Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations

Overview

“I EITHER WRITE THE BOOK OR SELL THE JEWELS,” Ava Gardner told her coauthor, Peter Evans, “and I’m kinda sentimental about the jewels.” So began the collaboration that led to this remarkably candid, wickedly sardonic memoir.

Ava Gardner was one of Hollywood’s great stars during the 1940s and 1950s, an Oscar-nominated lead­ing lady who co-starred with Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster, and Humphrey Bogart, among others. Her films included Show Boat, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Barefoot Contessa, and On the Beach. But ...

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Overview

“I EITHER WRITE THE BOOK OR SELL THE JEWELS,” Ava Gardner told her coauthor, Peter Evans, “and I’m kinda sentimental about the jewels.” So began the collaboration that led to this remarkably candid, wickedly sardonic memoir.

Ava Gardner was one of Hollywood’s great stars during the 1940s and 1950s, an Oscar-nominated lead­ing lady who co-starred with Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster, and Humphrey Bogart, among others. Her films included Show Boat, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Barefoot Contessa, and On the Beach. But her life off the screen was every bit as fabulous as her film roles.

Born poor in rural North Carolina, Gardner was given a Hollywood tryout thanks to a stunning photo of her displayed in a shop window. Not long after arriving in Hollywood, she caught the eye of Mickey Rooney, then America’s #1 box-office draw. Rooney was a womanizer so notorious that even his mother warned Gardner about him. They married, but the marriage lasted only a year (“my shortest husband and my biggest mistake”). Ava then married band leader and clarinetist Artie Shaw, who would eventually marry eight times, but that marriage, too, lasted only about a year (“he was a dominating son of a bitch . . . always putting me down”). She carried on a passionate affair with Howard Hughes but didn’t love him, she said. Her third marriage was a tempestuous one to Frank Sinatra (“We were fighting all the time. Fighting and boozing. It was madness. . . . But he was good in the feathers”).

Faithfully recording Ava’s reminiscences in this book, Peter Evans describes their late-night conver­sations when Ava, having had something to drink and unable to sleep, was at her most candid. So candid, in fact, that when she read her own words, she backed out and halted the book. Only now, years after her death, could this frank and revealing memoir be published.

“If I get into this stuff, oh, honey, have you got something coming,” Ava told Evans. Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations is the stunning story of a legendary star’s public and private lives.

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Editorial Reviews

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Her parents were poor North Carolina cotton farmers, but Ava Gardner (1922-1990) became one of the most glamorous movie stars of all time. Her private life, which included marriages to Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, and bandleader Artie Shaw, attracted almost as much attention as her onscreen romances. In her last years, she worked with ghostwriter Peter Evans on an autobiography, but the project was shelved before her death. In this gathering of their conversations, readers can now savor Gardner extremely candid assessments of her life, her loves, her co-stars, and her secret opinions. Now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

Washington Times - Sandra McElwaine
"Profane, freewheeling. . . . Earthy, uncensored. . . . A tough and provocative look into the life of the compelling temptress who, though bruised, managed to stay afloat."
Chicago Tribune - Jeanine Basinger
“Her story is a raw-nerved revelation. . . . A vivid portrait of Gardner.”
The New Yorker - David Denby
“A bristling look at Hollywood attitudes and sexual manners.”
Publishers Weekly
Jaw-dropping anecdotes about film legends and the studio system in its heyday make this an irresistible read for Hollywood history buffs. A fiery beauty (1922–1990) who loved to fight (even with the author she hired), Gardner inspired uncanny devotion among colleagues, friends, and lovers. Of the latter, there were many, and even seasoned fans will learn fresh tidbits about ex-husbands Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra, as well as her tumultuous relationships with Howard Hughes and George C. Scott. One of the more touching stories is of Gardner, self-conscious after a stroke left her face partially paralyzed, asking a famed cinematographer to set up flattering lighting prior to meeting with a publisher. Journalists will find the book of interest as it makes transparent the prickly process of ghostwriting. Evans (Bardot: Eternal Sex Goddess) shares the difficulty of sequencing the life of a movie star whose memory is failing and who angrily retracts batches of sensitive material that slip out during 3 a.m. phone calls. Gardner is funny and frank, and Evans’s diligence makes the book not only one of the more revealing celebrity autobiographies published recently, but a candid glimpse into the world of a ghostwriter, star handler, and late-night confidante. 8-page b&w insert. Agent: Ed Victor, Ed Victor Literary Agency (July)
Patricia Bosworth
“I read Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations in a delirious gulp. It is absolutely terrific. I couldn’t put it down. Gardner comes across as a flamboyant but tragic figure who always spoke the truth no matter how painful. And the way writer Peter Evans has shaped their conversations is truly remarkable.”
From the Publisher
“I read Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations in a delirious gulp. It is absolutely terrific. I couldn’t put it down. Gardner comes across as a flamboyant but tragic figure who always spoke the truth no matter how painful. And the way writer Peter Evans has shaped their conversations is truly remarkable.”

