Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ava Gardner

I have been travelling up and down the I95 corridor to Florida from New Jersey for many years. My first trip was to visit my father after a long estrangement in 1995. Along the way I drove by the town of Smithfield, North Carolina. There was really not much there at the time except for a sign that alluded to it being the home of Ava Gardner. In spite of my interest I did not stop.

My parents were strange examples of movie fans. You must remember that my parents grew up and courted each other in Cuba. Yet, somehow they seemed to know a lot of newsreel and film gossip on just about any of the Stars of their era. Much later growing up in Los Angeles it was hard to watch a movie  with them even though it was fun to hear their passion for film and the stars of their youth. They would have so many constant separate conversations that it was hard to keep up with the film on television. There was a program called the Fabulous 50's which featured Hollywood's greatest movies even though many of the films were from the 30's and the 40's. I guess it was impossible to grow up in Hollywood with my parents and not be a film fan.

Ava Gardner was a star that evoked many comments. My Mother would carry on "How could she have married Mickey Rooney? My Father was one to comment on her class and how she had gone from Artie Shaw to Frank Sinatra. These stories would always circled back to her affair with famous Spanish bull fighter Dominguin. Of course they knew nothing about her other than the dribble put out by the studios or gossip papers of the time but knowing that little they somehow felt connected to her and others. It is unfortunate that they were not able to meet her when she visited Cuba and was literally across the hill from us staying at Hemingway's house. Whether apocryphal or not Hemingway was supposed to have watched her swim nude in his pool and asked his staff not to empty the pool water(a common practice of the day was to fill and empty the pool after use).

I never did see her in too many great movies although when she was in a film it was hard not to notice her. In Mogambo she was nominated for an Oscar. Other of her films are nice but none are great dramatic roles. My favorite acting roll of hers was in Night of the Iguana where she played a boozy hotel owner having her fun with a couple maraca playing cabana boys. The Barefoot Contessa, again, is a nice role but not much more unless you consider her STAR power. I capitalize this because Ava Gardner belonged to a different world of film making than that which we have today. The Moguls relied on qualities of presence, beauty, sexual magnetism and if potential actors had these they would teach them the rest.

So on this trip from Tarpon back to Collingswood I stopped in Smithfield. The town now is a major discount designer mall destination and it has the Ava Gardner Museum. I was on the go early and the museum was closed but it was located in a retail building housing a collection of items belonging to the Star. I suspect that Ava Gardner might have ran barefoot if need be to Hollywood to get away from this ham producing sleepy town but that was not the case. Her beauty was spotted by a talent scout who happened on a series of her photographs that were on display at a New York 5th Avenue photo studio - the rest is history. I am not trying to be mean here but it appears that she returned to Smithfield to be buried after a glamorous life elsewhere.

I guess that I made this trip because to me, Ava Gardner, was a goddess for her style and beauty. Visiting her town and eventually her grave was something that I did in memory also of my parents and their "love" for her. I have, on many occasions, gone to honor a memory and the final resting place of famous individuals. I have been to Shelley's grave in Rome, Callas' cremains in Paris, Tyrone Power and Stan Laurel's in Hollywood and Celia Cruz in the Bronx. Cemeteries are unusual places. I wrote my graduate thesis on the evolution of cemeteries as a substitute for parks at the beginning of the Industrial Era. I visit them as a place to enjoy the landscape.

Limo accompanied me and I was careful to make sure he did not relieve himself anywhere

Ava Gardner is buried at Sunset Memorial Park. It is not a great cemetery, but if it is any consolation she is with her parents and brothers. You would think she would have rather been in some exciting place with her bullfighter Domingin but maybe not.

The Blue Bird Lobby Card starring both legends

All this comes on the heels of the death of Elizabeth Taylor who was possibly the last of the Hollywood Stars. We now have actors (whether men or women) trained in their craft and providing us entertainment in films. I wonder if any of these are providing juicy gossip for parents to share with their children?

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