12/24/1922 to 1/25/1990
Born on a tobacco farm, where she got her lifelong love of earthy language and going barefoot, Ava grew up in the rural South. At age 18, her picture in the window of her brother-in- laws New York photo studio brought her to the attention of MGM, leading quickly to Hollywood and a film contract based strictly on her beauty.
With no acting experience, her first 17 film roles, 1942-5, were one-line bits or little better. After her first starring role in B-grade Whistle Stop (1946), MGM loaned her to Universal for her first outstanding film, The Killers (1946). Few of her best films were made at MGM which, keeping her under contract for 17 years, used her popularity to sell many mediocre films. Perhaps as a result, she never believed in her own acting ability, but her latent talent shone brightly when brought out by a superior director, as with John Ford in Mogambo (1953) and George Cukor in Bhowani Junction (1956).
After 3 failed marriages, dissatisfaction with Hollywood life prompted Ava to move to Spain in 1955; most of her subsequent films were made abroad. By this time, stardom had made the country girl a cosmopolitan, but she never overcame a deep insecurity about acting and life in the spotlight. Her last quality starring film role was in The Night of the Iguana (1964), her later work being (as she said) strictly "for the loot". In 1968, tax trouble in Spain prompted a move to London, where she spent her last 22 years in reasonable comfort. Her film career did not bring her great fulfillment, but her looks may have made it inevitable; many fans still consider her the most beautiful actress in Hollywood history.
During the first two years of her marriage to Frank Sinatra, he was at the lowest point of his career. She often had to lend him money so he could buy presents for his children. He was so broke by 1951 that Gardner had to pay for his plane ticket so that he could accompany her to Africa, when she was shooting Mogambo (1953). This all changed after he won his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in the 1953 film From Here to Eternity (1953).
Ava was once named "The World's Most Beautiful Animal" (in a 1950s publicity campaign).
After her death in 1990, Ava's longtime housekeeper, Carmen Vargas, and her dog, a Welsh Corgi named Morgan, were taken in by her former co-star Gregory Peck.