Sunday, September 21, 2008
What Would Ava Wear?
“After my screen test, the director clapped his hands gleefully and yelled: "She can't talk! She can't act! She's sensational!” – Ava Gardner
Ava Gardner was born with a face that would be her destiny.
Her father was a poor North Carolina tobacco farmer who died early. After his demise, her mother ran a boardinghouse so that she and her daughters could survive. In later interviews, Ava would say that shoes felt odd on her feet for many years, and, until the end of her life, she went without them at every opportunity.
Her discovery is one of those Hollywood legends that are too perfect to be anything but true. Ava’s brother-in-law, who lived in Manhattan, was a photographer. He photographed her while visiting North Carolina, and put the photo in his display window on Fifth Avenue. A friend, who was a clerk at Loew’s but liked to pass himself off as an MGM talent scout, happened by. He told the photographer that he should send the picture to MGM.
The studio brought Ava to Hollywood, and signed her to a standard contract, but she made twenty-one movies – mostly the fill-the-pipeline “product” that Mr. Mayer insisted upon – before she finally hit big in “The Killers” as Kitty Collins, the ultimate film noir heroine, in 1946. In the years before that, she was generally looked upon and laughed at by the town’s A-list crowd of writers, directors and stars as a gorgeous, but ignorant, hayseed. She was alluring enough to capture MGM’s boy-wonder Andy Hardy, Mickey Rooney and, later, the cynical bandleader Artie Shaw, but both marriages failed as her star rose.
Even Ava would say she knew she wasn’t much of an actress in those days. She knew exactly what her currency was. Without much life experience, no schooling of any consequence, no travel except in the cocoon world of movie-making, she ultimately succumbed to the debauchery around her, and spent many years in the company of Frank Sinatra, marrying and divorcing him, trashing hotel suites with him, unable to live without, or with, him. The irony of all this was that she was getting better as an actress, as an artist. The film in which she gave her first fine performance, “Bowhani Junction,” was ultimately seen as schedule-filler by the industry. Gardner played an Anglo-Indian woman torn between loyalties during the revolution for India’s independence. Directed by George Cukor, it was judged to be too long, too difficult for the masses, and was hacked to pieces by the powers-that-be at MGM.
After that, Gardner continued to make films and carry on her tumultuous relationship with Sinatra. She moved to Spain, having fallen in love with its duende (soulful spirit) while making “The Sun Also Rises” there. There are terrible stories about this time in her life, Ava and her bullfighters, but she did nothing her male counterparts weren’t doing, and she lived as she pleased. It is said that her greatest performance, as the libertine hotel-keeper Maxine in “Night of the Iguana,” was simply Ava being Ava.
In 1948, the venerable British perfume house Creed made “Fleurs de The Rose Bulgare” for Ava, and while this may not have been the first celebrity licensing perfume deal, it had to be one of the first in the modern era. But Fleurs de The Rose Bulgare seems very unlike Ava. It’s a clean, lemony rose with lots of other citrus notes.
Now, it’s quite possible that Ava wore this; who wouldn’t wear a perfume created especially for her? But, knowing what we know about her, it is somewhat difficult to believe that she wanted to smell like an English rose garden.
What else do you think Ava wore?
What modern scents would she be wearing now?
Notes for Creed’s “Fleurs de The Rose Bulgare” include rose, green tea, Sicilian mandarin, Italian lemon and Spanish bergamot.