November 26, 2020 | Miles Brucker

Glam Facts About Ava Gardner, Siren Of Hollywood’s Golden Age

With her drop-dead gorgeous looks, it seemed inevitable that Ava Gardner would become one of the biggest stars of Hollywood’s golden age—and she lived a glamorous lifestyle to boot. No stranger to lavish Hollywood parties, Gardner endured troubled marriages to some of the most famous men in America, including Mickey Rooney and Frank Sinatra. Sadly, her looks were also used to downplay her serious talent as an actress and Gardner was self-conscious about her skills throughout her life. Here are 50 facts about this glamourous screen legend.

1. She Was A Southern Gal

Although she became well known for her glitzy lifestyle, Ava Gardner came from humble roots. In fact, she was a farm girl! Heralding from Grabtown, North Carolina, Gardner grew up on a farm, one of seven kids—and it wasn’t always smooth sailing. The Gardners were quite poor, and the bank took their home and farm when the kids were still young.

The loss forced them out of Grabtown, and they moved to Virginia. With the Great Depression looming over their heads, things didn’t get easier…

Ava Gardner FactsWikipedia

2. They Suffered A Devastating Tragedy

After losing his own, Gardner’s father went to work on other farms, and her mother found work managing dormitories and boarding houses. Things were rough for the family, and they were about to get worse. When Gardner was 15, her father fell ill with a nasty case of bronchitis and passed on. The loss devastated the family, and the tragedy forced them to move back to North Carolina.

That’s where Gardner finished high school. After graduation, she took secretarial classes—but destiny had more in store for her than just sitting behind a typewriter.

To Kill A Mockingbird factsShutterstock

3. Her Image Was Arresting

Forget getting discovered at the soda counter—the story of Gardner’s rise to fame is the stuff of legend. When she was 18, she went to visit her sister in New York City. While there, she let her brother-in-law, who was a professional photographer, take her picture. He hung it up in his studio, and soon enough, a parade of mostly male clients began to ask about it—but one in particular really pressed him about it.

Ava Gardner FactsFlickr, John Irving

4. He Targeted Her

The man, Barnard Duhan, claimed to be a talent scout for MGM. Luckily for Gardner, the receptionist at the photo studio saw right through the sleazeball. Duhan was actually just a law clerk who often used this charade to meet beautiful young women. However, in a strange twist of fate, he became partially responsible for Gardner’s fame.

Ava Gardner FactsPixabay


5. He Was Wrong, But He Was Right

When the receptionist told him to get lost, Duhan said: “Somebody should send her info to MGM.” Well, Gardner’s brother-in-law did just that. Soon enough, Gardner was flying back to NYC for a screen test—but knowing that she had a strong Southern accent, the sly agent made sure she didn’t say a word during it. Reportedly, when studio head Louis B. Mayer saw it, he exclaimed: "She can't sing, she can't act, she can't talk, she's terrific!"

Enthusiasm can only get you so far—and Gardner had a long climb to the top.

Louis B. Mayer FactsGetty Images

6. They Didn’t Expect Much

MGM Studios offered Ava Gardner a contract in 1941. However, they were clear that they were only interested in her looks. Still, a job is a job, and a stream of steady background roles would be a boon for many in Gardner’s financial position—but our girl was a lot more ambitious than that. Gardner worked diligently with a dialogue coach and a singing coach to make sure she’d be more than just a face on the screen. Still, her studio was reluctant to give her more.

Ava Gardner FactsGetty Images

7. She Still Got Some Attention

Gardner hadn’t even appeared in a film yet—but she didn’t let that stop her from becoming famous. Sure, her Southern accent was still too thick for speaking parts, but she was still one of the best-looking women under contract at MGM. As part of her contract, she posed for a plethora of publicity stills and pin-up photos. Once again, her image would take her to the next level—but it wouldn’t be the only thing.

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

8. He Wanted Her

On her very first day on the MGM Studio lot, Ava Gardner caught the eye of an actor named Mickey Rooney—and he wasn’t just any young star. He was only 21, but he’d been MGM’s biggest star for three years straight. When he asked her out, she demurred. After all, she was still young, new in town, and…significantly taller than him. But with that kind of fame comes a great sense of entitlement, and Rooney didn’t give up on Gardner right away.

