamas, at least the top half of them, and the next day we walked along the empty beach, me in the bottom half of my travel suit and Frank’s jacket. Naturally a photographer was lying in wait and snapped a shot of us, barefoot, holding hands. I’ve always thought it was a sad little photograph, a sad little commentary on our lives then. We were simply two young people so much in love, and the world wouldn’t leave us alone for a second. It seemed that everyone and everything was against us, and all we asked for was a bit of peace and privacy.” – Ava: My Story

They did find some of that peace when they continued on their honeymoon in Havana, Cuba, where paparazzi left them mostly alone. But peace wouldn’t last long. The two had a turbulent, passionate romance with a lot of highs and lows.

“Both Frank and I were high-strung people, possessive and jealous and liable to explode fast. When I lose my temper, honey, you can’t find it anyplace. I’ve just got to let off steam, and he’s the same way.”

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Pressure mounted from press attention, Frank’s career woes, and the criticism the two faced regarding Frank’s divorce from Nancy.

Ava was rising in fame while Sinatra was struggling, though Ava wrote that they never fought about their careers, only romantic jealousies and accusations. “It was another sort of jealousy that ate into our bones,” she said.

About a year after they married, Frank joined Ava in Africa while she shot Mogambo. He was awaiting news about what would become his comeback role in From Here to Eternity. Ava had used her influence and connections to try to help Frank get the part. She had spoken to Joan Cohn, wife of Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia, the movie company making the film. Through Joan she had gotten to Harry and encouraged him to offer Frank a screen test. While resistant to the idea, ultimately, he relented and Frank left Africa to screen test for the role of Maggio. He returned triumphantly with the good news that he had landed it. For a short time, the two happily celebrated the success and enjoyed their time on set in Africa.

Ava Gardner - Frank Sinatra Honeymoon cards - Equator crossing

This card issued by Scandinavian Airlines commemorates Frank’s crossing of the equator, on their first anniversary, November 7, 1952. This was likely the flight the two took together to Nairobi, Kenya when Frank accompanied Ava to Africa for the filming of Mogambo. We have both Ava’s and Frank’s matching cards in the Ava Gardner Museum’s collection.

But even as Frank’s career began to recover, Frank and Ava’s marriage was already crumbling. They announced their plans for divorce on October 29, 1953, though the divorce would not be final until 1957. However, even after the divorce the two remained close friends for the remainder of Ava’s life. She regarded him as the love of her life, “lovers forever—eternally.”

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A note from Frank Sinatra to Ava Gardner that reads: “To Lavinia, who is truly my beloved.” Addressed to her by her middle name, this note is written on book leaf and was found among Ava Gardner’s personal collection. It is now a part of the Ava Gardner Museum’s collection.

The two would reconcile a few times after their divorce, for very short reunions. Ava described in Ava: My Story one of these reunions taking place in Australia while she was there filming On the Beach in 1959.

“On a more positive note, my private life got a lift when the real Mr. Sinatra called and told me he was flying to Australia to see me. What’s six thousand miles when you’re still in love? Ostensibly Frank was coming down to give two concerts in Melbourne and two in Sydney. The truth was, we wanted to talk, to look at each other, to be together. The press were, as usual, as thick as flies on the beach, but we had our ways and means of being private. And with only two nights, we didn’t even have time to have a fight!”

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“To Frank and desert nights, Ava”

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Ava gave this watch to Frank Sinatra around 1960, years after their divorce was final. It is inscribed: “To Frank and desert nights, Ava” and possibly alludes to his home and their time together in Palm Springs. The watch is a part of the Ava Gardner Museum’s collection and is currently on view in the Frank and Ava Exhibit.

That the two always felt love for each other is no secret. Frank remarried twice but continued to stay in touch with Ava until her death. According to Ava’s sister Bappie, Frank sent Ava a huge bouquet of flowers every year on her birthday. Grabtown Girl, a biography of Ava’s life, shares Bappie’s recollection that “after the flowers faded and died, Ava left them in their special place on her dresser until a fresh bouquet arrived on the following Christmas Eve.” Frank did not attend Ava’s funeral in 1990 for concerns over a media frenzy, but he did send flowers and a simple note that read, “All my love, Francis.”

Sprig from Arrangement Frank Sent

This sprig of eucalyptus is from the large floral arrangement Frank Sinatra sent to Ava Gardner’s funeral. It was retrieved by a fan who gave it to Ava’s sister. It is now in the collection of the Ava Gardner Museum.

Love at First Sight & Wedding Number 2: Ava Gardner & Artie Shaw

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The Ava Gardner Museum is participating in Hometowns to Hollywood’s Wedding Bells Blogathon! We will be sharing blog posts about Ava’s three weddings & marriages over the next few days. For more posts about weddings on and off screen during the Golden Age of Hollywood, head over to Hometowns to Hollywood’s blogathon page for links to the other participants’ blogs.

