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Brigitte Bardot and her Lovers
The Unbridled Life of Ava Gardner - Stories Behind The Screen
505    Dibyendu Banerjee    06/10/2023

With alluring green eyes and sensual lips, Ava Gardner was the femme fatale of the 1940s and 1950s. Plucked from the abyss of poverty, especially after the death of her father, without any formal education, Ava Gardner emerged as the apple of the movie world and enchanted Hollywood for decades with her beauty and sophistication.

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Reckoned by many as the most beautiful woman God had ever created, she was the antidote to the blond bombshell, darkly sensuous and sultry, witty, hard-drinking and elegant, equipped with tremendous ability to incite men’s lust and men found her irresistible. She was simply a knockout, possibly the sexiest woman ever to grace a movie screen. Since the days when Ava discovered her power over the opposite sex, she only had to snap her fingers for men to come running. Sex was important to Ava and she believed sexual freedom was a woman’s exclusive right. So sophisticated were her looks, even as a teenager, that she would portray duchesses, baronesses and gentry opposite the greatest leading men of the day, which include Robert Walker in One Touch of Venus (1948), James Mason in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), Robert Taylor in Knights of the Round Table (1953) and Humphrey Bogart in The Barefoot Contessa (1954). She became a queen of the silver screen, recognised as one of the most beautiful women in the world, flooded with priceless gifts from her three husbands and countless lovers and swarmed by adulating crowds. Apart from her three husbands, Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra, her lovers include film director John Huston, businessman and aviator Howard Hughes, famous novelist Ernest Hemingway, various bullfighters and almost all of her leading men, from Clark Gable to Robert Taylor and Robert Mitchum.

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But tragically, the loneliness that pervaded throughout her childhood and ripened with her hourglass figure, haunted Ava till her death at the age of 67.

the unbridled life of ava gardner

On her first day at MGM, Ava met Mickey Rooney, one of the biggest stars of the studio, with a thick, red-blond wavy hair, crinkly Irish green eyes and a grin that was not innocent. Known to be a serial philanderer, Rooney was stunned by her ethereal beauty and tried to pursue her to date him. But initially she bluntly refused to go out with him, as she was young and just getting started in Hollywood, not to mention a good deal taller than Rooney. However, Rooney was completely carried away by her beauty and began proposing to her on a regular basis. Eventually, Ava gave in and on 10 January 1942, she became the first of his seven wives. Later, she confessed that Rooney educated her in the wonders of sex and she became addicted to it. During that time, Gardner was yet to be a big-name actress, but her stunning looks made her the perfect companion to Rooney and in the public eye, they appeared to be the most glamorous couple around.

the unbridled life of ava gardner
Ava Gardner with Mickey Rooney

But it was a hard time for Gardner as her career was stalling and her marriage was giving her grief, especially due to the drinking habit of Rooney, who used to become nasty when he was inebriated.

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However, Ava was no angel herself when drunk and she would say things that she knew would hurt him, even taunted him about his height. Two months after the wedding, Ava had to go into hospital to have her appendix out and when came home, she found a hairpin, evidencing that her husband cheated on her while she was in the hospital and was screwing somebody in their conjugal bed. Finally, the end of the marriage came in a bar when Rooney whipped out his address book in front of his cronies and ignoring Ava’s presence, openly called out the names of actresses one by one and revealing their speciality in bed. She divorced Rooney on 25 May 1943, citing mental cruelty, but privately blaming his gambling and womanizing.

the unbridled life of ava gardner

Shortly after she separated from Mickey Rooney, Ava met billionaire businessman, filmmaker, as well as an aviator Howard Hughes, a very complex man, courageous and bold, but painfully shy, completely enigmatic and more eccentric than anyone she ever met. Ava was never in love with him, but he was in and out of her life for about 20 years. He always appeared before, during, and after Ava’s countless romances, taking measures to thwart the advances of other men. He was crazy about Ava, while Ava enjoyed the power she had over him and enjoyed his frustration. He was determined to own her and had all the money in the world to buy her. But Ava couldn’t be bought and several times she threw a priceless piece of jewellery at him in a fit of rage. Once, during a dramatic fight, he suddenly punched her hard in the face, dislocated her jaw and in return, instead of bursting into tears, she knocked him unconscious with a heavy ashtray.

