Actress Ava Gardner got her start in show business when she signed to MGM in 1941. She went on to appear in numerous small roles until she finally grabbed the critic’s attention when she appeared in Robert Siodmak’s 1946 noir film, The Killers. A few years later, in 1953, she ended up honored with an Academy Award for Best Actress for her powerful performance in John Ford’s romantic drama film Mogambo. And after appearing in John Huston’s The Night of the Iguana in 1964, she scored a best actress Golden Globe Award as well as a BAFTA award.
Throughout the 1950s, Ava showed off her acting chops as a capable and talented leading lady. And considered one of the decade’s top stars. During this prolific era of her acting career, she appeared in such iconic films as Show Boat, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, The Barefoot Contessa, Snows of Kilimanjaro, and On The Beach. For the next three decades, she continued to a Hollywood heavyweight who’s work applauded by both critics and audiences alike. A few of her best films from this chapter of her storied career were 1963s 55 Days at Peking. And 1964s Seven Days in May, 1970s Tam-Lin, and 1974s The Cassandra Crossing, to name a few.
Gardner continued to appear in films until 1986, which was just four years before her passing in 1990. At the time of her death, she was just 67.
Gardner was often drunk and by all accounts destitute, broke, and utterly alone towards the end of her life. In January 1988, Gardner, who’s body had thoroughly destroyed by all of the alcohol she consumed and the cigarettes she smoked like a freight train. And picked up the phone and gave British journalist, Peter Evans, a call and asked him if he would ghostwrite her memoirs.
The resulting book, Ava Gardner: The Secret Confessions, essentially served as a deathbed tell-all that revealed many previously unknown details about the troubled actress’s life and career. Some of the most startling revelations made in that telling book revolved around Gardner’s rocky love life. And the numerous affairs that her husbands had while married to her. Gardner’s partner’s tendencies towards infidelity nearly ruined her life. And it’s a wonder that she even married for the second and third time considering her husband’s general disregard for the sanctity of marriage. But then again, she wasn’t exactly a saint herself. In fact, Gardner also frequently cheated on her husbands with both men and women alike. Her bisexuality wasn’t a matter of public knowledge at the time. But in the years since her passing, much has been revealed about her love life and her many flings and short-lived romances.
Join Facts Verse as we take a closer look at the three affairs that nearly destroyed Ava Gardner’s life and career. You won’t believe how brazen this Hollywood starlet’s ex husbands really were.
Ava Gardner’s Three Marriages
She met MGM contract actor Mickey Rooney shortly after Gardner moved to Los Angeles. The two immediately hit it off, and they married on January 10, 1942. The couple tied the knot in the rural town of Ballard, California, because MGM big wig Louis B. Mayer concerned that fans would lose interest in Roone’s then-popular Andy Hardy series of films if it became public knowledge that he had gotten married.
Gardner and Rooney divorced in 1943 with Ava claiming that Mickey had mentally cruel to her throughout their time together. In private, she claimed that Rooney’s gambling problem and philandering had been the main issues in their troubled union. But she didn’t bring these claims to the public arena because she simply didn’t want to ruin his on-screen persona and wholesome image. After all, the character that he had portrayed in all of those Andy Hardy films was a clean-cut son of a judge. And the public absolutely adored him for it.
Ava Gardner’s second marriage to bandleader and jazz musician Artie Shaw, likewise very short-lived. They walked down the aisle in 1945, but just one year later, they filed for divorce. Shaw previously had wed to actress Lana Turner
Ava’s third and final marriage was to the legendary crooner and sometimes-actor Frank Sinatra. They exchanged vows in 1951, and their union endured until 1957. Gardner later revealed in her memoir that she considered Sinatra to be the love of her life.
After meeting Gardner, Sinatra promptly left his wife Nancy to be with her. When he and Gardner married, the media had a field day reporting on their scandalous situation.
Sinatra lambasted by tabloid writers such as Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. As well as his fans, the Catholic Church. And much of the Hollywood establishment for leaving his beloved wife for someone that perceived to be nothing more than a femme fatale.
Gardner exploited her influence and connections in the industry. Most notably with Harry Cohn, to land Sinatra his Oscar Award-winning part in 1953s From Here To Eternity. That particular role and Sinatra’s Oscar win is typically cited as the catalyst that led to the resurgence in his acting and singing careers.
Gardner and Sinatra’s marriage was by all accounts a very turbulent one. When they were going through the darkest days of their time together, Gardner turned to her second husband, Artie Shaw, for comfort.