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Ava was introduced to her second husband by a mutual friend, actress Frances Heflin. Artie Shaw had just returned from World War II and was one of the most popular musicians and bandleaders of the day. Ava had been filming small bit parts in films, but was on the cusp of her big break in The Killers (1946).

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Ava recalled in her autobiography, Ava: My Story, the first time she met Artie: “Oh, my God, I thought, what a beautiful man! Artie was handsome, bronzed, very sure of himself, and he never stopped talking…But he was full of such warmth and charm that I fell in love with him, just like that.”

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One of several Artie Shaw records in Ava’s personal record collection, now in the Ava Gardner Museum Collection. Ava was a lifelong fan of music and had grown up during the big band era.

Artie Shaw was one of jazz’s finest clarinetist, a composer, a conductor, and a bandleader. He was a genius musician and an intellectual that liked to discuss many subjects. Ava reflected on their relationship, saying, “I suppose Artie was the first intelligent, intellectual male I’d ever met, and he bowled me over.”

The two had a longer courtship than Ava had with Mickey Rooney, dating for several months before Ava moved into his Beverly Hills home in the summer of 1944. At the time, Ava was still honing her acting skills in small film parts, so she had time to travel with Artie and his band as they toured the country.

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In Ava: My Story, she said: “I adored my time with Artie before we got married. We traveled all over California and went to Chicago and New York, with Artie’s band playing one-night stands while I sat backstage, sipping bourbon, listening to the music, and having a ball.”

During their courtship, Artie was inspired by Ava to co-write and record a song he titled “The Grabtown Grapple.” The song’s title pays tribute to Ava’s birthplace, Grabtown, North Carolina. The song was recorded in January 1945 by Artie and his Gramercy Five for Victor records.

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Ava, at 22, and Artie, at 35, were married on October 17, 1945 at his Beverly Hills mansion on Bedford Drive. It was his fifth marriage and Ava’s second. Another small wedding, Ava again wore a simple blue suit with a corsage of Cattaleya orchids. Frances Heflin was her bridesmaid and one of Artie Shaw’s oldest friends was the best man. Ava and Artie honeymooned at Lake Tahoe for a week.

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The corsage of Cattaleya orchids Ava wore at her wedding to Artie Shaw. It was found pressed between the pages of one of Ava’s personal scrapbooks and is now part of the Ava Gardner Museum Collection.

Ava describes their time together in her autobiography, saying that while they had a lot of fights, they also had a lot of romance. Artie encouraged Ava to read and learn about topics from literature to chess. In an effort to please him, Ava enrolled in courses at UCLA and studied during down time on the set of The Killers.

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Ava, Artie and director Robert Siodmak on the set of The Killers.

Ultimately, Artie’s desire to make Ava into an intellectual soured their romance. Ava moved out and Artie asked for a quick Mexican divorce so he would be free to marry his sixth wife, author Kathleen Winsor. Artie and Ava were married one year and one week.

Ava’s feelings on the divorce were mixed.

“Still and all, Artie was one of the deep hurts of my life. I was so much in love with the man, I adored and worshiped him, and I don’t think he ever really understood the damage he did by putting me down all the time…Yet Artie and I remained close for years, and I can’t say anything against him. He taught me to study, to think, to read…Of my three husbands I had the most admiration for Artie. He’s impossible to live with, sometimes even to be friends with, but he is a worthwhile human being, an extraordinary man.” – Ava: My Story

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Artie’s efforts to “improve” Ava were hurtful to her, but she still credited him with sparking in her a lifelong interest in literature, art, classical music, philosophy, and politics. Photo: Ava Gardner in the library of Artie Shaw’s Bedford Drive home in 1945.

As for Artie Shaw’s thoughts on Ava, in a 1990 interview, when asked what he had found attractive about her, he simply replied, ““Have you ever seen Ava Gardner?”

 

Young Love & Wedding Number 1: Ava Gardner & Mickey Rooney

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The Ava Gardner Museum is participating in Hometowns to Hollywood’s Wedding Bells Blogathon! We will be sharing blog posts about Ava’s three weddings & marriages over the next few days. For more posts about weddings on and off screen during the Golden Age of Hollywood, head over to Hometowns to Hollywood’s blogathon page for links to the other participants’ blogs.

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Ava and Mickey Rooney kissing wedding day

On her second day in Hollywood in 1941, Ava Gardner met a man dressed like Carmen Miranda. Just 5 months later they would be married.