Ava Gardner FactsWikipedia

9. He Was Unforgettable

Always the showman, Mickey Rooney certainly gave Ava Gardner a first impression to remember. As she later recalled, when Gardner met her first husband, he was performing in drag, dressed as the Brazilian dancer Carmen Miranda. “Complete with false eyelashes, falsies, his mouth smothered in lipstick,” the icon recalled to Evans of that fateful night.

She was still just a star-struck bit player…but she’d soon get a crash course in Hollywood living.

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons


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10. He Was Persistent

Gardner was just a teenaged girl from North Carolina, with one of the biggest stars in Hollywood showering her with attention. Gardner eventually acquiesced to a date with Rooney, and then, he pushed her for marriage. She held him off, saying that she wanted to wait until she turned 19. However, her reluctance wouldn’t be the only roadblock on their way to the altar.

Ava Gardner FactsGetty Images


11. They Kept Dismissing Her

MGM Studios nearly stopped the whole thing before it even started. They weren’t exactly thrilled at having a married young heartthrob when he had scores of adoring female fans, but Rooney pressed the issue. MGM finally agreed, but took measures to keep the ceremony away from the prying eyes of the tabloids. They insisted that the couple have the wedding far away from L.A., in a small town in Santa Barbara.

The young Gardner was at the mercy of her bosses and now, her new husband—and it wouldn’t be an easy ride.

Ava Gardner FactsGetty Images

12. It Was Tumultuous From The Start

With Rooney’s cherubic face and Gardner’s striking beauty, their marriage made them a Hollywood golden couple—but their dazzling appearance hid a disturbing dark side. The pair became hard drinkers and partiers. Rooney could be a mean drunk, as Gardner recalled later in her life, but so could she. Gardner often teased the inebriated Rooney about his height whenever he became angry—and that wasn’t the only problem in their marriage.

Out of Touch Rich People FactsMax Pixel

13. They Ignored Her

Ava Gardner was the new wife to one of MGM’s biggest stars—so you’d think they’d want to keep him happy and her occupied, right? Not so much. She still had to fight to get roles. Gardner appeared in bit parts in over 15 films before MGM even put her name into the credits of one. She was stuck in a bad contract and a bad marriage. Something had to give.

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

14. It Was A Horrible Situation

Well, some contracts are easier to break than others, and in 1943, Ava Gardner made her choice. She obtained a divorce from Mickey Rooney—and the reason why was absolutely chilling. In the official documents, the grounds for divorce were "grievous mental suffering" and "extreme mental cruelty." Rooney was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, and she could’ve gone after him, but she settled for $25,000 and paid her own court fees.

One thing was clear: she’d really wanted to get out of that marriage—and keeping the divorce quick and quiet paid off. Soon after, MGM renewed her contract and gave her a raise. Perhaps they were thanking her for not tarnishing their big star’s name…

King Louis XI Of France FactsShutterstock

15. She Lost Someone Important

Gardner may have escaped a bad marriage, but sadly, fate had a cruel twist in store for her. On the very same day that she signed the papers for her divorce from Mickey Rooney, her mother, who’d been battling uterine cancer, finally passed on. She was alone, far from home, and she had a lot to learn.

However, Gardner was determined not to let Hollywood chew her up and spit her out the way it had with so many beautiful young girls before her.

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

16. She Moved On

Before her divorce was even final, yet another powerful Hollywood figure fell hard for Gardner—none other than Howard Hughes. At this point, Hughes was in his Hollywood playboy years, not his reclusive nut job years, but that doesn’t mean it was a whirlwind romance. Despite the fact that he helped her with her mother’s medical bills, she found him difficult to deal with, and refused his marriage proposals.

