by Peter Evans and Ava Gardner
Simon and Schuster
Hardcover, 304 pages
Barnes and Noble
In 1986, actress Ava Gardner suffered a stroke. Two years later she found herself in some financial difficulty and decided to write a memoir so she wouldn't have to "sell the jewels". Biographer Peter Evans was hired to help Gardner write the book after being personally recommended by Gardner's friends including fellow actor Dirk Bogarde. Evans knew that this project would be difficult but couldn't imagine what was in store for him. After months of late night phone calls, bizarre meetings and endless massaging of a fading beauty's ego, the book was called off. A more sanitized autobiography was published much later with the help of someone else. But Peter Evans never let go of the idea of publishing a book about Ava Gardner in her voice and with the permission of her estate put together Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations.
Me reading this book is me keeping a very open mind. As some of you know, I do not like Ava Gardner. But many people do like her and are
The end result was that I quite enjoyed my experience reading this book and learning more about Ava Gardner as an actress and as a woman. This book defies any categorization. It's a sort of biography (Peter Evans' voice), autobiography (Ava Gardner's voice), transcript of conversations and a biography about a biography that never happened. The book is also a tribute to Peter Evans who passed away before he could finish it. Both voices are gone but we have this treasure to remember them by.
Because the initial project was cut short, we don't really have the full story of Ava Gardner's life but we do get quite a bit. Most of Gardner's conversations with Evans are about the romantic relationships she's had. We learn a lot about her first marriage to Mickey Rooney and to some extent her marriages to Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra. All those marriages ended badly. She also had a long romance with Howard Hughes, but refused to marry him, affairs with Robert Mitchum and a bull fighter in Spain and was in an abusive relationship with actor George C. Scott. In her conversations with Evans, Gardner is very restrained but with Evans patience and a couple of drinks, she does open up to reveal some very personal information. She would often times panic later about what she had revealed and plead Evans not to include it. Evans was essentially in the middle of a tug-of-war. He had a publisher to answer to but he also needed to keep Gardner happy and on board with continuing the book. Evans struggle was a significant one and you get really get a sense of his dilemma.
Ava Gardner can come off very vain in this book. She was highly focused on her appearance and how people perceive her. But in many ways this is understandable. Here is an aging beauty who once had
an incredible power over men, driving many of them wild with desire, and doesn't want to let that power go. Who would?
My favorite part of the book was when Peter Evans recalls the time when he arranged a meeting with Ava Gardner and the publishers. The event was to take place at Gardner's home and she was very worried about her appearance. She was much older now and her stroke had left part of her face paralyzed. Gardner told Evans she would only do the meeting if cinematographer Jack Cardiff arranged the lighting so she could look her best. Cardiff came over, staged the lighting around the chair she would sit in and made everything work for her. Evans talked to Cardiff and this is what he said:
When she sits in that chair tomorrow, keep telling her how beautiful she looks. Keep on saying that. How beautiful she looks. Lay it on thick. She won't believe you, she's too smart to fall for blarney, but it's what she wants to hear. It's the tribute you must always pay to great beauties when they grow old. Remember, it's always the camera man who grows old, never the star. - Jack Cardiff (page 83)
This book is amazing and I highly suggest you read it. Did it change my opinion of Ava Gardner? No. But it did give me some insight into this iconic actress and made me understand her allure. I loved reading about her relationships with her mom and her sister Bappy. Evans included parts of the draft that he was working on before he had to cancel the project. Those were really interesting to read. I loved the story of how Mickey Rooney traveled with Gardner to see her mom and made a big fuss over her and made her mom so happy. I really enjoyed how Gardner was open about her mistakes and frank about her career. While she was concerned about what would go into her book, I felt that at heart she was a very honest and open person.
If there is an actress or actor you don't like, I suggest taking some time out to read a bit more about them. It might not change your opinion but it will definitely open your eyes.
This is my fifth review for my 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge. Just one more to go!