Mickey Rooney was filming Babes on Broadway (1941) when Ava toured Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Studios for the first time, just after arriving in Hollywood from North Carolina. He introduced himself and even in Carmen Miranda costume and makeup, Ava was flattered. One of the biggest names of the day, Mickey Rooney was charismatic and persistent. After playing hard to get for a while, Ava agreed to a date and it wasn’t long until the two decided to marry.

At the time, Ava Gardner was still far from famous, having just arrived in Hollywood, but Mickey Rooney was a hugely popular star with a long list of accolades already. Having started in silent films in 1927 at the age of seven, Mickey had been in the spotlight for over a decade when he met Ava. He had received a special Academy Juvenile Award for his performance in Boys Town (1938) opposite Spencer Tracy and was the first teenager nominated for an Oscar for his leading role in Babes in Arms (1939). He was the lead in one of the most successful and longest running film franchises, the Andy Hardy series, and was the top box-office star for three years, 1939-1941.

Since both Mickey and Ava were under contract with MGM, they had to have the permission of studio head Louis B. Mayer in order to marry. Mayer was worried about how fans would react if one of his biggest stars, Mickey Rooney, who was especially popular in the Andy Hardy movies, was taken off the market.

“Metro owned both of us, and did not look kindly on any change in Andy Hardy’s status,” is how Ava put it in her autobiography, Ava: My Story. Ultimately Mayer agreed but set some limitations—MGM wanted a quiet, unpublicized ceremony.

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Ava and Mickey on their wedding day.

Ava and Mickey were married in a small white church in Ballard, California on January 10, 1942. Ava wore a blue tailored suit with a corsage of Cattaleya orchids rather than a white wedding gown. She said of agreeing to the small wedding: “it ruined my dream of getting married at a beautiful ceremony dressed in a white wedding gown. I didn’t mind missing out on the big wedding, but I did miss the dress.”

The only guests present for the small wedding were Ava’s sister Bappie, Mickey’s parents, and Les Petersen, Mickey’s personal publicist.

Of the ceremony, Ava said in her autobiography: “Mickey fumbled with the wedding ring, inscribed “Love Forever,” which was probably some kind of portent, given that he racked up eight marriages altogether and I managed another two. No one shed any tears.” Mickey and Ava honeymooned at the Del Monte Hotel near Carmel on the Monterey Peninsula.

Young Ava with Mickey Rooney

This publicity still, taken shortly after Mickey and Ava married, was used to share the news about their union. The caption read: “Ballard, CA: Mickey Rooney, and his bride, Actress Ava Gardner are shown as they posed for cameramen after they were married in the Santa Ynez Valley Presbyterian Church. There were few persons present at the ceremony.” Several publicity photo shoots were done, including one with Ava and Mickey golfing together. These photos were distributed to magazines and other publications, much like stars’ relationships make the news today.

Just after their honeymoon, Ava accompanied Mickey on a war bond tour which included stops in Boston, New York, Fort Bragg, and Washington D.C. The new Mrs. Mickey Rooney was still in the very early stages of her career, so it was Mickey who was the star everywhere they went, including when they visited Ava’s family while in North Carolina.

Mickey Rooney United War Certificate

This Service Citation was issued to Mickey Rooney by the Greater Boston United War Fund. It reads in part: “You and your gracious bride made your honeymoon a historic event in old Boston, when you came three thousand miles to send our first great civic wartime effort off to a sky-rocket start.” From the Ava Gardner Museum Collection.

“Mama had made herself pretty. She’d got herself dressed to the nines to meet her famous son-in-law…and the house was filled, which couldn’t have made Mama happier because she loved people around her. And Mickey liked that sort of situation, too, and in my terms gave the greatest and most heartwarming performance of his life. He entertained Mama, he hugged her, he made her laugh, he brought tears to her eyes. He did his impersonations, he did his songs and dances –it was a wonderful, wonderful occasion for Mama, who we all knew was slowly dying. Although I had loved Mickey from the start, that show he put on moved me beyond words.” – Ava: My Story

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A serving platter belonging to Ava’s mother, which was used when Mickey Rooney visited in 1942. The platter is now in the Ava Gardner Museum’s collection.

Doris Cannon, one of Ava’s biographers, wrote in Grabtown Girl: “Many years later, Ava would say that she loved Mickey when she married him—and she loved him even when she ended their brief union. But she never loved him more than on that day in Raleigh when he made her mother so happy.”

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This photo of Ava’s mother during Mickey’s visit in North Carolina captures the joy of the occasion, and the serving platter used to offer Mickey some southern fried chicken. That platter is now in the Ava Gardner Museum Collection.

Ava Gardner was only 19 when she married Mickey Rooney, 21, and only 20 when they divorced. Ava said of the marriage, which quickly started falling apart, that “neither Mickey or I had so much as a clue as to what [marriage] really meant.”

