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.


ScentScelf said...

I don't know...I can imagine Ava wearing the Creed quite happily, because it reflected a part of her that she wanted validated.

That said, moving the timeline up as if she were with us now, I can see her stealing Frank's Amouage and sprinkling it liberally (because you know he would have some)...

Olfacta said...

...or throwing the bottle at him!

ScentScelf said...

...or perhaps both! The diva's 1-2 punch. ;)

Musette said...

I see her in Mitsouko. I so love her - she had a voluptuousness that is just this side of vulgar. I am not sure she really needed the kind of validation that the Creed would give her.

Frank and Ava. Ava and Frank. Must've been a hella pair!

Olfacta said...

Oh, yeah, they were something else. There's an infamous story about the two of them racing down the main street of Palm Springs -- still a desert outpost then -- and Ava shooting out all the streetlights with Frank's gun. Of course they ended up in jail, and poor Howard Strickling, who was MGM' go-to guy for cover-ups (as their head of public relations) had to take care of it and keep it out of the papers. I think this might be where the expression "shoot out the lights" came from.

Perfumeshrine said...

Thanks to my Celebrity project, we do know!

Bathsheba (a phase) said...

I swear, I was going to concur with Musette and vote for Mitsouko before PerfumeShrine arrived and made it true! (really I was ;-)

I love Ava. I love all free spirits.

In addition to Mitsouko, I'd like to imagine Ava wearing Chanel Cuir de Russie, Caron Tabac Blond, Shalimar and Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle especially.

ScentScelf said...

Not Creed, the house, but the kind of scent. Look at Helg's list! Looks like we can all be right... :)

(btw, Helg, have visited your list on and off since I dove down the perfume it! thanks for the effort.)

Then back to our imaginings...Bathsheba, I do kind of like her in Tabac Blond...

(Olfacta, look at the fun you've started!)

Offacta said...

Exactly What I'd hoped for with this post!

tania said...

Perfumeshrine, I think I have another one for your 'old Hollywood' list.
Noel Coward's biography records that he sent Vivien Leigh a bottle of Joy, her signature perfume, when she was in hospital.

I wonder if Ava might have liked Opium, too. Or Fracas. But Mitsouko suits her nicely.

tania said...

never mind - I see you have her listed already. It's an interesting list!

I sometimes wonder if movie stars liked stronger scents in those days, because most of them smoked and their sense of smell was duller. I know Leigh smoked a lot, and Joy can be quite heavy.

Charlie Chaplin wore Mitsouko? I did not see that coming... ;-)