Ava Gardner’s decades-long love affair with the camera produced a number of classics, including Seven Days in May (1964), The Night of the Iguana (1964), and Mogambo (1953), the last of which earned her an Academy Award nomination.
Eminently photogenic, Ava Gardner knew how to pose and soon established herself as the femme fatale of the 1940s and 1950s. Her green eyes and sensual lips made her an object of desire to every man she came across. Gardner was a kind of a person that, whenever she walked into a room, all eyes were on her.
Ava Gardner came from a poor tobacco-farming community in North Carolina, and when she first auditioned for acting parts, her Southern accent made her hard for Hollywood producers to understand. A speech coach was hired, and she played bit parts until her breakthrough part in The Killers in 1946.
Many considered her the most beautiful woman in the world. She was aware of her allure to the opposite sex and knew that any man would come running to her. At one point she dated Clark Gable, Howard Hughes, and Frank Sinatra. Sinatra became her third husband, after she divorced Mickey Rooney in 1943 and Artie Shaw in 1946.
A free thinking, spirited person who did everything on her own terms and didn’t care if she caused a scandal, Ava Gardner proved to be a professional like no other in Hollywood. She always respected directors, however, and followed her one simple rule in acting: Trust the director and give him heart and soul.
Her portrayal of seductive Kitty Collins in Robert Siodmak’s The Killers, based on Ernest “Papa” Hemingway’s short story of the same name, spurred a friendship between her and Papa, though not right away.
Apparently, the super-macho author was impressed by Gardner’s performance. The story of Gardner and Papa starts after the actress ended her marriage with Frank Sinatra in 1957, and she went to Spain, where she met Hemingway in person for the first time.
The legendary author had already urging producer Darryl F. Zanuck to cast her in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, based on his short story of the same name. The same year they met, Gardner also starred as Lady Brett Ashley alongside Tyrone Power, in the 1957 film adaptation of The Sun Also Rises.
Hemingway, who would marry four times, immediately fell for Gardner. It’s likely she perceived him as a friend whose talent she admired.
While in Spain, Hemingway introduced her to bullfighting and many actual bullfighters, including the famed Luis Miguel Dominguín, who would become her lover. Their romance was highly publicized and he was photographed with her the same year he got married to actress Lucia Bose.
Broken marriages, countless love affairs, and many scandals were what Gardner and Hemingway had in common. The duo found comfort in drowning their mutual sorrows in alcohol, and suffocating them with a considerable amount of cigarettes.
Ava Gardner also spent some time in her friend’s villa in Havana, Cuba, and it is said she once swam without a swimsuit in his pool. It all happened in Papa’s presence and he reportedly ordered his staff: “The water is not to be emptied.”
“The most irresistible woman in Hollywood” lost her friend and the world lost one of its greatest novelists on July 2, 1961, when Papa shot himself with his favorite shotgun.
Gardner went on for almost 30 more years, never marrying again after divorcing Frank Sinatra and spending her final years in London, living like she did all her life: on her own terms.