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“We were babies, just children, and our lives were run by a lot of other people. We hadn’t had a chance.” The divorce was final on May 21, 1943, the same day Ava’s mother passed away.

The two remained friendly throughout Ava’s life. In April 2001, while on tour, Mickey Rooney even visited the Ava Gardner Museum with his then wife Jan Chamberlin Rooney. He also contributed interviews about Ava to the film that the Museum shows to visitors as part of the tour.

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Mickey and his then wife signed the Ava Gardner Museum guestbook when they visited in April 2001.

In the museum’s orientation film, Mickey recalled how he felt when he first met Ava: “My heart was gone when I saw her.”

“Being married to Ava Gardner was one of the most memorable moments of my life. And I wish her well wherever she is,” Mickey reflected in the film.

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Mickey Rooney and his last wife Jan during their visit to the Ava Gardner Museum.

“To Lavinia, Who Is Truly My Beloved.” ~Frank Sinatra

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Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra share a little December birthday cake in Germany, 1951.

Today would have been his 100th birthday. She called him Francis. You know him as Frank Sinatra, the most famous voice in history. Their love was a burning passion that was tempered with the firestorm of the cruel media. During a time when Frank’s star was in a rut, Ava’s was on the rise. During the time when they both rose professionally, they crashed personally. Ava once said that when things were good, they were magical and when they were bad, they were the worst. So how did two tempestuous personalities create one of the longest-lasting love stories during the Golden Age of Hollywood?

Ava and Frank first met in 1941 when Ava was still married to Mickey Rooney. Recent biographical rags would have you believe that Frank picked her out of a magazine (sorry Mr. “Biographer-to-the-Stars,” but you’ve got your plotlines confused; that was actually Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth). Ava was blown away when he told her “Hey, why didn’t I meet you before Mickey? Then I could have married you myself.” Ava, still the shrinking violet of the Hollywood machine, didn’t know how to process the situation. “That caught me off guard. I guess I smiled back uncertainly, but I don’t think I said a word. Because in those early days, I was always feeling out of my depth. Even to meet Frank Sinatra was

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Ava is first introduced to Frank Sinatra while married to Mickey Rooney in 1941.

exciting enough. To have him say a thing like that left me dumbfounded.”1 Following Ava’s divorce from both Mickey and Artie, and Frank’s own separation from Nancy Barbato Sinatra, Frank pursued Ava in social settings to which she always politely declined. Frank would go on to date other actresses like Marilyn Maxwell and Ava’s own personal friend, movie superstar Lana Turner. Yet she and Frank always seemed to cross paths and she finally accepted an invitation for a date but never went further until 1949 as she felt it was rushed and wrong. Ava was cautious of embarking on a tenuous romance with a not-yet-divorced, separated, married man. She was also conscious of her proclivity for falling for musicians. Her devastating marriage and divorce from Artie Shaw was proof enough of that. Frank’s allure attracted many women, a whole generation of bobbysoxers included, that proved he had his options open as well. “That is not to say that I did not think, even then [turning him down], that Frank was one of the greatest singers of this century. He had a thing in his voice I’ve only heard in two other people – Judy Garland and Maria Callas. A quality that makes me want to cry for happiness, like a beautiful sunset or a boys’ choir singing Christmas carols.”2

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Frank Sinatra and wife Ava Gardner take the stage in Wiesbaden, Germany in 1951 to sing “Bewitched, Bothered, Bewildered.”

In the summer of 1949, Frank and Ava met again in Palm Springs and rekindled their attraction once Ava confirmed with him that he and Nancy were indeed separated. “The kids, however, were something else; he was committed to them forever. I was to learn that that kind of deep loyalty – not faithfulness, but loyalty – was a critical part of his nature.”3 Ava’s affection for his children was something she would come to demonstrate openheartedly, without agenda, but because Ava loved children in general, and Mr. Sinatra’s children especially because they were his. Frank Sinatra, Jr. recounted how his sister Nancy was delighted to learn how to do makeup from an iconic movie star. He himself had his first memory of meeting Ava as a little boy at a Palm Springs airport in 1952, after she was

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Ava with husband Frank Sinatra at the London Airport in 1952 on their way to film “Mogambo.” This is the same year that Frank Sinatra, Jr. first met Ava as a young boy at a Palm Springs airport.

already the wife of his father. He remembers her as being kind to him, but not much more until years later.