“Jaw-dropping anecdotes about film legends and the studio system in its heyday make this an irresistible read. . . . Even seasoned fans will learn fresh tidbits about ex-husbands Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra, as well as her tumultuous relationships with Howard Hughes and George C. Scott. . . . Gardner is funny and frank, and Evans's diligence makes the book not only one of the more revealing celebrity autobiographies published recently, but a candid glimpse into the world of a ghostwriter, star handler, and late-night confidante.”

“An unvarnished account of [Gardner’s] marriages and affairs in golden-age Hollywood. . . . Give[s] a vivid sense of Gardner’s salty, no-BS personality. . . . Juicy.”

The New York Times Book Review - Maureen Dowd
"[Makes] you feel as if you're eavesdropping. . . . Watching this Venus ply her mind games, sensuality and stubborn will on [her coauthor, Peter] Evans, it's easy to imagine what it was like to be a love object jerked on her marionette strings in her prime. You wouldn't have a chance."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Harry Levins
"As a siren, [Gardner] held her own with [Marilyn] Monroe. And to judge by Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations, Gardner was a more interesting woman. . . . A little jewel of a book."
Philadelphia Inquirer - Carrie Rickey
"A complete delight. . . . [Gardner's] quotes exude the musk of a woman supremely indifferent to the social proprieties and expectations of her era. . . . Hers is the heartbreaking memoir of the ultimate heartbreaker."
Library Journal
In 1988, British journalist and biographer Evans (Nemesis: The True Story of Aristotle Onassis, Jackie O, and the Love Triangle That Brought Down the Kennedys) was asked to work with ailing former screen siren Ava Gardner on a memoir about her tempestuous life. Evans died in 2012 as he was attempting to complete it; Gardner herself had died in 1990. What remains is this account of Evans's attempts to work with the actress, who was alternately cooperative and difficult. The result is a mélange of the author's reactions to his subject's unpredictable mood swings (she was drinking heavily) and some of the facts he was able to glean from her. Unfortunately much of it is very repetitious and could have used rigorous editing. Although readers do get a vivid picture of Gardner's personality and some facts (many of them salacious) about her husbands and lovers, there is little insight into the root causes of her often reckless behavior. VERDICT This is more Evans's memoir than it is Ava Gardner's, and when it focuses on his own feelings and reactions—which it often does—it is not particularly interesting. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/13.]—Roy Liebman, formerly with California State Univ., Los Angeles
Kirkus Reviews
Based on the movie star's late-night ramblings, an unvarnished account of her marriages and affairs in golden-age Hollywood. The films she made weren't the principal basis of Ava Gardner's fame, so it's no great disappointment that there's little here about The Sun Also Rises, Mogambo or The Barefoot Contessa (to name the ones people might actually remember today). British journalist Evans (Nemesis: The True Story of Aristotle Onassis, Jackie O, and the Love Triangle That Brought Down the Kennedys, 2004, etc.) encouraged her to focus on her personal life, and she let loose with plenty of frank, bawdy material about husbands Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra, plus a long list of lovers topped by Howard Hughes and George C. Scott. But even as she was confiding that sex with Rooney was so great they were still indulging after their divorce and that Scott was a mean drunk who frequently beat her bloody, she was having second thoughts about a memoir. Broke and recovering from a stroke, she asked Evans to be her ghostwriter in 1988 because, she explained, "I either write the book or sell the jewels. And I'm kinda sentimental about the jewels." But she never really liked the idea and was often shocked to read Evans' transcriptions of her profanity-laden speech and the salacious stories she probably wished she'd kept to herself. Indeed, since Evans got most of this material from phone calls the insomniac Gardner made when she couldn't sleep and had been drinking, the whole project smacks of exploitation, especially since Gardner eventually decided against allowing this revealing document to be published. Evans revived the project after her death with the permission of her estate, and the pages he produced before his death last year certainly give a vivid sense of Gardner's salty, no-BS personality. Nonetheless, reading it feels somewhat like going through a person's bureau drawers when she's not home. Juicy, but it leaves a nasty aftertaste.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451627701
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 7/8/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 178,274
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Evans was a columnist and foreign correspondent with the Daily Express (UK), and wrote for the Los Angeles Times and Vogue, as well as every major newspaper in Britain. His books include Peter Sellers: The Man Behind the Mask and Nemesis. He died in 2012.

Ava Gardner was born in Grabtown, North Carolina, in 1922. Her films include The Killers, Showboat, Mogambo, The Barefoot Contessa, The Sun Also Rises, and On the Beach. She died in London in 1990.

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