The many loves of Ava Gardner.


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AVA GARDNER (1922-90)           

Ava was a ‘knockout’, possibly the sexiest woman ever to grace a movie screen. She married Mickey Rooney when he was the number one box-office draw in movies (she refused to sleep with him unless he married her first). Within three weeks or so of the marriage he was cheating on her and she caught him out. She became involved with Howard Hughes following her divorce, but his paranoia and jealousy drove her away. Ava and Frank Sinatra were crazy about each other, but they fought like cat and dog, especially as her star rose and his went down the drain. As she began to lose her looks and the booze got to her she spent most of her time in Spain in the company of bullfighters and gypsies. Ava lived out her final years in London, befriending (platonically) British actor Charles Gray of The Rock Horror Picture Show fame. She was just 67 when bronchial pneumonia claimed her in 1990. Sinatra wept like a small child when told of her death. Ava had many, many lovers, always maintaining that Rooney educated her in the wonders of sex and she became addicted to it. I have only listed the liaisons that are proven beyond any reasonable doubt, although I do mention Clark Gable as a ‘possible’, simply because most sources seem to assume he and Ava had a ‘thing’. They were friends for years so it probably happened. Probably.

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Ava with Charles Gray in the late 80s


Confirmed liaisons:


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1941:   Ava met Mickey Rooney in 1941, married him in 1942 and divorced him in 1943. Mickey was a serial philanderer and she flatly refused to sleep with him unless they were married. Even his mother knew what he was like. When he brought Ava home to meet her and announced they were to be married, the old lady drily commented: ‘I guess he hasn’t been in your pants yet, has he?’ Ava met him on her first day at MGM when she was dragged around the studio by an executive and introduced to the stars. Mickey was wearing a bunch of fruit on his head for Babes on Broadway. After they were married she asked him what he thought when he first saw her. ‘I figured you were a new piece of pussy for one of the executives’, he replied. ‘The prettiest ones were usually spoken for before they even stepped off the train. I didn’t give a damn. I wanted to fuck you the moment I saw you.’ Ah, true love! Clearly, Rooney was a classy guy.

The end of the marriage came in a bar when Rooney whipped out his address book in front of his cronies and Ava, and called out the names of actress after actress and what each one’s specialty was in bed! Peter Lawford drove Ava home that evening, quietly informing her: ‘There’s a girl Mick’s seeing. She’s about 15. It’s been going on for quite a while.’ Rooney was still huge at the box-office, so Ava agreed not to name names in a divorce action. Mayer and MGM gave her a salary increase as reward for her silence.

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1943:   Ava’s romantic involvement with billionaire Howard Hughes began immediately after her divorce came through. ‘He had to be the first to grab the new girl in town’, she explained. He was drunk and incoherent when he called and she said ‘yes’, thinking she was going to be dating Howard Hawks, the big director. Hughes showered her with money and jewels (his usual and highly successful seduction technique), but she said later that he was ‘smelly and made love like a horse whisperer’, whatever that meant. Smelly or not, they would carry on intermittently for 20 years, usually while Ava was between husbands. Usually – but not always.

Eventually, she learned that he had microphones planted in every room of her bungalow, on every phone, and even in her car. A fight erupted, he dislocated her jaw and she knocked him unconscious with a heavy ashtray. Fearful he might die from the blow, LB Mayer sent in a clean-up team in case the room evolved into a murder scene. Not for Ava’s benefit, of course, but to avoid any studio scandal. Hughes recovered and promptly proposed marriage. She refused him.

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1944:   Minor Egyptian actor Alexander D’Arcy was photographed dancing with her at the Trocadero during their affair.

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1944:   Mervyn LeRoy, producer/director (43) had a brief tryst with Ava (21).

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1944:   Ava met band-leader Artie Shaw in 1944, married him in 1945 and divorced him in 1946. ‘Artie was an intellectual’, she said. ‘I was smart but I had no education at all. We were made for each other.’ One day he caught her reading Forever Amber and blew his stack. ‘I won’t have a wife of mine reading that rubbish!’ he screamed. After he and Ava divorced, Shaw married Kathleen Winsor – the author of the book. Ava hated that he gave up his friends to the HUAC during the Red Scare. ‘I think he was full of shit’, she said.