the unbridled life of ava gardner
Ava with Artie Shaw

Meanwhile, in 1944, Ava had short stint of affairs with Minor Egyptian actor Alexander D’Arcy and film producer and director Mervyn LeRoy, before she married her second husband, jazz musician and bandleader Artie Shaw, on 17 October 1945, fifteen years her senior and recently divorced from Ava’s good friend, Lana Turner. Artie was an intellectual and always had his nose in a book, while Ava was smart but had no education at all. However, Shaw was determined to improve her cultural taste, insisting she read Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Mann and Dostoyevsky, learn about politics and psychology, introducing her to music and art, instead of her reading intently the bestselling period romance, Forever Amber, which he thinks a trash. As he was a devoted chess player, Shaw hired a Russian grandmaster to teach her the game, but the only time they ever played chess together, Ava beat him in less than 15 minutes. Literally, their disparate personalities battered their marriage and it was during their brief seven-month marriage that Gardner started drinking heavily. Finally, one year after their marriage, Ava Gardner and Artie Shaw were divorced on 25 October 1946. Interestingly, after divorcing Ava, Artie Shaw married Kathleen Winsor, the writer of Forever Amber.

the unbridled life of ava gardner

Frank Sinatra, the famous American singer and actor, was obsessed with Ava Gardner even before they met at some Sunset Strip club, probably Mocambo. During the meeting, Ava was accompanied by her the then husband Rooney Mickey and as Sinatra knew Mickey pretty well, he stepped across to meet the new wife and made her embarrassed by saying with a big grin that he could marry her, if he saw her before Rooney. The pair began dating in 1947, although during that time Sinatra was married to his childhood sweetheart and wife of 12 years, Nancy Barbato. Eventually, Sinatra told his wife what was going on, and he declared that he and Gardner were in love. His wife kicked him out and locked the door behind him, effectively ending their marriage of over a decade.

the unbridled life of ava gardner
Ava with Frank Sinatra

Finally, a week after his long, drawn-out divorce from Nancy, he married Ava on 7 November 1951, her third, final and longest marriage that lasted six years. Although Gardner reportedly called Sinatra the love of her life, their relationship was ill-fated from the start. Sinatra was blasted by gossip columnists, the Hollywood establishment, the Catholic Church and by his fans for leaving his wife for a seductress, Ava Gardner. Moreover, after their marriage, her star rose, while his career plummeted. Fueled by jealousy and hurt by the adverse attitude of MGM, the legendary singer got into vicious fights with his wife and attempted suicide three times. During their marriage, Gardner became pregnant twice, but she aborted both pregnancies, as she was convinced that their conjugal life was too volatile to give birth to a child. But she tried everything she could to save her husband and ultimately revitalizing his career when she pulled strings to get him a screen test for From Here to Eternity, the film which ultimately revived Sinatra’s career. However, by that time, Ava made a big decision and the pair eventually divorced in 1957. However, despite the turmoil of their relationship, they reportedly loved each other until the end.

the unbridled life of ava gardner
Ava with Robert Taylor

Ava Gardner never remarried, after she divorced Sinatra. But her beauty drew men like bees to honey and there were men in her life. Robert Walker was crazy about Ava when he co-starred with her in One Touch of Venus (1948) and Robert Mitchum had an affair with her while shooting My Forbidden Past (1951). During the filming of Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) in Spain, Ava had a fling with the bullfighter Mario Cabré, who played her lover in the picture and a drunken Ava Gardner once shared her bed with him. In 1950, she fell madly in love with actor Howard Duff, became pregnant to him and suffered a miscarriage. Even, Robert Taylor’s marriage to Barbara Stanwyck was damaged by his affair with Ava. In 1957, she made friendship with the famous writer Ernest Hemingway, who five years earlier influenced Darryl Zanuck to cast her in Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) and while staying with him in his villa in Havana, she once swam naked in his pool. After that, Hemmingway reportedly ordered his staff not to empty the pool. Through him, Ava was introduced to bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominquin, who consequently became her lover. Later, the episode was remarked by Gardner as utter madness. Apart from that, Ava had numerous other lovers and one night stands, which included several big names, like Peter O’Toole, with whom she spent three nights in her Savoy Hotel room, David Niven, George C Scott and John F Kennedy. In the final decade of her life, Ava indulged herself with the occasional one-night stand, probably to convince herself that she was still attractive to men.

the unbridled life of ava gardner
Brigitte Bardot and her Lovers
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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