HAPPY BIRTHDAY AVA!
Ava Gardner was born today, Christmas Eve, 1922 at 10 at night in Grabtown, North Carolina. “Not Brogden, not Smithfield, like so many of the books say, but poor old Grabtown. God knows why it got that name: there was no place to grab, and hardly any town at all. And wouldn’t it just be my luck to be born a Capricorn. I’ve often thought of it as the worst sign, but no matter. It wasn’t my style to let a little thing like the stars get in my way.” ~ AVA MY STORY, page 1.
Personally, I love being a Capricorn ( January 18th . . . like Cary Grant ). And knowing Ava was one gives me inspiration. I think it stood her in good stead too; Capricorn is the goat, and like a goat climbing up the mountainside, Ava had a slow and steady climb to the top in Hollywood, something I’d attribute to our sign.
In looking at Ava on her birthday, as well as all those glorious Thursdays as TCM’s December Star of the Month, I get the chance to look at different facets of her that make up her persona: her acting, her beauty, her sense of style ( how come I never noticed, until her now, her outfits in “MOGAMBO”? Ugh, there are none so blind . . . ) What I also started to notice is how Ava goes about getting a man . . . or taking yours, in the movies.
The old saying goes: “All’s fair in love and war.” But let me tell you, if Ava Gardner’s screen character is involved, you might as well wave the white flag and surrender. You’re going to lose. Or at the very least, you’ll know you’ve been in a fight!!
There are several times in Ava’s movies where her character has to duke it out with another woman over a man. The BECHDEL TEST is shredded in the process.
I’d like to examine the times Ava has gone on the hunt. Of course, you can’t take a man if he doesn’t want to go but, who’s not going. Let me start near the beginning of her career, when she’s just starting to get screen credit. There’s a cute innocuous little M-G-M movie called “She Went to the Races.” Ava deigns to compete with the other female lead in the movie, Frances Gifford. I know time is a premium, but I hope you get a chances to read about Gifford in my blog post of seven years ago…with the added bonus of reading what classic film specialist, the late Moira Finnie has to say about her as well. I urge you to please read it. Frances Gifford was something special.
Let me start this look with this horse race-y movie ( making me think a little of “Ball of Fire” with a pack of squirrelly eggheads surrounding Gifford like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” ). I have to break it up into four-parts Ava.
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“SHE WENT TO THE RACES” [ 1945 ] ~ Director: Willis Goldbeck
“Mmmm. I enjoyed that. Half-love and half-mint julep.”
( 1. ) In this first scene, we’re introduced to Ava. Here she is with James Craig. She’s looking good in that riding habit. I like how she goes in and out of that Southern dialect. ( Would that be her real accent? ) She’s quite direct saying she enjoyed the kiss, nothing shy or coy about her.
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“I just wanted to say, sweet man, if I’m not in my room when you call
I’ll be in the bar.”
( 2. ) She steps off the elevator in a killer dress. I like how she acknowledges the doctor, greets her: cordial not dismissive, gives a quick once-over to subtly assess the competition. Look how she plays up to the guy in front of the good doctor. Then when she walks away, knowing she’s being looked at…gives ‘em BOTH something to look at. Not an obvious Marilyn-swish, but just enough of a taste to leave Mister Man with some ‘splaining to do!
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“No use Pappy. I’m not going to marry any man
who’s in love with another woman.”
( 3. ) She enters the bar and stops at the door. Here again her momentary pause is An Entrance…a smart, spectacular entrance. That two-toned suit and hat, Wow!! The way she sidles onto the stool ~ that’s not on purpose? Her whole mien is one of cool, calm, collected poise. Look at her with the cigarette holder. She looks like she listens and reacts during someone’s lines.
“The bookshelf is the one with the cool face and the warm figure. What’s wrong with her?” I like how she acknowledges…compliments the competition. She appreciates her looks.
Ava has a good way with a line. Good line delivery. And her slight comic touch drinking her drink is cute.
◊ ◊ ◊
“Women on the losing end always claim unfair competition, don’t they.”
( 4. ) All of the above was to just set up this real sit-down meeting of the two women. Look at Gifford over by the staircase getting herself ready to square up on Ava. I love this verbal sparring between the two. The oneupsmanship. Ava slinging those arrows, Gifford throwing gentle barbs. Ava almost loses her cool once, but quickly recovers. Gifford gets a load of the goods and knows she’s lost. She can’t even drink Ava’s drink.