She’d made the mistake of letting a man strong-arm her into marriage once, and she didn’t want to make it again. And besides, there were other eligible bachelors out there…

Ava Gardner FactsGetty Images


17. She Fell For The Wrong Man

Gardner’s relationship with Rooney had been like two immature kids shacking up. However, she wanted more out of a man—and when she met bandleader Artie Shaw, he fit the bill. Tall, dark, and intellectual, he was everything that Rooney was not. There was just one problem. He was married to another woman.

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

18. He Was Temperamental

Well, it turned out to be more of a problem for his wife than it did for him and Gardner. He left his wife for her, but Shaw had more in common with his predecessor, Mickey Rooney, than she’d previously thought. In her later years, Gardner revealed that Shaw was a bully, and that he was emotionally abusive to her. His behavior had a devastating effect on the insecure young starlet.

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

19. She Worried About What He Thought

Shaw married Gardner in 1945. Even with the security of a ring on her finger, she worried that she wasn’t good enough for the domineering bandleader. By her own admission, Gardner had only read two books at that point—the Bible and Gone With the Wind. With Shaw, she was constantly socializing with intellectual types, and she often felt insecure.

Well, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Ava Gardner FactsGetty Images

20. She Tried To Keep Up

Gardner tried her best to keep up with Shaw and his friends. During this period, she became an avid reader, extremely dedicated to educating herself. In fact, she even put her budding career on hold to take classes at the University of California, but it still wasn’t enough. Shaw would belittle her, and it brought out a dark side in Gardner.

Students This Dumb FactsPxHere

21. It Took A Dire Turn

She’d always enjoyed sneaking a drink when she was out with her first husband—remember, she was underage at the time—but with Shaw, things quickly got out of hand. Gardner became a heavy drinker, with the hangovers and depressive periods to match. It’s not necessarily a bright side, but Shaw was into psychoanalysis. As a result, he paid for Gardner’s therapist during their marriage.

In that sense, he was undoing some of his own damage, at least financially. But sadly, their problems were a bit more than a therapist or two could handle.

Ava Gardner FactsGetty Images

22. He Got Her An Unforgettable Gift

Despite his mistreatment of her, Gardner was head over heels for Shaw. As their first anniversary approached, she even considered having a baby to save the marriage. Sadly, heartbreak was waiting for her around the corner. The traditional gift for a couple’s first anniversary is paper—and Shaw stuck to tradition. Just a year and a week after they’d got married, he served her with divorce papers.

Janet Leigh factsShutterstock


23. She Knew His New Girl

When Shaw left her, Gardner was absolutely heartbroken. To add insult to injury—well, he found a lot of ways to add insult to injury. A few years earlier, when Shaw had caught Gardner reading a wildly popular historical romance written by a woman, he’d insulted her, the book, and the book’s author. He sounds really fun, doesn’t he?

Well, lo and behold, who does Shaw shack up with immediately after leaving Gardner? That very same author. Gardner wasn’t exactly thrilled about it, but she didn’t have time to wallow…stardom was calling.

Ava Gardner FactsFlickr

24. They Tried To Keep Her Down

MGM had only given Gardner small parts for years and were doing nothing to advance her acting career. Luckily, a director had taken note of her and was convinced that she was just the actress he needed. It was for the part of a femme fatale in an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers. Universal was making the film, but the director was so insistent that the studio asked MGM to borrow her.

It was her first leading role, and it was a smash hit. She was on her way up—but her bad habits threatened to bring her back down.

Ava Gardner FactsWikipedia

25. They Painted Her In A Bad Light

Finally, Gardner was free and famous, but with great power comes great…attention from the tabloids. The media couldn’t—or wouldn’t—separate her sultry looks and her romantic past (twice divorced at 23!) from who she was as a person. And so, they painted her as a hard-partying femme fatale who went out with a new man every night.

According to Gardner, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. She claimed that she spent her nights alone at home. That might’ve been the truth, but it didn’t last for long.

Ava Gardner FactsWikipédia

26. She Still Didn’t Get Any Respect

After letting Universal make her a star, MGM finally smartened up and gave Gardner some work—but that didn’t mean they treated her well. According to the producers of Show Boat, her voice wasn’t up to scratch, so they had another actress overdub her songs in the film. Gardner wasn’t really all that happy about it, but she was able to dry her tears on a big pile of cash. They’d paid her a cool $140,000 for the role.