Ava’s romance with Sinatra heated up once she knew she was free to give into her passion for him. “Love is a wordless communion between two people….oh God, it was magic. We became lovers forever – eternally. Big words, I know. But I truly felt that no matter what happened we would always be in love. And God almighty, things did happen.”4 Things like the morality clause being called out in Ava’s movie contracts, petitions to denounce Ava’s career and even prosecute her for indecency. Things like separation owing to careers and people inserting themselves between the lovers. Things like Frank and Ava’s own jealousy about each other. “As if all this press attention, the idea the world had that it was entitled to know all about every minute of our lives, wasn’t enough to put strains on our love….Both Frank and I were high-strung people, possessive and jealous and liable to explode fast. When I lose my temper, honey, you can’t find it anyplace. I’ve just got to let off steam, and he’s the same way.”5 Ava assured her fans in her autobiography that they never fought about professional differences (matter-of-factly, her star was higher than his during their marriage). “Accusations and counteraccusations, that’s what our quarrels were all about.”6

Ava and Frank Pandora and Flying Dutchman premiere Los Angeles 1952

Signs of trouble: 10 Jan 1952, Los Angeles, California, USA — Frank Sinatra with Ava Gardner at the Premiere of “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” Image by © Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis

 

Frank Sinatra, Jr. also confirms that Frank and Ava’s troubles were all because they were the same type of temperament and personality. He likened their love to magnets that inevitably repel each other. It wasn’t that they didn’t love each other, it was that they were too much like each other. Also to blame was the merciless nature of the press. “Maligning. Anything you read about her, you will find that.” According to him, Ava could never do right under the scrutiny of stardom and everything she did was magnified in the public eye. She was never given a chance to be happy by the outside world because she was “not criticized, she was absolutely maligned.”7 This is something that Frank Sinatra, Jr. could himself relate to, and ironically, it is one of the things that they would later commiserate with each other about.

Frank Sinatra and Frank Sinatra Jr. son Tahoe Daily Tribune singing

Frank Sinatra Jr. (left) and Frank Sinatra (right) sing side-by-side before the kidnapping incident that unfairly scarred Frank Jr.’s reputation. Frank Sinatra, Jr. is currently leading his multimedia concert performance in tribute of his father, “Sinatra Sings Sinatra.” Photo (c) Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Eventually, the breakdown of their marriage occurred with Ava bearing the brunt of the blame for breaking Sinatra’s heart and really teaching him what it was to sing the blues. The notoriety of this rumor persists to this day, despite the fact that Ava and Sinatra rekindled their passion many times during the years and remained friends until Ava’s death. The fact was that they could not stay married to each other, a shackling as Ava once referred to it which didn’t allow them to be free, to be who they needed to be in order to succeed with each other. “I remember exactly when I made the decision to seek a divorce….I was deeply hurt. I knew then that we had reached a crossroads. Not because we had fallen out of love, but because our love had so battered and bruised us that we couldn’t stand it anymore. When you have to face up to the fact that marriage to the man you love is really over, that’s very tough, sheer agony.”8

Their separation and subsequent divorce might be credited with what allowed them to maintain a friendship. Ava also discovered something critical about herself and decided to break the pattern. “I think the main reason my marriages failed is that I always loved too well but never wisely. I’m terribly possessive about the people I love and I probably smother them with love. I’m jealous of every minute they spend away from me. I want to be with them, to see them, to be able to touch them. Then, and only then, am I happy. For instance, when I couldn’t get Frank on the telephone immediately, I wanted to kill myself. It was stupid, I suppose, but it was me.”9 Ava went on to say how Frank always stayed in touch with her no matter how far apart or how busy their lives got. In fact, speaking with Ava’s nephew Mel Pearce (Myra’s son) recently, I was treated to a story about how Ava and Myra were on vacation in Acapulco in the 1970s when a naval ship that Mel was stationed on in the Indian Ocean had an explosion on board, killing many sailors. Receiving the word in Mexico and not knowing the fate of her nephew, Ava called Sinatra in a panic. Frank told her to hang tight and he would see what he could find out. He then promptly called Spiro Agnew, Vice President of the United States at the time, who had a list of casualties in his hand and confirmed that Mel was not among those listed. Frank then called up Ava to set her and Myra’s worries to rest. Frank and Ava’s marriage was long over at that point, yet he would still drop everything to help her or her family. What a guy!

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Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra remained very close friends till Ava died in 1990. Here they are, comfortable in Ava’s London home in the late 1960s.