This is an M-G-M film so in the end, the good girl wins. But only because Ava knows those two belong together.
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“THE KILLERS” [ 1946 ] ~ Director: Robert Siodmak
“He’d never been in love before.”
[ Drat! My apologies for the footage going in and out of over-exposure ]
The male gaze. It can be suicidal.
Loving Lancaster’s broad shoulders, wide-brimmed hat and those lapels. Love that hat Virginia Christine wears. She’s pretty. They come through the door, the host takes Lancaster’s hat; I never even noticed before, he doesn’t have to turn around to hand the hat to the maid. Never even looks at her. She’s just right there. A woman is at the piano but has her back to the camera; the actors block her while they put in their drink order.
The host walks them over to the piano and introduces them to the young woman. Ava turns around. Cascading dark hair, that dress. Jaysus!! If you can stop looking at Ava for one moment, you’ll notice Lancaster never takes his eyes off her except for a fleeting momentary acknowledgment of something. It’s funny, when Ava turns to look at both Lancaster and Virginia, Virginia immediately turns and looks up at Lancaster, who is just staring. He walks away from Virginia, steps up to the piano to put out a cigarette. Christine follows, sticks close to him; you know, in that way to show they’re together. The shot is literally a metaphor for a moth to a flame.
When the conversation turns to boxing, Virginia defends him in a supportive way, implying she stands by her man ~ [ She’s seen all his fights ] ~ But here Ava delivers the one-two punch with a comparison: “How wonderful of you. I could never see a man I really care for being hurt.” Ow! Bull’s eye. Lancaster never stops looking. Virginia darts her eyes up at him and walks away. Lancaster is really a goner. His eyes follow Ava as she walks away from the area. Virginia silently looks at him looking at her. Listen to the way she says “Yes” when Lancaster notes how beautiful Ava is. There’s a kind of beautiful, breathless, resignation to it. The wind was taken out of her. Virginia watches the ship sail as Ava hardly says a word. The two women barely speak to each other, and that says volumes.
I marvel at Ava. She reels him in without doing a thing . . . but just being. She holds his gaze by ignoring him. That’s power.
§ § § §
“MY FORBIDDEN PAST” [ 1951 ] ~ Director: Robert Stevenson
“I’m not worried about you. I’m worried about Mark.”
l love this cat and mouse scene. I’m a big Janis Carter fan so it’s good to see her. She acts like the cat who ate the canary. She’s haughty. She’s even got the better lines: “I do a lot of things very well.” or “That’s very impressive. Do you love your husband? If you, don’t may I have him back?” After all, she has married Ava’s beau ( Mitchum ).
There’s a hint of false bravado. Ava doesn’t care. She doesn’t care WHAT the wife says. She walks around the room, not giving a flyin’ flip as she assesses things, looks at herself in the mirror while the wife talks. Ha! Janis is lobbing all these bombs, talons showing, but Ava’s doesn’t break a sweat. Confidence, indifference. Nothing is landing. She can even toss a bone of a compliment to Carter.
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“MOGAMBO” [ 1953 ] ~ Director: John Ford
“Please honey, don’t let me sit here with egg on my face.
I came here to be your friend.”
Ava’s character in the movie is, Honey Bear, and she’s had a tough time in this movie with Gable. She had the first 30- 45 minutes of the movie with ‘The King.’ She gets under his skin . . . gets ‘into’ his skin. Sexy. Bawdy. Playful. Ava . . . in the jungle . . . in the heat . . . being kissed in the moonlight.
But then Grace Kelly comes on the scene, the prim and proper wife of a wild life photographer / science guy. Gable wants to ‘upgrade’ from the sultry to the lady-like. He’s attracted to her, and she to him. They share a kiss. Ava sees what’s happening and throws a number of digs at Kelly ( and Gable ) that land but it’s really no use. Gable’s hooked.
Ava has a ‘come to Jesus’ moment, coming to terms with losing Gable. That’s the point this clip finds her. She humbles herself before Kelly. Ava may not be able to have Gable, but being a gracious and resigned loser, woman~to~woman she wants to warn Kelly about the great white hunter. She tries a heart-to-heart, then cajoling talk but Kelly’s just feeling too defensively guilty and lashes out. But again, this is M-G-M, so you know Ava will get her man. I like Ava in this scene, her quiet humbleness. Now if you want to see her with all the fire and fury of an atomic bombshell . . .
