Queer Places:
34 Ennismore Gardens, London SW7 1AE, UK
Ava Gardner Museum, 325 E Market St, Smithfield, NC 27577
Sunset Memorial Park Smithfield, Johnston County, North Carolina, USA

Ava Lavinia Gardner (December 24, 1922 – January 25, 1990) was an American actress. She first signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1941 and appeared mainly in small roles until she drew critics' attention in 1946 with her performance in Robert Siodmak's film noir The Killers. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in John Ford's Mogambo (1953), and for best actress for both a Golden Globe Award and BAFTA Award for her performance in John Huston's The Night of the Iguana (1964). She was a part of the Golden Age of Hollywood. During the 1950s, Gardner established herself as a leading lady and one of the era's top stars with films like Show Boat, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (both 1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), The Barefoot Contessa (1954), Bhowani Junction (1956) and On the Beach (1959). She continued her film career for three more decades, appearing in the films 55 Days at Peking (1963), Seven Days in May (1964), The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966), Mayerling (1968), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), Earthquake (1974) and The Cassandra Crossing (1976). And in 1985, she had the major recurring role of Ruth Galveston on the primetime soap opera Knots Landing. She continued to act regularly until 1986, four years before her death in 1990, at the age of 67.

Soon after Gardner arrived in Los Angeles, she met fellow MGM contract player Mickey Rooney; they married on January 10, 1942. The ceremony was held in the remote town of Ballard, California, because MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer was worried that fans would desert Rooney's Andy Hardy movie series if it became known that their star was married. Gardner divorced Rooney in 1943, citing mental cruelty;[17] privately blaming his gambling and womanizing, she didn't ruin his on-screen image as the clean-cut, judge's son Andy Hardy that the public adored.[18][19] Gardner's second marriage was equally brief, to jazz musician and bandleader Artie Shaw, from 1945 to 1946. Shaw had previously been married to Lana Turner. Gardner's third and last marriage was to singer and actor Frank Sinatra, from 1951 to 1957. She later said in her autobiography that he was the love of her life. Sinatra left his wife Nancy for Gardner, and their subsequent marriage made headlines.[20] Sinatra was blasted by gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the Hollywood establishment, the Roman Catholic Church, and by his fans for leaving his wife for a femme fatale. Gardner used her considerable influence, particularly with Harry Cohn, to get Sinatra cast in his Oscar-winning role in From Here to Eternity (1953). That role and the award revitalized both Sinatra's acting and singing careers.[21] The Gardner-Sinatra marriage was tumultuous. Gardner confided to Artie Shaw, her second husband, that, "With him [Frank], it's impossible... It's like being with a woman. He's so gentle. It's as though he thinks I'll break, as though I'm a piece of Dresden china, and he's gonna hurt me."[22] During their marriage, Gardner became pregnant twice, but aborted both pregnancies. "MGM had all sorts of penalty clauses about their stars having babies", according to her autobiography, which was published eight months after her death.[23] Following their divorce in 1957, Gardner and Sinatra remained good friends for the rest of her life.[24] Of the support Sinatra gave Gardner, Ian McKellen commented that "If you have been married to Frank Sinatra, you don't need an agent".[25]

Gardner and Sinatra were undoubtedly the loves of each other's lives, but their six-year marriage was turbulent in the extreme and Sinatra was to accuse her publicly of a lesbian affair with another Hollywood sex goddess, Lana Turner. Both women denied what Turner, in her 1982 memoirs, described as 'a lot of sick rumours' — yet the rumours persisted that one of the world's most desirable women was secretly attracted to her own sex. An exhaustive biography of Gardner by Lee Server, published 16 years after her death, delicately conceded her 'continuing curiosity about the sexual demi-monde' and records that 'through the years [she] paid visits to gay bars, red-light zones and brothels all over the world'. According to Micharl Thornton, who interviewed her, Gardner had indeed had a relationship with Lana Turner, and with several other high-profile female stars. She said: 'At MGM and all Hollywood studios in the Forties and Fifties, we had a morals clause in our contract. It could be terminated overnight by any behaviour that might bring the studio into disrepute. Today, no one would give a damn what two actresses got up to in private, but they sure as hell did then.'