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1945:   She met Frank Sinatra in 1945, married him in 1951 and divorced him in 1957. After a 1950 Palm Springs party at which they both got plastered, they drove through the town shooting out shop windows and streel lights with a couple of .38 pistols Frank kept in his car. It was an omen to the non-stop fireworks in their relationship.

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with Walker in One Touch of Venus

1947:   Jennifer Jones’ ex-husband, Robert Walker, was crazy about Ava when he co-starred with her in One Touch of Venus (1948). And who could blame him? Although the picture was shot in black and white, Ava never looked more captivating. Unfortunately for Walker, he was a pitiful drunk so she tired of him very quickly.

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1947:   Austrian-born actor Turhan Bey was a regular ‘man about town’, escorting, wooing and bedding many of the beautiful women of Hollywood. Ava was one of them.

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1947:   Attorney to the stars, Greg Bautzer, was another ‘love ‘em and leave ‘em’ guy who added Ava to his sizeable trophy collection.

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Ava and Clark out to dinner

1947:   Ava was nervous about working with Clark Gable in The Hucksters. She had been a fan of his all her life. He gave her assurance and encouragement and they remained friends all their lives. Five years later they co-starred in Lone Star and again in Mogambo a year later. Were they ever lovers? Everyone seems to take it for granted, but finding any direct proof (other than Peter O’Toole stating that Ava told him they were) is very hard to find. Frankly, I am not entirely convinced. They were certainly not intimate on the set of Mogambo in Kenya. For one thing, Gable was busy bedding Grace Kelly, and for another, Sinatra was present throughout most of the shoot.

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1948:   Robert Taylor’s marriage to Barbara Stanwyck was damaged by his affair with Ava. Stanwyck and Gardner shared a wonderful scene in East Side, West Side (1949) in which they verbally jousted over Ava’s character’s power over Barbara’s character’s husband played by James Mason. Shortly after this picture was completed, Robert Taylor made The Bribe with Ava and they immediately fell into a turgid affair. Life imitating art, so to speak.

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Ava and Van on the town

1949:   Van Heflin and Ava dated in 1949, presumably after meeting on the set of East Side, West Side.

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1949:   When Sinatra learned that his pal Peter Lawford had slept with Ava he severed all ties with him. No matter how hard Lawford tried to mend their relationship, he was never again permitted to make contact with Sinatra. Many historians thought Frank blamed him for the last minute decision by President John F Kennedy to stay at Bing Crosby’s estate instead of Sinatra’s, but that was only a minor part of it. In fact, it was Bobby Kennedy who made the decision. It had nothing to do with Lawford at all.

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1949:   Ava and Robert Mitchum had an affair while shooting My Forbidden Past (released in 1951). He taught her how to smoke joints, but in the end she preferred to drink.

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1950:   Mario Cabre, a minor bullfighter who was obsessed with Ava and followed her everywhere, finally got to sleep with her, although she had little time for him.

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1950:   She fell madly in love with actor Howard Duff, became pregnant to him and suffered a miscarriage. They had met on the set of One Touch of Venus when he visited the set. Robert Walker caught the couple in her dressing room and slugged Ava and not the bigger Mr. Duff.

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Ava, Fernando & Lana at Marion Davies’ party

1952:   Fernando Lamas, the Argentinian actor, caused heads to turn at Marion Davies’ amazing party held at her mansion a year after her lover William Randolph Hearst had passed away. He walked in with two of his lovers on his arms – Lana Turner on his left and Ava Gardner on his right.

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1954:   Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed Ava in The Barefoot Contessa and became intimate with her.

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1954:   Billy Daniels, African-American singer of ‘That Old Black Magic’ was another of her lovers.

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1955:   Luis Miguel Dominguin, the famous bullfighter, had a lengthy affair with Ava when she went to live in Spain for several years.

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1955:   Singer Vic Damone was another lover.

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1955-7: Italian actor Walter Chiari had a small part in the movie The Little Hut and was soon in her bed.