Gardner told Shaw that she resented the way that Sinatra treated her. As if she were some kind of fragile porcelain china piece. She further likened with him to being married to a woman. She couldn’t stand how gentle and passive he was. What she was really looking for was a man who wasn’t afraid to show off his grittier, more aggressive side. But that wasn’t the kind of man that Sinatra and Gardner left feeling as if some of her needs were perpetually unmet
While she married to Sinatra, Gardner got pregnant twice, but ultimately she aborted both fetuses.
In her memoir, Gardner explained that she didn’t want to penalized by MGM who had various clauses in their contracts that would punish stars for having babies.
Even after they divorced, Sinatra and Gardner remained close friends for the remainder of their lives.
Ava Gardner’s Husband’s Affairs
Like we already briefly touched on, Mickey Rooney, Ava Gardner’s first husband was a notorious womanizer. He even cheated on his wife, whom he once considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world, in their very own bed. On top of that, Rooney even hooked up with his mistresses while Gardner was recovering from having an appendectomy in the hospital.
Gardner once said of Rooney that he would go through the ladies like a hot knife through fudge. Furthermore, Rooney even slept with Gardner’s best friend Lana Turner.
When referring to Rooney’s insatiable sexual appetite, Turner once called Mickey by the less than flattering nickname Andy Hard-On.
After Gardner and Rooney divorced, she married Artie Shaw, who also known to sleep around. Gardner also considered him to be somewhat of a bully who would constantly put her down.
One week after Gardner and Shaw’s first anniversary, he dumped her for another woman.
After Gardner and Frank Sinatra married, it became well-known that their relationship was very volatile. They constantly fought, and both stars boozing only fanned the flames of their conflict. While they were together, it’s also known that Lana Turner and Sinatra had a brief affair behind Gardner’s back. If she really was Ava’s best friend, you would think that she would at least have had the decency to not sleep with her husbands. But apparently she had no concept of boundaries, nor did any of Gardner’s husbands.
But perhaps, Gardner’s bad luck with picking men and their tendency to cheat had something to do with her own indiscretions. Call it karma or what have you, but Ava Gardner was also quite promiscuous throughout her marriages.
Ava Gardner’s Other Relationships, Affairs, And Flings
On her first day working for MGM, Gardner, who was just a starry-eyed shy 18-year-old fledgling actress. And given a guided tour of the Culver City film lot by studio public relations worker Milton Weiss.
Weiss took the young, burgeoning star to the set of the musical film Babes on Broadway. That’s when she met Mickey Rooney. But when they started their infamous rollercoaster of a relationship, Gardner also involved with business magnate and pilot Howard Hughes. Gardner and the famed aviator’s on-and-off-again relationship lasted into the 1950s. And although Gardner claims in her memoir that she never actually fell in love with him. Even so, their relationship persisted for more than 20 years. And Hughes particularly attached to her.
After divorcing Sinatra, Gardner moved to Spain, where she got into a relationship with Ernest Hemingway. It was this esteemed American writer’s influence that led to her being cast in The Snows of Killamnajaro. Furthermore, her relationship with Hemingway led her to become a fan of bullfighting and, naturally, bullfighters.
For a brief time, Gardner and Lusis Miguel Dominguin, the highly acclaimed prize bullfighter from Spain, were lovers. After they parted ways, Gardner got involved with actor Benjamin Tatar who became her live-in boyfriend.
Those relationships were Ava Gardner’s most publicized heterosexual relationships, it’s also been reported that she had numerous flings with women. One of these speculated relationships was with Lana Turner. Yes, that same Lana Turner that two of her husbands had cheated on her with. Both Gardner and Turner, however, repeatedly denied rumors that they intimately involved. Eventually, however, it confirmed that Turner and Gardner had indeed been lovers.
Gardner first realized that she attracted to women when, at 18. She went to see a Broadway musical starring Betty Grable. In her memoir, Gardner stated that she couldn’t take her eyes off the 23-year-old future pin-up queen. And described her as a gorgeous creature whom she couldn’t help but feel attracted to.
After Gardner divorced Artie Shaw, she went to stay with an agent named Minna Wallis. And the two are rumored to have briefly romantically involved. Before marrying Frank Sinatra, Gardner into a short-lived relationship with the British actress and sex symbol Christine Norden, who she quoted as calling hot brood.
Ava Gardner died of fibrosing alveolitis in January 1990 at the age of 67 after a bout of pneumonia. She will always remembered for her extensive work in the film industry. Her legacy will also long associated with her many relationships, marriages, and affairs.
Were you surprised to learn about Ava Gardner’s turbulent love life? And did you even have a clue that she also fancied women? Let us know your thoughts on this famed actress and the many affairs that shaped her life and career in the comments section below.
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