Niagara Gazette

Columns

October 27, 2013

SINGER: When memories matter

Niagara Gazette — Maybe unique people like Ava Gardner always emanate from unpromising circumstances. As with most generalizations, that’s not entirely true. Take Hollywood nepotism: it’s become a plague, but certain luminaries such as Michael Douglas, Liza Minnelli or Angelina Jolie deserve recognition for what they’ve done as their own people. Many others who used parental connections on the way up inspire less.

This “who do you know?” nepotism certainly didn’t spring Gardner to stardom — as many know, she came from an extremely poor, humiliating farm background in North Carolina. But she had two loving, if worn-down parents, and Irish-Scottish beauty and verve, and that verve fills the latest, most intriguing book on or by her, Peter Evans and Ava Gardner, “Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations” (2013), initially scuttled by Sinatra, but finally emerging long after her 1990 death and just after Evans’. 

The book is marvelously vulnerable, as a stroke-afflicted, booze-swilling, but still incredible Gardner weaves from past to present and back in her London flat near the end of the ‘80s, constantly doubting the utility of a projected, co-written memoir, and wanting over and over to trash it. Yet thanks to Evans’ patience with one of Hollywood’s great femme fatales, what a gem finally appeared! The conversational interplay of the two — Yank-Brit sparks flying all the way — is what makes the book, as does its non-linear, almost jazzy quality, befitting a former spouse of Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra.

But most significant is the fact that neither walking-on-eggshells Evans nor chain-smoking, imbibing, up and down Ava were ever quite sure — it’s the book on the way to a book which works well here, via consistently compelling riffing about both her storied past and late ‘80s sunset. Needing much reassurance, even spoiling, Ava was hardly more of an enfant terrible than the great Artie or Frank, not to mention first husband Mickey Rooney, a gambling, drinking, peppery whirligig, who squired this gorgeous 18-year-old new to Hollywood around (to Chasen’s, Ciro’s et al.), and thence, in her case reluctantly, to the altar.

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