Ava Gardner FactsWikipedia

27. She Was In A Whirlwind

No matter what she did, Gardner couldn’t escape her femme fatale reputation—and she didn’t know it, but the tabloid attention was about to reach a fever pitch. Years before, when she’d been a studio nobody, Gardner had met Frank Sinatra, who at that point was a veritable superstar. Now, nearly a decade later, the roles had reversed. Sinatra’s career had been steadily declining—but that didn’t stop Gardner from falling hard for him.

Justin Timberlake factsWikimedia Commons

28. They Wanted To Be Together

This time, it wasn’t a one-sided relationship, and Sinatra was as obsessed with Gardner as she was with him—but once again, they faced a pretty serious roadblock. Sinatra was married to his first wife, Nancy Barbato, at the time. Regardless, the couple started a passionate affair. When he told Barbato that he was in love with Gardner, she locked him out of the house. Finally, the truth was out in the open, but that didn’t mean the drama was over.

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

29. He Saw Red

Sinatra and his wife were Catholic, so there was some dilly-dallying over the divorce. For her part, Gardner went to Spain to make a movie for MGM. While she was there, she made a disturbing realization. Sinatra had a dark side, which she learned the hard way. He was wildly jealous. When he visited her in Spain, he asked her if she’d seen anyone, and said that if she was honest, he wouldn’t get mad.

It was the oldest trick in the book. When Gardner confessed to a one-night stand with a local bullfighter, Sinatra was furious with her—but it would take more than one matador to tear these two apart.

Ava Gardner FactsGetty Images

30. He Scared People

Her first two husbands had cheated on and mistreated Gardner, so is it any surprise that the cycle continued when she was involved with Sinatra? While he was still with Barbato she had an affair with actor Robert Mitchum. When she told Mitchum about Sinatra, his reaction was chilling. He told her: “Get into a fight with him [Sinatra], and he won’t stop until one of you is dead.” Soon after, Mitchum broke it off with Gardner.

Howard Hughes FactsWikimedia Commons

31. They Were A Target

Eventually, Sinatra left his wife and their children to be with Gardner. Just ten days after the courts finalized his divorce, Sinatra wed Gardner. It would be an understatement to say that the tabloids had a field day. After years of accusing Gardner of being a femme fatale, she’d finally lived up to the role. And as for Sinatra? His career was already in decline, but now it was all but finished.

Ava Gardner FactsGetty Images

32. She Supported Him

The rumors about Sinatra’s connections to the mob certainly didn’t help, and if there were indeed those types of connections, they weren’t doing anything to line his bank accounts. Luckily, Gardner had enough fame and fortune for the two of them. When she filmed Mogambo in Africa in 1953, he didn’t even have enough cash to pay for a plane ticket to visit her, so she had to buy him one—but she didn’t hold it over his head.

It wasn’t only money, either. She used her power in Hollywood to make sure the studio cast him in From Here to Eternity. The movie saved his flagging career—but their relationship wasn’t all roses.

Organized Crime FactsGetty Images

33. It Could’ve Destroyed Her Career

Ava Gardner’s marriage to Frank Sinatra kicked up quite a dust storm that was solid gold for the tabloid writers—but gossip could quickly turn into something much darker during that time. One of the key tabloid figures covering the Gardner-Sinatra affair was Hedda Hopper. Hopper often reported celebrities to Senator McCarthy’s House of Un-American Activities.

Gardner was a strong Democrat and had spent time with several Communists when she was in a relationship with bandleader Artie Shaw. Luckily, she escaped an interrogation. Her ex, Shaw, wasn’t so lucky, and he ended up ratting out one of his closest friends.

Hedda Hopper FactsWikimedia Commons

34. He Hated Her

When Gardner traveled to Africa in 1953 to make Mogambo, her relationship with Sinatra was going downhill fast, but she didn’t have time to dwell on it—as the making of the movie was utterly disastrous. Notoriously difficult director John Ford already had it out for her, as he’d wanted to cast his favorite actress Maureen O’Hara in her stead.

