Ava Gardner, surely one of the best known of all film stars, exemplified the classic rags-to-riches fable. The seventh child of a North Carolina sharecropping tobacco farmer, she was what the unkind describe as poor white trailer trash, with accent and ambitions to match. The height of her aspirations was to be a secretary in New York, but she was ‘discovered’ from a chance snapshot in a photographer’s window and whisked away to Hollywood for the big star build-up, purely on the basis of her looks. And here, straight away, Lee Server’s workmanlike biography solves one problem that has always puzzled me. While everyone agrees that Ava Gardner was no great shakes as an actress, she was consistently described as a woman of stunning beauty – yet this did not seem to me to correspond with the image I saw on the screen. According to Server, she was one of those rare movie stars who are far more stunning in the flesh than on celluloid; usually it works the other way round, with fairly ordinary-looking men and women being transformed by the magical alchemy of a camera that likes them.
While most of the films Ava Gardner appeared in were unmemorable to say the least, she soon attracted attention by the turbulence of her private life. At the age of nineteen (in 1942) she married Mickey Rooney, then an MGM superstar. Ava, who had been brought up in an atmosphere