Ava Gardner: The Rags-to-Riches Silver Screen Star

During the early times, films were not as high definition as it is today. The word ‘silver screen’ was used as the metonymy of the word “cinema.” Interestingly, movie screens were coated with metallic paint that resulted to a silver surface. At the height of the silver screen films in the 20th century, many actors and actresses have starred in different movies played at the cinema. One of the notable stars that appeared on the big stage of the silver screen was the singer and actress, Ava Gardner.

Early Life

Ava Gardner was an American singer and actress born on the 24th of December, 1922, in Grabtown, North Carolina. Ava Gardner’s life story encompassed a real rags-to-riches story. In her childhood, Ava and her siblings received little education. She was the youngest among the seven children of a poor tobacco and cotton farmers, Mary Elizabeth “Molly” and Jonas Gardner. Upon losing all their property, the Gardners struggled and were forced to search for a steady income. Jonas, her father, worked at a sawmill while her mother, Molly, worked as a housekeeper of a dormitory and a cook for the teachers at Brogden School.

Their family decided to move to Newport News in Virginia to seek fortune in a larger city. Molly found a job as a housekeeper at a boarding house for ship workers. In 1938, while at Newport News, Ava’s father died of bronchitis, leaving her mother to raise them on her own.

Following her father’s death, they moved to Rock Ridge, North Carolina, where her mother worked as a housekeeper for teachers.By the time Ava finished high school in 1939, many of her siblings had left home, including one of her older sisters. Ava’s older sister, Beatrice, had moved to New York City upon marrying a professional photographer named Larry Tarr.


In 1941, Ava’s visit to her sister, Beatrice, turned as her way to Hollywood. After being photographed by her sister’s husband, Larry Tarr, her photo was placed on the front window of Tarr’sStudio in the Fifth Avenue, New York.

At the window of Tarr Photography Studio, Ava Gardner’s photograph was spotted by Barnard Duncan, a legal clerk of Loews Theatre. Barnard Duncan entered the Tarr’s Studio and posed as a talent scout of MGM, that by that time, a subsidiary of Loews Theatre. Ava Gardner, who was a college student at that moment, was called for an interview conducted by the head of the talent department, Al Atman at MGM’s office in New York.

During that point, Ava doesn’t have the talent in singing and dancing. Her strong southern accent also made it difficult for the MGM head, Louis Mayer, to understand her. Nevertheless, she was charming and beautiful enough to be offered a standard contract at MGM and was provided a speech coach.

Life as a Star

In her early years at Hollywood, she received acting lessons and makeup lessons aside from having a voice coach to get rid of her southern accent. Due to her inexperience and low popularity rate, MGM was hesitant to give her major roles. Consequently, in the year 1942 up to 1945, she took part in almost seventeen films where she was given no more than two lines.

However, two years later, she was given more screen time in the film ‘Three Men in White,’ where she played as a sexy enchantress seducing Van Johnson’s character.

In the year 1947, as she gained popularity and had convinced Hollywood on her acting skills, she was given a better role in the film ‘The Hucksters.’ In 1949, she played the role of a compulsive gambler in ‘The Great Sinner,’ and a murder- victim role in the film ‘East Side.’

During the 1950’s Ava Gardner landed on a much finer role. In 1951, she played the role of a Julie La Verne in the Film ‘Show Boat.’ This film had received positive feedback from the critics, though much to Ava’s dismay, MGM insisted on dubbing her singing voice.

Later in the same year, Ava starred as a heartbroken and stubborn nightclub singer in ‘Pandora and the Flying Dutchman,’ along with James Mason. She also starred in ‘The Snows in Kilimanjaro’ with Gregory peck, in the year 1952. In 1954, she got a role as the leading lady of Humphrey Bogart in the film ‘The Barefoot Contessa.’ One of her finest and notable roles in the 1950s includes Bhowani Junction (1954), The Sun Also Rises (1957), and On the Beach in the year 1959. In the year 1960, she appeared on some of the silver screen films, including Night of the Iguana, Five Days at Peking, Seven Days in May, Mayerling, and The Bible.

In 1968, Ava Gardner’s health began to deteriorate. She suffered from two different strokes and emphysema. She also had a hysterectomy in which her uterus was removed because of the fear of acquiring uterine cancer, as her mother did. In her later years, Frank Sinatra paid for her medical expenses of about USD 50,000.

In 1990, Ava Gardner died at the age of 67 because of pneumonia.

Relationships and Marriages

During her Hollywood career, Ava Gardner married Mickey Rooney, a top-ranked movie star. After Rooney’s persistent courtship, Gardner accepted his proposal, and they married on the 10th of January, 1942, in California. After almost seventeen months of marriage, they divorced in 1943.

After their divorce, Ava Gardner was pursued by a Texas billionaire, Howard Hughes. They started an on-off,passionate, and turbulent relationship for about a couple of years.

In 1945, Ava Gardner married Artie Shaw, a bandleader, and a famous clarinetist. Shaw was reportedly harassing Gardner because of her lack of education. This drove them apart and later on divorced one year later.

Ava Gardner’s third and last marriage was with Frank Sinatra, her ‘love of her life.’ Sinatra tried to pursue Gardner even after her divorce with Mickey Rooney.  Gardner, knowing that Sinatra was a married man, she refused and resisted Sinatra’s intense flirting. However, in the year 1949, their affair began, and Sinatra promised Gardner to divorce his current wife, Nancy. Ava and Frank married in 1951 and lasted up to 1957 due to raging disagreements and jealousy.


Almost every year starting in the year 1912 up to 1985, Ava Gardner has been actively casting on different movies.

Here are some of Ava Gardner’s famous silver screen movies:

Strange Testament (1941)

Joe Smith, American (1942)

Mighty Lak a Goat (1942)

Ghost on the Loose (1943)

Hitler’s Madman (1943)

Maisie Goes to Reno (1944)

Three Men in White (1944)

She Went to Races (1945)

The Killers (1946)

Whistle Stop (1946)

Singapore (1947)

The Hucksters (1947)

One Touch of Venus (1948)

The Bribe (1949)

The Great Sinner (1949)

East Side, West Side (1949)

Show Boat (1951)

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

My Forbidden Past (1951)

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952)

Lone Star (1952)

Mogambo (1953)

The Band Wagon (1953)

Ride, Vaquero! (1953)

Knights of the Round Table (1953)

Barefoot Contessa (1954)

Bhowani Junction (1956)

The Sun Also Rises (1957)

The Little Hut (1957)

The Naked Maja (1958)

On the Beach (1959)

The Angel Wore Red (1960)

55 Days at Peking (1963)

Seven Days in May (1964)

The Night of Iguana (1964)

The Bible: In the Beginning (1966)

Mayerling (1968)

Tam-Lin (1970)

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)

Earthquake (1974)

Permission to Kill (1975)

The Cassandra Crossing (1976)

The Blue Bird (1976)

The Sentinel (1977)

City on Fire (1979)

The Kidnapping of the President (1980)

Priest of Love (1981)

Harem (1986)

Regina (1982)

The Long Hot Summer (1985)