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Actress Ava Gardner was a sultry beauty famous for playing femme fatale roles, and for her marriages to Frank Sinatra, Artie Shaw and Mickey Rooney.
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Ava Gardner was born on December 24, 1922, in Grabtown, North Carolina. Gardner signed a contract to be an actress with MGM in 1941, but it wasn't until her appearance in 1946's The Killers that she became a star. Gardner's off-screen life was often as dramatic as the roles she played, with marriages to Mickey Rooney,
"Listen, honey, I was never really an actress. None of us kids who came from M-G-M were. We were just good to look at."
"Because I was promoted as a sort of siren and played all those sexy broads, people made the mistake of thinking I was like that off the screen. They couldn't have been more wrong."
Ava Lavinia Gardner was born in Grabtown, North Carolina, on December 24, 1922. She was her parents' seventh child. When Gardner was 2 years old, she and her family were forced to leave their tobacco farm. Her father then worked as a sharecropper, while her mother ran a boardinghouse. The family always struggled financially, a situation that worsened when Gardner's father died when she was 16.
Ava Gardner was studying to be a secretary when her photographer brother-in-law sent pictures of her to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. A striking beauty with dark hair and green eyes, Gardner's photos convinced the studio to give her a screen test. This led to her signing a seven-year, $50/week contract with MGM in 1941, when Gardner was 18 years old.
Upon her arrival in Hollywood, Ava Gardner was put into the MGM studio system to learn how to be an actress. Her thick Southern accent made speech lessons a required part of her training. Gardner was shy and intimidated by the process of appearing on camera, and, thusly, would sometimes drink beforehand to calm her nerves.
Limited to bit parts at first, Gardner slowly worked her way up to larger roles. But it wasn't until she was loaned to Universal Studios to appear as seductress Kitty Collins in 1946's The Killers that Gardner became a star. That success led to the actress landing better parts in movies like The Hucksters (1947), Show Boat (1951) and The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952). She also appeared in Mogambo (1953), a role that earned Gardner her only Academy Award nomination.
Even as her acting career developed, Gardner's beauty was always a large part of her appeal. For her role in The Barefoot Contessa (1954), as a dancer whose rags-to-riches story echoed Gardner's own, MGM touted her as "The World's Most Beautiful Animal."
Ava Gardner's life in Hollywood was also busy off camera. She met actor Mickey Rooney on her first studio visit in California. Rooney, then at the height of his career, ardently pursued her. As Gardner, heeding her North Carolina upbringing, was determined to remain a virgin until marriage, they wed in 1942, after first receiving permission from MGM. The two separated a year later, amid Gardner's accusations that Rooney had been unfaithful.
With the end of her first marriage, the down-to-earth Gardner's reputation for drinking, smoking and partying grew. She also became close with playboy Howard Hughes. Although Gardner refused to sleep with Hughes, she remained an object of fascination for the reclusive man for years.
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