Niagara Gazette


October 27, 2013

SINGER: When memories matter


Niagara Gazette — But it takes pages and pages of Evans’ fascinating cajoling to get anything from her on that initial husband subject. Gardner had already had journalists exaggerate and invent in this domain many times before. Her choice of powerful, mercurial spouses — Sinatra lasting longest (cum plentiful splits) at seven and a half years — was on record. 

More affecting is what she says here about her dying father in the late ‘30s, her mother ground down by lifelong poverty going not long after, and black people she knew well as a child. Those sweet recollections keep getting followed by shifts into a parlous, chaotic present — the aging star trying hard to recover what she can via physical therapy, but really, fingernailing the last shards of a life, no longer drop-dead gorgeous, but still full of wisdom and pride, like a fine autumn nearing its close.

Do such memories mean anything? In Gardner’s case they emphatically do, given her quality and Evans’ job as a sympathetic facilitator, even when he and wife received numerous calls from the former screen goddess at decidedly ungodly hours! Yes, the memories matter; otherwise, along with serious money and health problems, they would have just roiled inside her to the last — as regret here, regret there, people, in her view, often meaning more once gone. Of course the memoir craze has gotten somewhat out of control — Americans going increasingly to the scales and weighing pasts, instead of inventing in the present. But this one stands out ...

Naturally you get some detail that’s appeared elsewhere — Artie Shaw, Ava’s second hubbie, procuring a master to teach her chess, then yanking that pursuit from her once she beat him! Or criticizing her for reading purported junk like Kathleen Winsor’s “Forever Amber,” then later marrying that author! Plus the sad pathos of Nancy Sinatra, Sr. going to the wall in the late ‘40s for marriage and kids, but still losing out (except in a richly remunerative divorce) to Ava, who had tried hard to steer clear. Sinatra’s searing jealousy ensued, but also his DiMaggio-like loyalty — calling a sick, hurting Gardner Christmas eves and on her birthday long after they were done.

Maybe she should have had her marriages in Niagara Falls? But I guess stirring milieus don’t change personality ...

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.

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