Gardner became a friend of businessman and aviator Howard Hughes in the early to mid-1940s, and the relationship lasted into the 1950s. Gardner stated in her autobiography, Ava: My Story, that she was never in love with Hughes, but he was in and out of her life for about 20 years. Hughes' trust in Gardner was what kept their relationship alive. She described him as "painfully shy, completely enigmatic, and more eccentric ... than anyone [she] had ever met".[24]

Towards the end of the 1950’s, Chavela Vargas' reputation began to expand greatly — particularly in artistic circles. She was a popular performer in Acapulco, singing in the champagne room of La Perla, frequently in front of tourists from other parts of the world. She was so well regarded that she was hired to sing at the wedding of Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd on February 2, 1957. Chavela would later claim that she slept with Ava Gardner at that wedding. Vargas is known to have had numerous romances after this — including, apparently, with some very famous people, but she would never share their names. A few have stepped forward, including American author Betty-Carol Sellen, but Chavela was very careful to keep these things private.

In 1957, Gardner traveled to Spain and began a friendship with writer Ernest Hemingway. She had starred in an adaptation of his The Sun Also Rises that year. Five years earlier, Hemingway had successfully urged producer Darryl F. Zanuck to cast Gardner in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, a film which adapted several of his short stories. While staying with Hemingway at his villa in San Francisco de Paula in Havana, Cuba, Gardner once swam alone without a swimsuit in his pool. After watching her, Hemingway ordered his staff: "The water is not to be emptied".[26] Her friendship with Hemingway led to her becoming a fan of bullfighting and bullfighters, such as Luis Miguel Dominguín, who became her lover. "It was a sort of madness, honey", she later said of the time.[24] Gardner was also involved in a relationship with her live-in boyfriend and companion, American actor Benjamin Tatar, who worked in Spain as a foreign-language dubbing director.[27] Tatar later wrote an autobiography in which he discussed his relationship with Gardner, though the book was never published.[27]

Sydney Guilaroff was both one of the most effete of all the studio homosexuals and one of the most determined to deny it. Even in the 1990s, in his memoir Crowning Glories, Guilaroff claimed he had romantic affairs with Greta Garbo and Ava Gardner.[10] Most reviewers and historians greeted such audacious stories with amusement. "I think even Sydney was a little embarassed reading all that when it came out," said his longtime companion, Michael Logothetis. "He knew no one believed it." Esther Williams in her autobiography and Scotty Bowers in his memoir[11] asserted that Sydney Guilaroff had romantic affairs with Scotty Bowers. From the 1940s to the 1980s, Bowers ran a brothel of sorts out of a gas station in the shadow of industry studios on Hollywood Boulevard. He says he’d set up himself and others with some of Hollywood’s biggest players whom he says were in the closet — towering icons from the Golden Age including Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner and Ava Gardner.

A bout of pneumonia, after a lifetime of smoking, coupled with her underlying condition of lupus erythematosus brought on a stroke in 1986 that left Gardner partially paralyzed.[33][34] Although she could afford her medical expenses, Sinatra wanted to pay for her visit to a specialist in the United States, and she allowed him to make the arrangements for a medically staffed private plane. She died in January 1990, at the age of 67, of pneumonia and fibrosing alveolitis at her London home 34 Ennismore Gardens, where she had lived since 1968.[35] The name on the doorbell was Morgan, but that was to deter curious strangers. Morgan was the Gardner's Welsh corgi, which she adored, and which was her last companion in a life crowded with husbands, lovers, ex-lovers, hangers-on and social climbers. She called the converted Victorian house in a sedate London square 'Fortress Gardner' — there were iron grilles across every window of the second-floor flat — but it was also a cosy retreat and worlds away from Tinseltown, where she had once reigned supreme as a screen beauty. Gardner is buried in Sunset Memorial Park in Smithfield, North Carolina, next to her siblings and their parents, Jonas and Molly Gardner.[36] The Ava Gardner Museum, incorporated in 1996, is located nearby.[37]

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