Based on the movie star’s late-night ramblings, an unvarnished account of her marriages and affairs in golden-age Hollywood.
The films she made weren’t the principal basis of Ava Gardner’s fame, so it’s no great disappointment that there’s little here about The Sun Also Rises, Mogambo or The Barefoot Contessa (to name the ones people might actually remember today). British journalist Evans (Nemesis: The True Story of Aristotle Onassis, Jackie O, and the Love Triangle That Brought Down the Kennedys, 2004, etc.) encouraged her to focus on her personal life, and she let loose with plenty of frank, bawdy material about husbands Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra, plus a long list of lovers topped by Howard Hughes and George C. Scott. But even as she was confiding that sex with Rooney was so great they were still indulging after their divorce and that Scott was a mean drunk who frequently beat her bloody, she was having second thoughts about a memoir. Broke and recovering from a stroke, she asked Evans to be her ghostwriter in 1988 because, she explained, “I either write the book or sell the jewels. And I’m kinda sentimental about the jewels.” But she never really liked the idea and was often shocked to read Evans’ transcriptions of her profanity-laden speech and the salacious stories she probably wished she’d kept to herself. Indeed, since Evans got most of this material from phone calls the insomniac Gardner made when she couldn’t sleep and had been drinking, the whole project smacks of exploitation, especially since Gardner eventually decided against allowing this revealing document to be published. Evans revived the project after her death with the permission of her estate, and the pages he produced before his death last year certainly give a vivid sense of Gardner’s salty, no-BS personality. Nonetheless, reading it feels somewhat like going through a person’s bureau drawers when she’s not home.
Juicy, but it leaves a nasty aftertaste.