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“EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE” [ 1949 ] ~ Director: Mervyn LeRoy
WHOA!! I have to show you this clip first so you can see what we’re dealing with: Ava as a heat-seeking missile. She has no illusions about what this relationship is. She’s blazingly honest. Plain and simple, it is what it is and she’s going for it. She wants it just as badly as he and she’s not playing games about it.
“I always was. That’s what you like!”
Now if a man is a thinking man, realizing all he’s risking, that’s one thing. Walk away, dude. But then again, shouldn’t everybody fall into the abyss at least once, with Ava. It might just be worth it.
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“This time you’ll see him when I don’t want him. Is that clear?!”
Gulp! You’ve seen ‘Wife vs. Mistress’ scenes before, right? “THE WOMEN” comes immediately to mind where Shearer and Crawford cross swords. Then there’s Bette Davis and Gale Sondergaard in “THE LETTER” also.
Well you can add this to the fireworks: Ava vs. Stanwyck. Now I wouldn’t want to face Stany even on her best day, but that’s me . . . a cowardly Capricorn. Look at her face, her eyes when Ava opens the door. Stanwyck eyes at that moment are daggers.
Director Mervyn LeRoy doesn’t give these two actresses many two-shots. Awwwwrighty Mervyn, what gives with that? Stany might enter the room but her back is to the camera and trained on Ava. When Ava says: “Alright you’re late and I’m going to a cocktail party so I’ll wind this up fast . . .” Damn that came out cold as the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. I like how Ava widens and narrows her eyes when she points out the difference in their upbringing and how her voice in turn has a rareified air, and then brought down to brass tacks. She plays her instrument ( her talent ) like a fiddle. I love watching her in this scene. No girlish petulance over a high school boyfriend. I’m taking your man whenever I want!!! Jaysus!!
Stanwyck’s no slouch, alternately widening her eyes slightly in softness and then deadening them, making them lifeless as she stares at Ava. ( Whew!! Uhmmm…we ARE still acting, right? ) Is Stanwyck even breathing? She stands very still, taking Ava’s missiles full blast, but not flinching. Watching Stanwyck stand still is even great! Both actresses play their position.
Watch the scene play out. When they’re in the two shot, only Ava faces the camera. Once, Stanwyck does. Ha! I wouldn’t want to face either one of ‘em. Get me to a nunnery. Or better yet . . . a teacherage. 😉
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“PANDORA & THE FLYING DUTCHMAN” [ 1951 ] ~ Director: Albert Lewin
“I’d die for you without the least hesitation.”
The lyrical romanticism of the film is off the chain. Ava has really never looked more breathtakingly beautiful. Her whispery, breathless voice can handle the lofty lines. Her softness and tenderness as she intimately expresses her love for James Mason almost feels like you’re intruding for watching. Has anyone been more in love than Ava’s Pandora? Her surrender is like sinking into a cloud. Her surrender is a thing of beauty. Imagine how lucky Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw or Frank Sinatra were to hear Ava say she loved them.
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I find in all these scenes we can see the different sides to Ava Gardner: playful, uses what she’s got, indifference, hurt, humbleness, pure unadulterated sex, total surrender to love. Without a doubt, she’s a woman who goes after what she wants. She may get it…she may not. But nothing beats a failure but a try. And nothing beats watching Ava try.
♥ ♥ ♥
HAPPY BIRTHDAY AVA!!
I hope the birthdays you spent with us were warm and wonderful . . . and full of coconut cake!
[ H O M E ]
Great piece! I love “East Side, West Side“ and the clips were memorable. Thanks. Surely one of Ava’s best roles.
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Carol, I agree with you. Ava was good. I love her when she’s venomous. Thanks for commenting. You and your family have a very Merry Christmas!!! 🙂
As usual, a great read Tessie! Bravo. 👏🏻👏🏻
Hi Fernando, thank you so much for reading my piece on Ava as SuperVixen. You’re always so encouraging ad I’m so lucky you think my writing warrants it. Thanks so much.
Have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS, you and your lovely wife!!!
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Thank you for Christmas greeting Tessie. Happy Holidays to you too. You deserve all the praise in the world.
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