Frank’s generosity, already touching in its sincerity, is often exaggerated by people that seem to think it needs more than it already has associated with it. The rumor that Frank took care of Ava financially in her final years is widespread with all its inaccuracies. The fact is that while Frank supported Ava emotionally, Ava was financially independent at the time of her death. As the trustee of her estate, I can confirm this unequivocally. The fact is that when Ava suffered her stroke in 1986, Frank wanted her to get a second opinion at a hospital in California. Knowing Ava’s stubborn nature (much like his own), he knew she would not go on her own and thus insisted on flying her out to California and paying for the doctor and associated tests. Ava’s gratitude was endless. Isn’t that enough to the story? Why do people go on to exaggerate? Also widespread in its error is the rumor that Frank paid for her funeral, or that he attended the funeral, neither of which are true. This is because Ava didn’t allow any celebrities at her funeral to provide for the privacy and respect for her family to grieve. Frank did send a floral display with a simple note: “With my love, Francis.” He included the yellow roses he sent to her every year on her birthday- which she would keep on a mantle till the next year he sent another bouquet to replace them. To me, that is hauntingly romantic on its own and speaks volumes of their mutual affection. No exaggeration needed.

For a woman that has been vilified in the media and in popular memory for the better part of the last century, our wish for Frank’s 100th birthday is that she can be remembered as a valuable part of his life as he himself saw her; that she inspired many a torch song, there is no doubt. But they both hurt each other, they both loved each other, and in the end, the love was stronger than the hurt, than the tabloids or rubbish biographies, or even public opinion. When you find a note among Ava’s private possessions 25 years after her death, a note that she kept all her life, that was torn out of a book leaf and reads, “To Lavinia, who is truly my beloved. FS” signed in the shape of a musical clef, you begin to understand the understated romance that was between them all the days of their lives despite the wave of opposition they never stopped facing. When you hear the

Frank Sinatra note to Ava Lavinia truly my beloved

Private scribble on a book leaf that Frank wrote to Ava found among her personal collection. It is currently on display at the Ava Gardner Museum.

rare demo recording of the 78rpm vinyl of “You’re My Thrill” sung by Frank for Ava and kept in her personal collection, you can feel the epitome of their love manifested through the music, though very few people in the world have ever heard that particular recording. (A copy was given to Frank Sinatra, Jr. at Ava’s marker dedication as a token of our thanks).

On November 18, 2015, Ava’s one-time stepson Frank Sinatra, Jr. dedicated her North Carolina Highway Historical Marker at the Carolina Theatre of Durham following his inspiring performance of “Sinatra Sings Sinatra,” a spectacular tribute to his father: the man and the music. In his speech, he explained that Ava was “maligned at every turn of the…screw” and expressed his disappointment that as Sinatra’s wife, as a woman who was in love with a man she was married to, she was not allowed to be left alone. When you hear how Frank Sinatra, Jr. and Ava spent an evening in Spain in 1964 gaining an understanding of each other as public “villains” and expressing the pain that fame can bring with it, maybe we can start to understand our roles as fan and tabloid patrons, a little more in the misery that comes as a cost of stardom.10 Do we have the right to be indignant about the heartbreak they supposedly caused each other? Is it even our business? Ava said that after years of mudslinging she should be able to weather it, but she never could. It hurt her every…single…time. It hurt Frank too. And it spilled into the next generation with Frank Sinatra, Jr. and the trials he went through to overcome his kidnapping and create a career for himself while the tabloids were happier perpetuating the myth of an elaborate hoax instead of celebrating the talent of a great voice from the son of a great musician. How different everyone’s lives might have been if we just practiced what Ava preached: to have a little more kindness in this world. She said that it starts with ourselves. I believe that she is right in this, that we see negativity in ourselves and therefore we look for something worse in others to pacify our own guilt. It goes back to that old adage “misery loves company.” Rather shouldn’t we try to embrace the fragility of their human nature, of their imperfection, and of their love in spite of it? You would think that would be more appealing to the salacious perpetuation of ugliness which has been the broken record of the past 59 years.

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Photo and autograph from Ava’s private collection, currently housed at the Ava Gardner Museum.

 

This year the Ava Gardner Museum has created a unique Triumvirate Tribute Exhibit dedicated to Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday, Ava Gardner’s 25th anniversary of passing, and Omar Sharif. Each section displays intimate glimpses into the lives of these three individuals and Ava’s special relationship with the love of her life, Frank Sinatra, as well as her friend and costar Omar Sharif, who sadly passed away this year. Please join us at the museum to celebrate and enjoy the lives of these wonderful stars.

We have attached the video of the dedication and of Frank Sinatra, Jr.’s touching memory of Ava below, in tribute to both Frank and Ava during the month of both their birthdays, and in special thanks to Frank Sinatra, Jr. for divulging such a personal and heartfelt experience, in hopes of

Frank Sinatra Jr.

Frank Sinatra, Jr. in a promotional shot for his show “Sinatra Sings Sinatra” 2015 (c) Frank Sinatra, Jr.

setting straight the truth about the love that was shared, and the lives that were lived (a transcription of the video will follow soon). We think that is something both Frank and Ava would want. Happy 100th birthday Frank! Today we choose to remember the love and friendship you shared with a woman who might have been more worthy than the world was ever allowed to see.

