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11 oct201811

The Avalanche of beauty and trouble - Ava Gardner

Smithfield, NC, United StatesSmithfield, NC, United States
If you've met me in the last three years it is very likely I have mentioned, once or twice my passion for music, dance, and movies from the past. I started watching them shortly after I had begun doing what I had always wanted - dancing. Since I had chosen tap dancing I began watching musicals from the 1930s and fell in love with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astair, obviously.

Since then my passion has been growing exponentially and so far I watched 165 pictures out of 487 that I want to watch. Along with my passion the list of movies I want to watch is growing.

As with anything else you develop your unique sense and liking from which your favourites arise and one of them is definitely Ava Lavinia Gardner. Surprisingly her middle name, which I happen to like very much now, Lavinia, sounds very much like Polish word "lawina", which means avalanche. When it comes to Ava it is most appropriate. 

Recently I saw a sign for Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield and I couldn't understand why. When I looked up information about her it made things clear since she was born not far from here, in a small town called Grabtown on December 24, 1922. Her parents were tobacco and cotton farmers and had a big family; she was one of seven kids.  

Her sister Beatrice "Bappie" was living in New York when Ava decided to visit her. Bappie's husband was a professional photographer and the moment he saw his sister-in-law he knew that she is one of those faces that will be everywhere because of her natural beauty. Imagine the odds of a MGM employee walking by his studio only to see Ava's pictures in the window display. Talk about faith, coincidence, probability, or all of it together, but the bottom line is that she was supposed to be discovered.
This is the photo taken by Larry Tarr that sparked so much interest.

I knew it was meant to be for me to visit that museum but without public transport it was difficult to find the way. Universe, however, has a way of correcting the timeline according to its plan and I met Megan & Dennis one night in my favourite coffee shop where we would start talking about our mutual passion for movies. Turned out Dennis hasn't been to the museum yet so the following day made it a perfet opportunity to go!

The museum is located in Smithfield, just off the interstate 95 right in the centre of the town on East Market Street. It doesn't look like much from the outside, apart from few posters but I learned never to judge the book by its cover. Inside the museum makes a great impression at first sight. 
At first we were invited to see a 18-minute video that told us the history of Ava, a brief one but with some previously unseen footage and interviews from the likes of Mickey Rooney (her first husband) and her friends. The moment lights went off and the movie started - goosebumps alert!  That's how I know I am in the right place :)

While watching I made a little promise to myself that if I ever settle down anywhere I will have a little movie room with a projector that could display movies on my wall. I don't need any luxuries in my life but making sure I enjoy my passion will be one of them.

Anyway, after the movie Donna told us more about the room we were in and showed us paintings by Dutch painter Bert Pfeiffer. He decided to paint one portrait of her every year despite Ava never having posed for him. Talk about commitment! Or a 20th century equivalent of facebook stalking ;) 

These are three paintings from a series where he tried to incporporate something the "doesn't make sense". The middle one, my favourite, has a table with no legs, for example. Can you spot what's "wrong" with the other two ones?
When you watch a lot of movies like me you don't always have time to dive into the history and biographies of people who made those pictures. Museums like this one make it possible. It's so interesting to read about the early life of people you start admiring and how they got to that place of admiration, how they became stars, how human-like they were during their lives off-screen - something we very often forget.

Ava started her first professional contract in 1941 at the age of 18 for MGM, earning 50 dollars per week. It took at least 5 years before her life truly changed - playing Kitty Collins inThe KIllers in 1946. 

Until I played Kitty Collins, I'd never worked very hard in pictures, never taken my career very seriously. I felt no burning ambition to become a real actress. I was just a girl who was lucky enough to have job in pictures

After The Killers a lot of better roles came Ava's way. The Hucksters, Singapore, and one of the more prominent roles in One Touch of Venus. But the actual success, if we measure success by award nominations, came in the 1950s. 

In 1953 one of the most remembered pictures with Ava was produced: Mogambo. She was partnered with Clark Gable, her childhood idol, and Grace Kelly, with whom she would become friends and even write letters to. Below is an envelope from a letter received from Grace Kelly in 1956
Other memorable pictures were Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), The Night of the Iguana(1964), Bhowani Junction (1956), and On The Beach (1959). She was still playing in movies well into the early 1980s but none of those roles became anything more.. 

Everybody who is interested in those times, classic pictures, or Ava herself, talks about it. Natural beauty, good enough voice (though her voice was dubbed in Show Boat), and definitely the x-factor, so why wasn't she at least at the same level of fame as other females at that time. A lot of it has to do with her passionate nature, as some people call it, and the others call it problematic. At the same time she never really believed in herself. Gregory Peck, her good friend, would always try to push her and help her develop further as an acctress. 

She had three marriages, which is not necessary a lot for movie star standards...

First with Mickey Rooney 1942-1943, which lasted 15 months. It was only a year after she arrived in Hollywood and Mickey admitted he was infatuated with her from the moment he saw her and pursued her for a long time, since she didn't really want to go out with him at first. 

Second marriage lasted one year before she had to go through the divorce number two. Artie Shaw was a musician who had 8 marriages in total and Ava was his 5th. 

Third and the longest marriage began in 1951 when she married Frank Sinatra, whom she divorced almost 6 years later. This marriage seems different, at least to people who read about it. She could have had children with Frank but decided to cut it short saying they couldn't even take care of themselves, not to mention having ability to care for kids.
In the museum there were few memorabilia in regards to Frank. A watch (you can see it in the slideshow) she gave to him that is engraved with words: "To Frank and desert nights, Ava". One of the reasons why people say that was supposed to be THE relationship of their both lives is that they stayed friends until her death in 1990. Frank rose to fame when being with her as before their relationship he wasn't in the best financial or artistic position. He helped her after he became very rich and famous. She was always fond of him and called him "Francis". It's one of those relationships where everybody around you hopes it will survive but it doesn't. 

There were few other interesting pieces that belonged to her displayed in the museum mostly thanks to her family (newphew). Her China collection she had in her flat in London and other pieces of clothing like dresses or a jacket she wore while filming Mogambo in Africa. 

I decided I will try visit more museums in memory of stars who are no longer with us but left a lasted print behind. If you are ever in the area this little but powerful museum is definitely worth the trip!
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