“I wish to live to 150 years old, but the day I die, I wish it to be with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other.” Ava Gardner
I recently ‘celebrated’ another birthday. It reinforced how although I intensely dislike the day itself, I like the fact that it makes me stop and think about my life. It, more than New Year’s Eve, should be the designated time for evaluation, or reevaluation of all that is happening, or all that you would like to happen before the day arrives when ‘the bell tolls for thee’. And yes I know we don’t in most cases get to choose that moment, at the current moment if I did get to choose it would be something along the lines of what Gardner describes, only I’d add in something one of her hubbies’, Mr Frank Sinatra, said, “..and may the last voice you hear be mine.”
Now whether or not she died with his sweet dulcet tones in the background we don’t know, we do know however that she didn’t get to 150; that thanks to her lifelong smoking habit, she was also very fond of a tipple or two or three – no wonder she and Frank were so drawn to one another- she suffered from emphysema and after two strokes in the 80s she died in 1990 from pneumonia at 67 in her home in London.
But short though it was, her life was one packed with living, with a zest, a joie de vivre, that makes me think of something Mae West once said. “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Gardner sure packed a lot in without even trying. It seems most of what happened in her life, happened rather serendipitously. She got her start in Hollywood thanks to her brother-in-law and his photography business. On a visit to her sister in New York he took a picture of her, then displayed it in his shop window only for it to be seen by Bernard Duhan, a guy who posed as a talent scout for MGM to meet girls. The picture however did eventually make its way to MGM and an audition followed. Upon seeing said audition, Louis B Mayer famously said “She can’t sing, she can’t act, she can’t talk.She’s terrific.” Soon a contract was on the table and Gardner was on her way to Hollywood and stardom.
Although she was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Mogambo, and her role in films like The Killers or The Night of the Iguana prove Mayer wrong, well at least on the she can’t act accusation, what she is most famous for is her role in the break up of Sinatra’s marriage. Frank had remained married to his childhood bride, Nancy, despite his numerous affairs as both were Catholic and therefore, at the time, not allowed to divorce. But when he met Ava it was goodbye Nancy,goodbye pope and a trip to Nevada for a quick divorce and within 72 hours for an even quicker wedding. The wrath of the press, his fans and the Catholic Church may have been mighty but even it paled in significance compared to the tumultuous relationship the two had. They both were fond of alcohol fueled adventures, reportedly one of the earliest dates involved driving along around Palm Springs shooting at street lights and shop windows with .38s. Guess a simple dinner and a movie isn’t an option when you are Ava and Frank. Theirs was the type of relationship that worked extremely well in the bedroom, ‘in the feathers’ as Gardner called it, but was lousy outside of it. Sinatra supposedly attempted to take his own life on numerous occasions over Gardner, so although they were probably the loves of each other’s lives, they divorced within seven years. Gardner promptly left for Spain and a series of relationships with a number of well known bullfighters. She was also a ‘pal’ of Hemingway who supposedly ordered that his pool never be emptied after she had taken a swim in it, sans suit.Her first hubbie was Mickey Rooney who she met shortly after arriving in Hollywood at the tender age of 19. He, she claimed, was the one who taught her to like sex, a lesson she apparently learned very well. They lasted a year thanks to his serial adultery, which I find amusing given how we think of him now.
In the end she lived alone. Her days probably filled with memories of all that she had seen and done – she had begun work on her memoirs before she died, the book was completed after her death and makes for very interesting reading. She is now on my list of famous people I’d love to have over for dinner, I mean imagine the stories, the gossip. So beautiful, so egotistical, so foul-mouthed, sooo much fun.
And so now that I am another year older, I believe it is time for me to take a leaf out of Gardner’s book. In reviewing her life, this is what she said of herself, “She made movies, she made out and she made a fucking mess of her life, but she never made jam.” And okay I would prefer to live beyond my 67th year, but I would like to think that when I am completing my final analysis, looking my life over for that for final time, that I pop on Ol Blue eyes, pour myself a glass of liquid gold, light a ciggie and say, “…but I never made jam.”