 

 

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for our next blog.

Coming soon: Carmen Vargas, the Gardner Family, and the Smithfield marker unveiling ceremony.

Don’t forget to subscribe!

~Deanna Brandenberger

AGM Executive Director

Trustee of the Ava Gardner Estate

  1. Gardner, 122.
  2. Gardner, 123.
  3. Gardner, 125.
  4. Gardner, 125.
  5. Gardner, 127.
  6. Gardner, 127.
  7. Sinatra, Jr., Frank. Ava Gardner Historical Marker Dedication Ceremony Speech. Durham, North Carolina. November 18, 2015.
  8. Gardner, 191.
  9. Gardner, 192.
  10. Sinatra, Jr., Frank. Ava Gardner Historical Marker Dedication Ceremony Speech. Durham, North Carolina. November 18, 2015.

 

“Speak Low When You Speak Love” ~ An Evening With Ava

EveningStokesI apologize for the overdue BLOG posting, but our museum has been involved in some very labor-intensive and exciting prospects over the past month and we are so happy to finally share them with you!

Caitlin Dockery, Deanna Brandenberger, Mary Helen Wyatt pose in front of Moore's Springs Manor, the venue for Ava's exclusive event!

Caitlin Dockery, Deanna Brandenberger, Mary Helen Wyatt pose in front of Moore’s Springs Manor, the venue for Ava’s exclusive event!

Janet steam

Janet Cobb prepares Ava’s costume from The Sun Also Rises.

For Valentine’s Day, a small contingent of our museum staff took on the monumental task of conducting our flagship traveling exhibit effort in partnership with the Stokes County Arts Council! The four members of our party were myself (Executive Director), my intern Ms. Caitlin Dockery (who is also a museum docent), Ms. Mary Helen Wyatt (Board of Directors Chairwoman), and Mr. Rick Lotz (former Board Chairman and current Board Member). A fifth person was an integral part of the team, our bookkeeper and curation intern Ms. Janet Cobb.  The event was organized largely by Mr. Eddy McGee and Ms. Ellen Peric, along with the rest of their dedicated Stokes County Arts Council Board and staff.  Although our museum has previously participated in the Retroback Festival in Spain last year, this year’s event was our first official traveling exhibit dedicated to promoting Ava and our museum.  This was an all-inclusive event which consisted of a romantic evening in the idyllic mountain splendor of Westfield, North Carolina on the Moore’s Springs Manor estate complete with a museum showcase, singing and dancing entertainment provided by The Carolina Crooner Eddie Fedora, and heavy hors d’ouevres by Chef Adam Andrews with a moderate selection of wines.

The museum showcase consisted of an exhibit of five unique Ava artifacts: a wood block poster print of Knights of the Round Table, the black “Sinatra” dress that Ava wore on their first public engagement together, the 1968 oil Bert Pfeiffer painting of Ava’s iconic

Deanna Brandenberger and Caitlin Dockery fit Ava's dress to the mannequin so that it bears her legendary hourglass measurements.

Deanna Brandenberger and Caitlin Dockery fit Ava’s dress to the mannequin so that it bears her legendary hourglass measurements.

Hollywood glamour, Ava’s orange dress suit from the 1957 film The Sun Also Rises, and a Bakelite statue from One Touch of Venus. To prep this small artifact transport, it took four people more than 40 hours to accomplish curation which demonstrates the level of care and conservation required to bring such treasures to a traveling event. The showcase also featured a short documentary and special guest speaker Mary Helen Wyatt, who shared her personal memories of Ava when she visited her hometown of Smithfield. I also had the privilege of speaking at the event to share our museum’s mission and goals as well as to speak about the significance of the items that we chose to feature in the showcase.  All of this took place in the estate’s banquet hall, with romantic lighting, a warm fire as tall as a person stands, and the gentle fluttering of snowflakes against the mountain backdrop.

The assembled exhibit.

The assembled exhibit and banquet room.

I have to say that I was beyond impressed with the turnout of our guests. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, was dressed to the nines in vintage clothing. Some had dug out heirloom designer clothing, hats and hairpieces, and many gentlemen were looking dapper in full suits, fedoras and wing-tip shoes; others rented vintage clothing from a niche industry clothing rental store in nearby Winston-Salem.  The one exception was a gentleman who came in the character of cult film icon “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski,

Our comic relief: The Dude!

Our comic relief: The Dude!

much to the amusement of most guests, and to the horror of others who didn’t get the cultural reference of a man dressed in boxer shorts and a bathrobe while holding an open carton of half-and-half.  For my part, it was the moment I finally breathed and was able to laugh and embrace the jovial part of the evening rather than the overwhelming task that lay before us.  It was a fantastic and fun icebreaker!

