Little falls on the cutting room floor is this full-dress biography of a screen icon.
If a photo of a stunning beauty in a New York City photographer’s window hadn’t caught the eye of a passerby, Ava Gardner might have spent an uncomplicated life as a secretary and mother in North Carolina. Alas, the photo captured the attention of MGM, always eager to hang another star in the heavens. Hollywood historian Server (Robert Mitchum, 2001, etc.) covers—down to the last also-ran—the turbulent life and career that ensued. Clearly, the camera loved Ava, but that didn’t mean she was a shallow stunner who couldn’t act. George Cukor, directing her in Bhowani Junction, sensed in her work the power of Garbo. Her performance in Mogambo garnered an Oscar nomination, while critics and audiences lauded her for On the Beach and Seven Days in May. Dross along the way—55 Days in Peking and something called Tam Lin—mattered little to her: Love, sex and booze formed the core of her life. Relationships (with Howard Hughes, a matador, several leading men and many extras, including, perhaps, a few women) and marriages (to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra) were passionate, violent and beyond her control—she kept going back to lover George C. Scott, who kept knocking her around. Wounds were salved by drunken debauchery—the Ritz Hotel in Madrid banned her from the premises after she urinated in the lobby. Alone, but tranquil in her sad final days, she listened to Sinatra’s recordings and leafed through a packet of his love letters.
Overlong, yet never dull. Server writes with a contagious enthusiasm for his subject and a solid grasp of Hollywood history that Ava’s fans and film buffs will enjoy.