Ford’s behavior infuriated Gardner’s co-star and friend, Clark Gable. So every morning Ford would mistreat Gardner, Gable would get mad, everyone would be miserable and tense, and then they’d get up and do it all again the next day. Fun!

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

35. She Put On A Show

After working up a sweat all day on the set of Mogambo, Ava Gardner naturally wanted to cool off and clean up. So she would bathe in a canvas tub that a young local boy would fill each day. The British Colonial government was not exactly thrilled with this behavior. They felt that her lack of clothing in public was immoral.

Gardner took note and responded in her own unique way. She made sure that British officers were around whenever she took off her clothes to get in the bath!

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

36. She Couldn’t Win

One of the most comical scenes in Mogambo involves a baby elephant knocking Ava Gardner into a mud puddle--but this was apparently just a “happy” accident. The elephant was not supposed to knock Gardner over, and she was not pleased about it. It definitely got worse before it got better. Gardner called for the crew to help her out of the mud, but not a single soul came to her aid.

Why? Well, her on-set enemy, director John Ford, had forbidden them from helping her. Luckily, her struggles behind the scenes were ultimately worth it.

Ava Gardner FactsMogambo, Metro Goldwyn Mayer

37. They Honored Her

Ava Gardner finally received a measure of recognition from Hollywood for her skills—instead of just her scandalous antics—when the Academy nominated her for the Best Actress Oscar for Mogambo. However, behind the scenes, things were falling apart. Gardner and Sinatra were hard partiers and heavy drinkers, and their booze-fueled nights out together inevitably turned into public fights.

They finally separated in October 1953, after two years of marriage—but their story didn’t end there.

Ava Gardner FactsGetty Images

38. She Found A New Love

After starring in a string of adaptations based on Ernest Hemingway’s work, Ava Gardner became good friends with Papa in the 1950s. Gardner even stayed at Hemingway’s villa in Cuba for a short time following her separation from Sinatra. At the beginning of their relationship, she’d had a dalliance with a bullfighter, and at the end, she gave matadors another shot.

Through Hemingway, she met the world-famous bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín, with whom she carried on a brief but intense love affair.

Ava Gardner FactsGetty Images

39. She Was…Statuesque

Ava Gardner was still married to Frank Sinatra when she wrapped up shooting The Barefoot Contessa, one of her most well-known and loved roles. The studio gave Sinatra a statue of Contessa as a gift. He promptly and proudly displayed it in his backyard, even after he and Gardner had separated. When Sinatra eventually wed Barbara Marx, she, unsurprisingly, made him take down the effigy to his ex-wife.

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

40. She Was Free

While Gardner carried on in Cuba, Sinatra was utterly miserable and heartbroken back in Hollywood. They separated in 1953, but it took until 1957 for the divorce to be finalized. Gardner was excited to finally move on—and the end of the 50s meant freedom in more ways than one. In 1939, when she arrived in Hollywood, she’d signed a ­20-year­ ­contract with MGM.

Finally, she wouldn’t be tied down by anyone or anything—and she was thrilled.

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

41. She Was Back On Top

After finally finishing her two-decade-long contract with MGM Studios, Ava Gardner celebrated by grabbing a co-starring role in the apocalyptic sci-fi romance On the Beach with Gregory Peck in 1959. Director Stanley Kramer had a heck of a time trying to finish it, because local residents couldn’t keep away from the Hollywood stars that had descended on their coastal region.

Onlookers at the beach would often crowd in close to look at the beautiful Ava Gardner, which also meant they ended up getting in the shot. The film wasn’t just a hit with locals. It was a huge success, and a great triumph for Gardner—but sadly, it would be one of the last ones of her career.

Ava Gardner FactsOn the Beach, United Artists

42. She Met Another Bad Guy

In the 60s, Gardner got a major role in the Biblical epic The Bible: In the Beginning—but behind the scenes, she was living in sin. While making the movie, Gardner had an affair with her married co-star, George C. Scott—and “tempestuous” doesn’t quite cover it. He was physically abusive toward her, and he once even kicked down the door of her hotel room.