Romance abounded for couples from their teens to their 90s! Everything from a glamorous date night to three different couples celebrating their wedding anniversaries made this night so very special and humbling for those of us participating because they chose to spend an evening in retro with Ava Gardner’s legacy and to hear the stories of her own life passions, from her career to Frank Sinatra to her family and friends.  Speaking with our guests, it was clear that one of their favorite things was to hear the personal account of Mary Helen Wyatt’s private experiences with Ava and who she actually was when the camera wasn’t rolling. It made Ava accessible to people who admired her and gave them a glimpse of her personal life: the real life in North Carolina, away from Hollywood, the press, and drama.

Mary Helen Wyatt shares her personal memories of Ava with our guests.

Mary Helen Wyatt shares her personal memories of Ava with our guests.

After we closed down for the evening, our ladies of staff returned to our beautiful riverside rental cottage in the hamlet of Danbury that was kindly donated by the Danbury General Store. The charming Dan River Cottage is a full-size house featuring a living room, two bedrooms, a full kitchen, laundry room, deck and bathroom (complete with a slop jar!).Yes

Dan River Cottage, Danbury, NC.

Dan River Cottage, Danbury, NC.

folks, it was then that this California girl realized she was truly in the South when Mary Helen Wyatt explained the function of this homestead relic. If you aren’t familiar with the delightful utilities of a slop jar, I highly recommend you become acquainted with it. It’s positively Shakespearean, in the best way possible! Thankfully, it’s purpose there was purely ornamental. Our escort for the evening, the singular gentleman of our number, was lodged at another donated cabin from the good folks at nearby Hanging Rock State Park.

After an evening of defrocking, makeup removal and girl talk, the next morning found us very saddened to be leaving behind the heartwarming mountain retreat and loving people of Stokes County. The experience was enriching not only as our flagship event but on a personal level, it allowed us to experience sharing our art and history and receiving the same in return.  It also gave us encouragement that there are fans of Ava’s out there that may not be able to travel to our museum but would like to in future and in the meantime, we can bring a little bit of stardust to them.  In addition, it could even ignite the interest of new fans and make people aware of our own jewel of North Carolina, located just down the way in Smithfield. We have begun receiving requests to put on similar events elsewhere and are seriously considering these prospects. Do you belong to a town, county, or organization which would like to host a similar event? If so, we’d love to hear from you!

Executive Director Deanna Brandenberger, Board Member Rick Lotz, and Board Chairwoman Mary Helen Wyatt.

Executive Director Deanna Brandenberger, Board Member Rick Lotz, and Board Chairwoman Mary Helen Wyatt.

Before leaving the Northwestern part of North Carolina, we did make a quick trip down to Mt. Airy which many of you probably know as TV’s apple-pie community of Mayberry.  It is home to the Andy Griffith Museum and a vibrant downtown culture that is centered on the wholesome family atmosphere for which The Andy Griffith Show was known. In the Downtown Historic District you can also visit the Historic Earle Theater & Old-Time Music Heritage Hall where concerts and impromptu bluegrass musician gatherings are always being held, much to our enjoyment!

A bluegrass group assembled at the Historic Earle Theater & Old-Time Heritage Hall, Mt. Airy, NC.

A bluegrass group assembled at the Historic Earle Theater & Old-Time Heritage Hall, Mt. Airy, NC.

While visiting, we couldn’t pass up the chance to try the pork sandwich at the Snappy Lunch restaurant which had just been featured on the cover of Our State Magazine. Delicious! There is definitely so much to love about the North Carolina Mountains!

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and as anyone who has ever looked at a photograph of Ava knows, this is a true statement. I would therefore like to share with you some candid shots from our Facebook album of our visit to Stokes County which you can view by clicking here. We hope you enjoy them and we’d love to hear your comments and ideas. I would like to end this post by sincerely thanking our friends at the Stokes County Arts Council, Moore’s Springs Manor Venue and Lodging, Artists Way Café, Danbury General Store, Hanging Rock State Park, and the Kooken Foundation for their generous contributions without which none of this would have been possible.  There is a line from Ava’s film One Touch of Venus where she sings, “Speak Low When You Speak Love.”  For us, this event was simple and elegant, not over-the-top and garish; it was formal yet personal and allowed us to emulate Ava’s understated and unique style which truly gave people the experience of An Evening With Ava. We spoke softly with love and it was wonderful time. Thank you to those who celebrated with us and continue to do so by supporting us every day!

Ava with the love of her life, Frank Sinatra.

Ava with the love of her life, Frank Sinatra.

~Deanna Brandenberger, AGM Executive Director