#ClassicFilmReading: Ava Gardner, Love is Nothing by Lee Server

Love is nothing, posits the title of this Ava Gardner biography, but ultimately, where she was concerned, love seems to have been everything

I have to admit off the top that I'm not much of a fan of her films, but I'm not sure if that's due to anything specifically about her acting abilities or due to the limited number of her movies that I've seen. The only one I truly enjoyed was One Touch of Venus, and the critical reaction to that was underwhelming. I've seen two of her biggest films, Mogambo and The Barefoot Contessa, and a handful of others. 

What drew me to this biography (which I read back in 2012—thank you Goodreads for the historical data!) was the myth surrounding Ava. She's a mythical person in terms of how she's discussed within the confines of classic Hollywood, and she's always someone hugging the periphery when I'm reading books and bios (she's mentioned in both the Natalie Wood and the Lauren Bacall books I've read this summer). 

I think that's what makes her a fascinating figure: she's a towering figure of love and passion. Oft-referred to as a goddess of love. Her beauty was legendary (who else would get discovered by a stock photo they'd taken for their brother-in-law's business) and MGM hired her pretty much based on this alone. Then MGM took their time to train her in the ways of acting and speaking (she was born and raised in North Carolina and had a pretty thick accent), to the point that she came to Hollywood in 1940-41 and her first major film didn't come out until 1946 (The Killers). 

Sure, Ava's career is a focus in this biography, but overwhelmingly, the focus is on love. How her looks impacted her as a wild teenager in North Carolina and how, despite many trying to tame her, she never could settle down and truly find a satisfying and sustaining love. 

Her marriages to Mickey Rooney and Artie Shaw lasted a year from I do to divorce; and her marriage to Frank Sinatra was so destructive that although they were only married from 1951 to 1957 and she constantly referred to him as the love of her life, it couldn't last. 

There's a lot in this biography about her life in Spain and England. It gets sparse as the '70s and '80s roll in, but as she was semi-retired at that point and living a sedate life in London, it makes sense. There's also details about her early life that are charming, like how she always loved to be barefoot and went to see Red Dust where she developed a crush on Clark Gable (she'd go on to star in that film's remake, Mogambo). It's a complete portrait of a love goddess, and one I'd recommend if you want to learn more about Ava. 

But what I loved learning about Ava is how steadfast she was. She worked when she wanted to. She lived where she wanted. She kept company with whoever she wanted and didn't give a damn about what the studio or the public thought. 

It's a theme flowing through all of the women I read about for the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge. Ann-Margret, Natalie Wood, Lauren Bacall and Ava Gardner...they were all truly themselves come hell or high water. There wasn't much agency for women back then, but reading about the strength of these women (and the others who came before them or stood alongside them or were empowered because of them) is such a joy. 

My final book for this year is a biography of Spencer Tracy that clocks in at 1,024 pages I have a habit of picking huge books for my final reads (last year I read a 1,044 page biography of Barbara Stanwyck)...but I'm on vacation as of Friday so wish me luck!

Comments

  1. I love when a biography has a unifying theme and it seems like love is the one here. I really enjoyed Lee Server's bio on Robert Mitchum so I'm happy to hear you enjoyed this one.

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