It was so bad that director John Huston had to hire local mobsters to guard her. With this track record, it’s not surprising that Gardner didn’t really seem interested in dating afterward.

Ava Gardner FactsThe Bible: In the Beginning 20th Century Fox

43. They Turned Their Backs

Gardner may have appeared in a Biblical epic, but her feelings about religion were less than warm—and it was for an absolutely heartbreaking reason. The star revealed that when she was 15 and her father was dying, she’d seen how scared and alone he was. Gardner begged their family’s preacher to come to see him and comfort him, but he never did.

From that moment on, she never prayed again.

Lana Del Rey FactsFlickr

44. She Pulled It Off

No longer the Hollywood It Girl she was back in the 1940s and 1950s, Ava Gardner sought some new career challenges in the 1970s. In fact, she really wanted to prove her mettle in more ways than one. While filming the 1974 disaster flick Earthquake, Gardner shocked director Mark Robson when she demanded that she perform all her own stunt work!

All of the action sequences are the real deal—that’s Gardner dodging those falling blocks of concrete and rebars. Still, you can’t please everyone…

Ava Gardner FactsEarthquake, ‎Universal Pictures

45. She Outgrew Hollywood

Gardner played Charlton Heston’s love interest in Earthquake—but both critics and filmgoers said she looked too old for him. Cue eye roll—she was only a year older than him. Roles were few and far between after that. And as the years wore on, Ava Gardner didn’t just have to struggle against Hollywood’s distaste for older actresses. Behind the scenes, she was fighting a much darker battle.

Ava Gardner FactsEarthquake, ‎Universal Pictures

46. She Was Ailing

Fearing the cancer that had taken her mother’s life, Gardner had an elective hysterectomy—and her health problems didn’t end there. In 1986, she had a series of strokes that left her partially paralyzed. Recovery was long. When her first husband Mickey Rooney visited her in the late 80s, she told him that she’d contemplated taking her own life.

Sadly, this was just the start of her decline.

Ava Gardner FactsGetty Images

47. She Ghosted Her Ghostwriter

After her stroke, Ava Gardner approached Peter Evans to ghostwrite her autobiography. It seemed like a perfect match, and an opportunity for her to get her story of Classic Hollywood cinema to the masses. After several good interviews and meetings with Evans, Gardner made a disturbing discovery about her would-be biographer.

Her ex-husband Frank Sinatra had once sued Evans for writing that he’d been involved with the mob. Since Sinatra had been “the love of her life,” Gardner grew to distrust Evans and soon ended the working relationship. The book never made it past that stage, but Evans published a collection of his notes and recordings after Gardner’s passing. It was filled with shocking revelations about the starlet’s life.

Ava Gardner FactsGetty Images

48. Putting Your Name on the Map

When Ava Gardner appeared in the film The Little Hut, marketers had a rather audacious idea to promote it. Gardner appeared alongside David Niven and Stewart Granger, playing played three seafarers shipwrecked on a tropical island. Film producers purchased a small island in Fiji and named it Ava Ava. They then created a contest where lucky winners could lease the private island.

The film was…not as memorable as its marketing.

Ava Gardner FactsThe Little Hut, Metro Goldwyn Mayer

49. She Was A Shut-In

Battling several illnesses after a lifetime of heavy drinking and smoking, Gardner became a recluse in her final years. She lived in London for the final decade of her life with only Carmen Vargas, her housekeeper, and a Welsh Corgi named Morgan as her companionship. One day, Vargas returned from a shopping trip, only to make a heartbreaking discovery.

Gardner had fallen in the front hall of her London apartment when nobody else was home and laid there for several hours. After Vargas found her, Gardner uttered her tragic dying words: “I’m so tired.”

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

50. She Was A Friend Til The End

Gardner’s cause of death was pneumonia, likely related to the years of ill health that preceded her passing. She was 67. Gardner didn’t want to leave anyone behind, so she ensured that Carmen Vargas, her housekeeper, and Morgan, her dog, weren’t left out in the cold. Gregory Peck, a longtime friend of Gardner’s, hired Vargas, and Morgan the dog came waddling along with her.

