Ava Gardner

Words by Theodora Sutcliffe

First name(s): Ava
Last/Family name: Gardner
Originally from: Smithfield, North Carolina
Profession: Actor
At: Hollywood

We profile silver screen legend and Hollywood bad girl Ava Gardner.

So who was Ava Gardner?
Hard-partying, foul-mouthed, wisecracking and iconically beautiful, Ava Gardner was one of the biggest stars of the '50s and '60s, though most of her films are now forgotten.

Once known as the most beautiful woman in the world, she could match Hemingway drink for drink, was the love of Frank Sinatra's life, was friends with Salvador Dali and Tennessee Williams, and never gave a damn what people thought of her - in her 60s, she'd still open the door to guests clad only in a towel.

Where did she drink?
Where didn't Miss Gardner drink? She hung out in El Floridita with Hemingway in Havana; in Madrid she favoured the now-defunct Horcher's and Museo Chicote; in LA, she'd be found at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and in Vegas at the Flamingo; she enjoyed Harry Craddock's cocktails at the Savoy. Yet Ava was also happy in anonymous dive bars, beach bars, dodgy nightclubs and even brothels - anywhere, in fact, where there was fun to be had.

What did she drink?
Gin was a favourite, particularly Beefeater, which she often drank neat - in later years, she'd work through a thermos of it while being driven around town. But in Mexico Ava slammed tequila barefoot, while she also favoured whisky, sometimes with Coke, and champagne. Naturally, she enjoyed classic cocktails, including Bloody Marys, Martinis and Mai Tais.

Any famous drinking buddies?
Gardner was close to Ernest Hemingway - she skinny-dipped in his pool, while he introduced her to bullfighters (the lady picked the hottest), and the pair went drinking together around the world.

Ava's impressive back catalogue of lovers includes John F. Kennedy, Robert Mitchum, Clark Gable, Kirk Douglas and David Niven: she rejected Howard Hughes (and almost killed him with a marble ashtray), and fought savagely with third husband Frank Sinatra, whom she described as "10lb of runt and 110lb of cock".

Nights out with Ava were legendary. One Paris evening saw her and Grace Kelly touring brothels and buying drinks for the working girls; other nights would progress to drunken car chases that she was lucky to survive.

How did drink change her life?
Alcohol released what inhibitions Ava Gardner had, enabling her to party up a storm. It fuelled passionate relationships, drunk fights, and sexual experimentation, part of a personality package that saw the lady dancing with gypsies and taking part in bullfights. It's hard to imagine this tough broad without the gin - and it wasn't booze that killed her in the end, but cigarettes.

Any drinking stories?
On the set of Night of the Iguana, Gardner refused to film a night scene, saying, "I feel like drinking instead." So director John Huston drank tequila shots with her until she became persuadable, by which point he was too drunk to direct.

It was not unusual for Miss Gardner to be asked to leave more upscale venues for, ahem, "over-exuberance", whether that was peeing in the lobby of the Ritz Madrid or pouring a Martini down the front of a bar owner's trousers. She was banned not only from the Ritz Madrid but from the St Regis in New York.