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1957:   Ernest Hemingway introduced her to bullfighting after she divorced Sinatra. She skinny-dipped in his pool, although Hemingway said they were ‘just friends’. (He usually said that). Mind you, he did tell his staff afterwards – ‘The water is never to be emptied.’ So, judge for yourself.

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1957-8:  Studio executive Robert Evans did not miss out on many of the sex sirens. He didn’t miss Ava either.

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1958:   Johnny Stompanato met Ava through her good friend Lana Turner.

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1959:   Former world No 1 tennis player Tony Trabert was seen with Ava on his arm for several months.

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1960:   Peter O’Toole was introduced to Ava by John Huston. She and O’Toole spent three nights in her Savoy Hotel room. Peter confided to an associate: ‘She told me that I was ten times the lover that Gable was, but not quite the equal of Robert Mitchum.’

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1962:   Peter Duchin, world-renowned pianist was a lover whom Ava met while she was secluding in Spain.

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Scott and Ava in Rome

1964:   Ava was manipulated and controlled by an abusive George C. Scott who all but held her hostage during their stormy relationship. Old flame Frank Sinatra heard about his treatment of her and confronted him. He made it very clear that Scott either remove himself from Ava’s life or he would get a visit from some of Frank’s Mafia friends. Scott gave her up at once.

In the final decade of her life Ava indulged herself with the occasional one-night stand, if for no other reason than to convince herself that she was still attractive to men. All quite sad really. Age catches up with us all.


  1. Another interesting sidenote. My brother in law, who I have mentioned here before, worked, over 30 years, for Paramount Studios. Unfortunately, he passed in 2012. I just recalled a question I put to him. “Of all the actresses you saw, worked with, met, etc., who struck you the most with her beauty, sex appeal, personality, etc., and who impressed you the most?”. His reply,Ava Gardner.

    • That does not surprise me in the slightest, Mike. I remember seeing ‘One Touch of Venus’ as a kid and I fell hopelessly in love with her at once. Only Claudia Cardinale remains slightly ahead of her on my ‘most beautiful’ list. Grace Kelly is up there somewhere as well, but Ava was really outstanding.

      • Sometime try to see “She Went to the Races.” Gardner is billed third, but the whole screen lights up when she flashes that smile of hers. In my opinion no one is ahead of her on the “most beautiful” list. Also, for a real treat, see Garbo in some of her silent films – her beauty is mesmerizing. (These films featured many close-ups of her for an obvious reason.)

        • I must confess, Craig, that I tend to change mind like the weather. Ava, Claudia, Grace, Eleanor Parker – each has topped my ‘most beautiful’ list at one time or another. I suppose I’m just fickle. Can’t help it.

    • I was under the impression that Ava only took to drink later in life, Steve, but I may be wrong. I suppose that whether the booze led her into promiscuity or vice versa is debatable.

  2. In none of her biographies did it ever mention Ava had an miscarriage from Howard Duff. But in her friends biography, it did mention she had an abortion during her courtship with Frank, so three abortions altogether.

    • Abortions were quite commonplace in Hollywood in the early days, Bella. Several stars could not have children because of undergoing numerous abortions. Male stars were not keen on using condoms and cared little for outcomes. When Loretta Young fell pregnant to Gable while making ‘Call of the Wild’, he was quite abusive to her when informed of her condition. ‘I thought you knew how to take care of yourself!’ he complained. As far as he was concerned, getting herself pregnant to him was her fault entirely!

    • Rubirosa may have had a ‘one-night-stand’ with Ava, Bubba, (as he was notorious for similar encounters with the likes of Gene Tierney, Veronica Lake and others), but I was unaware he was involved with her over any length of time, as he was with Zsa Zsa Gabor and through his marriage to Danielle Darrieux.

    • Even so, Eugene, if we listed the most promiscuous stars in Hollywood down the decades, I doubt if a female would make the top twenty. Guys can sleep around all they want and it is more or less accepted as, well, ‘natural’ – their right as males. Women do so and they are considered to have some kind of ‘sickness’. The hypocrasy and double standards are clearly evident.