Ava Gardner FactsGetty Images

51. They Stayed Close

Although Ava Gardner divorced Frank Sinatra in 1957, the two remained lifelong friends. Toward the end of her life, Gardner suffered two strokes which left her bedridden. Sinatra could see how much pain she was in—so he reached out with a touching gesture of kindness. He tracked down a specialist in the US could help her, and even booked her flight from London.

Sadly, she never made it, passing on just a few weeks before the planned trip. The loss devastated Sinatra—but to the surprise of many, he didn’t go to her funeral.

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

52. Lasting Legacies

Although Gardner kept in contact with some of her ex-husbands throughout her life, especially Frank Sinatra, the wounds opened during those marriages ran deep. After she passed on in 1990, Gardner’s family arranged a funeral for her back home in North Carolina. Only a handful of close friends and family attended the private ceremony, and there were many conspicuous absences.

All three of Gardner’s ex-husbands missed her funeral. Gardner had struggled so hard to become a star and find love, but was left with a sad and lonely end. Maybe it all went back to the beginning…

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

53. It Was Terrible Timing

Gardner’s first marriage, to MGM superstar Mickey Rooney, was far from ideal—but the way it came crashing down was utterly brutal. They were still in their honeymoon phase when Gardner suddenly became terribly ill. She had to spend several weeks in a Los Angeles hospital to recover after an emergency appendectomy. When doctors finally released her, she was ecstatic to return home—but heartbreak was the only thing there to await her return.

James Brown FactsShutterstock

54. She Was Heartbroken

Gardner excitedly returned to the Westwood apartment she shared with the diminutive comic, only to make a disturbing discovery. She found evidence that while she’d been in the hospital, he’d been sleeping with another woman…in their bed. Their short marriage had never exactly been a fairytale, yet Gardner did stick around for a little longer. Eventually, the infidelity became all too much, and Gardner filed for divorce.

Nancy Cunard FactsShutterstock

55. She Had To Make Tough Choices

During her marriage to Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner became pregnant twice—but being a mother and a Hollywood star didn’t exactly go hand in hand. In fact, MGM Studios had fairly strict rules against their female stars becoming mothers. Thanks to the cutthroat world of the studio system, Gardner had no security for her career. As a result, she ended up aborting both pregnancies.

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

56. He’d Threaten Her With The Worst

Gardner’s marriage to Frank Sinatra was always a tumultuous affair, not least because of Sinatra’s erratic behavior and bouts of depression. As Gardner recalled to her ghostwriter, Peter Evans, later in life, Sinatra had a penchant for overdosing on a cocktail of pills as a way of performing a “mock” taking of his own life. It was a disturbing cry for attention.

Frank Sinatra factsGetty Images

57. It Reached A Horrifying Breaking Point

At the very worst of Frank Sinatra’s behavior during their marriage, Gardner was afraid of what was going to happen next. She recalled in her autobiography how one night the sound of a gunshot awoke her. It sounded like it came from the living room of her and Sinatra’s house. She feared the worst, that Sinatra had finally come good on his threats of self-harm.

When she walked into the next room, she saw Sinatra sitting in his underwear. He was laughing at the pillow that was still smoldering from the exit wound of a bullet—another false alarm.

Twisted factsFlickr, William Hook

58. Holy Water

Tension and terror had defined Gardner’s marriage with Sinatra. So when she separated from him, she was finally able to breathe easy. She spent time first in Spain, and then in Cuba with her friend and rumored lover, writer Ernest Hemingway. One day, when she thought she was alone, she went for a skinny dip in Hemingway’s pool. When he caught her, his reaction was unforgettable. He immediately told his staff: “The water is never to be emptied.”

Ava Gardner FactsWikimedia Commons

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21

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Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.

Catherine of Aragon Facts

Tragic Facts About Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s First Wife

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but very few people know her even darker history.
June 7, 2018 Christine Tran

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