Her three marriages were essays in fame. Her first in 1942, at 19, to pint-sized star Mickey Rooney, then one of MGM's biggest assets and an experienced skirt-chaser despite his wholesome screen image, happened when she was barely a signed-up starlet. Rooney was forced to marry because she wouldn't come across otherwise. Her second husband, jazz star Artie Shaw, gave the uneducated Gardner a reading syllabus, sent her to therapy and, for reasons he never explained, moved them into a modest rented house in suburban Burbank, which they shared for a time with its owners and their teenage sons. The third husband was Sinatra. By then she was the bigger star, a perpetual cover girl and tabloid sensation, epitome of an emerging jet set (which can equally be taken for a life on the run), her movie career almost incidental to her celebrity, and indistinguishable from her often exaggerated notoriety. Asked by a reporter what she saw in Sinatra - a 119lb has-been - she replied demurely that 19lb of it was cock.
May 30, 2006
Sinatra's 19 pounds
Chris Petit reviews Ava Gardner by Lee Server.