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Ava Gardner BiographyBorn on a tobacco farm, where she got her lifelong love of earthy language and going barefoot, Ava grew up in the rural South. At age 18, her picture in the window of her brother-in- law's New York photo studio brought her to the attention of MGM, leading quickly to Hollywood and a film contract based strictly on her beauty. With zero acting experience, her first 17 film roles, 1942-5, were one-line bits or little better. After her first starring role in B-grade Whistle Stop, MGM loaned her to Universal for her first outstanding film, The Killers. Few of her best films were made at MGM which, keeping her under contract for 17 years, used her popularity to sell many mediocre films. Perhaps as a result, she never believed in her own acting ability, but her latent talent shone brightly when brought out by a superior director, as with John Ford in Mogambo and George Cukor in Bhowani Junction. After 3 failed marriages, dissatisfaction with Hollywood life prompted Ava to move to Spain in 1955; most of her subsequent films were made abroad. By this time, stardom had made the country girl a cosmopolitan, but she never overcame a deep insecurity about acting and life in the spotlight. Her last quality starring film role was in The Night of the Iguana, her later work being (as she said) strictly "for the loot". In 1968, tax trouble in Spain prompted a move to London, where she spent her last 22 years in reasonable comfort. Her film career did not bring her great fulfillment, but her looks may have made it inevitable; many fans still consider her the most beautiful actress in Hollywood history.
SalaryThe Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972): $50,000
The Night of the Iguana (1964): $400,000
55 Days at Peking (1963): $500,000
On the Beach (1959): $400,000
Knights of the Round Table (1953): $17,500/week
Ride, Vaquero! (1953): $100,000
The Bribe (1949): $1,250/week
The Killers (1946): $350/week
Kid Glove Killer (1942): $150/week
TriviaChosen by Empire magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history (#68).  Her mother, Mary Elizabeth ('Molly') Gardner, née Baker, was of Scottish-Irish and English descent; her father, Jonas Gardner, was of Irish and Native American (Tuscarora) descent, a tobacco farmer who died of bronchitis 1935. Her early education was sketchy; by 1945, she had read two books, the Bible and "Gone with the Wind." In later life, she more than made up for this lack by continual self-education. Flamenco became one of Ava's favorite pastimes after she learned it for The Barefoot Contessa (1954); increasingly proficient and needing little sleep, she often danced all night. She was continuously under contract at MGM, 1941-1958. She spent her final years as a recluse in her London apartment -- her only companions were her longtime housekeeper Carmen Vargas and her beloved Welsh Corgi, Morgan. Two strokes in 1986 left her partially paralyzed and bedridden. Although Gardner could easily afford her medical expenses, Sinatra wanted to pay for her to visit a specialist in the U.S., and she allowed him to make the arrangements for a medically-staffed private plane. Her last words (to her housekeeper Carmen), were, "I'm so tired", before she died of pneumonia at the age of 67. Vargas took her body home to her native North Carolina for private burial. None of her ex-husbands attended. Once met J.R.R. Tolkien and neither knew why the other was famous. Was a good friend of Lena Horne, despite the fact that they both competed for the part of Julie in Show Boat (1951). A statue of her from The Barefoot Contessa (1954) was given to Frank Sinatra as a gift. He kept it in his backyard garden well after their divorce. When he married Barbara Marx, she forced him to get rid of it. Part of On the Beach (1959) was filmed in Berwick, a suburb of Melbourne. Ava had a street which was being developed at the time named after her. It is of course called "Gardner Street". Once named "The World's Most Beautiful Animal" (in a 1950s publicity campaign). Is portrayed in The Aviator (2004) by Kate Beckinsale and by Marcia Gay Harden in Sinatra (1992) (TV). Is portrayed by Deborah Kara Unger in The Rat Pack (1998) (TV), by Christine Andreas in Love and Betrayal: The Mia Farrow Story (1995) (TV), and by Jon Mack in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999) (TV). Appeared in three films based on Ernest Hemingway stories--The Sun Also Rises (1957), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), and The Killers (1946). While living in Spain, became a good friend of writer Ernest Hemingway, whom she and others called Papa. Both were aficionados of bullfighting. Production designer John Hawkesworth, an Englishman who was the set-dresser on her starring vehicle Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), said of Gardner that she "could eat twice as much as anyone and drink three times as much.". While pregnant with Frank Sinatra's child, she had an abortion because Sinatra was still married to his first wife. A distant cousin of Mary Elizabeth Winstead. In Italy, most of her films were dubbed by Rosetta Calavetta. She was occasionally dubbed by Dhia Cristiani, Lidia Simoneschi and Andreina Pagnani. When her first husband, Mickey Rooney, brought his hugely successful musical "Sugar Babies" to London in the late 1980s, Gardner confessed to him that she had contemplated suicide after being left partially paralyzed by two strokes in 1986. She and Robert Taylor had a brief love affair during the filming of The Bribe (1949). Underwent a hysterectomy in 1968 out of fear of contracting uterine cancer, which had previously claimed her mother's life.
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