  3. Hi, fascinating article, thank you.

    I do, however, think that the Kennedy matter is what broke up Peter Lawford and Sinatra. Sinatra was depending on Lawford to appeal to Kennedy, but it didn’t work. I know that in the ’50s, Lawford made the Thin Man TV series. Phyllis Kirk was on a show where they joked that Lawford always had a Sinatra album under his arm. Also on the show he constantly said ring a ding ding. I know that’s not proof, but this photo is certainly post-1949. Bobby made the decision but Sinatra blamed Lawford for not convincing him to let JFK stay with Sinatra.

    • Most interesting, Pietra. I,too, believe that Sinatra blamed Lawford for JFK dropping him like a hot scone, when everybody and his dog would agree that Frank’s mob connections were the issue. However, Sinatra was convinced that Lawford had slept with Ava and Frank was still carrying a very big torch for her. The two reasons combined left Lawford well and truly on the outer – forever.

  4. When my father attended what is now East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, 1938-1941, he was a friend of a local man-about-town and entrepreneur, Ed “Duck” Lewis. Duck was always dreaming up schemes to make some money, and he came up with the idea to put on a beauty contest, featuring local girls. Duck got my father and some of his classmates to be the judges, he rented an auditorium in town, and he got local businesses to sponsor the event. Several girls entered.

    Came the night of the contest, the auditorium filled up, and Duck went down to the front row where the judges were sitting before the curtain went up. He told my father and the other judges that Contestant No. [X] was going to win, and for them to vote for her. Turns out, that girl’s father was the owner of the biggest plumbing company in town, and he had put up the most money! The judges voted as they were told, crowning the plumber’s daughter with whatever title Duck had dreamed up for the contest.
    However, my father said that the girl who came in second was by far the most beautiful girl in the contest, and she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. That 17- or 18-year-old girl was Ava Gardner, who’d come up to Greenville for the contest from her home near little Grabtown, NC. If the fix hadn’t been in, Ava would no doubt have won the only beauty pageant she ever entered…

  5. Loved the picture of ava with GCS, what a beauty….she was quite a character and seemed like a genuine person. I like your posts about the wild beyond belief Errol Flynn….thx Alan and RIP to the lovely Ava as well as Errol who was tremendously entertaining on and off screen!

    • At the peak of her great beauty Ava was, in my opinion, one of the truly outstanding beauties in Hollywood history – alongside Grace Kelly, Claudia Cardinale and Hedy Lamarr. Indeed, I have always held a low opinion of Mickey Rooney, simply because he cheated on her TWO WEEKS after their wedding! I guess, you just cannot please some people. Errol was a rugrat, but he sure oozed charm. And those who knew him say he never held a grudge. I like that. Nice to hear from you Leo.

  6. I love the Corgi in the first picture; funny looking but cute dogs. {Ava’s pets.} I forgot who said that they look
    like they’re made up of spare parts!

    • The Queen of England has Corgis, Shiela. Maybe, you have Royal blood coursing through your veins. I am a huge dog lover, having grown up with a half dozen Pekineses. These days I have a Shitzu named Squirrell and she is the centre of my life. I adore her.

  7. My hub absolutely loves Rita Gardner and I do, too. She was very sultry. A natural beauty. I loved her earthiness in Night of the Iguana, one of my favorite movies. I started watching old movies in my late twenties and now a baby boomer. I haven’t been to the theater in 15 years. Old classic movies are for me:)

    • I did a piece in my blog several months back about the actresses I considered to be the most beautiful in Hollywood history. I THINK I named Ava at number one (or close to it). She really was something special. A unique beauty.

  8. My head spins. There’s an Ava Gardner Museum in hometown of No. Carolina. Those who
    run it said that there was much gossip that is untrue. Pictures on internet, including two
    love notes, one in a book, from Sinatra, addressed to Lavinia, middle name.
    She’s pictured w/ a Corgi, ome of my favorite dogs. She had several, including one from
    Sinatra, in her lifetime.

    • All I do is research, double check, triple check – and then arrive at a conclusion, what I think is most likely the truth. Historians are always faced with this problem because they are forever encountering partial information, people with personal agendas, and downright liars. Not easy.

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