Anyone in Johnston County, North Carolina, can tell you who Ava Gardner was and at least a bit of her life as a Hollywood icon.
The Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield chronicles her movies, marriages, and many awards. Paintings, portraits, photos, clothing, jewelry, and film posters help tell the story of her success in film and later television.
Born on December 24, 1922, in Grabtown near Smithfield, the actress and singer first signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1941. She appeared mainly in minor 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" in 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" in 1964.
She was a leading lady during Hollywood's Golden Age. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Gardner No. 25 on their greatest female screen legends of classic American cinema list.
Other 1950s movies she starred in include "Show Boat," "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman," "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," "The Barefoot Contessa," "Bhowani Junction," and "On the Beach. She continued to act regularly until 1986, four years before her death.
Her personal life drew lots of attention too.
Soon after Gardner arrived in Los Angeles, she met fellow MGM contract player Mickey Rooney, another Hollywood legend. They married on January 10, 1942. Gardner divorced Rooney in 1943, citing mental cruelty. Privately she blamed his gambling and womanizing. However, she didn't ruin his on-screen image as the clean-cut judge's son Andy Hardy.
Gardner's second marriage was equally brief, to jazz musician and bandleader Artie Shaw, from 1945 to 1946.
Gardner's third and last marriage was to the iconic singer and actor Frank Sinatra, from 1951 to 1957. She is quoted as saying that he was the love of her life. However, Sinatra left his wife Nancy for Gardner, and their subsequent marriage made more headlines. He was blasted by gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the Hollywood establishment, the Roman Catholic Church, and his fans for leaving his wife.
Gardner used her considerable influence to get Sinatra cast in his Oscar-winning role in "From Here to Eternity" in 1953. That role and the award revitalized both Sinatra's acting and singing careers.
The museum is an excellent reminiscence of this Hollywood star and Hollywood history.
If you go:
Smithfield is an excellent stop for lunch or dinner. I can personally recommend Simple Twist.