Ava Gardner (24th December 1922 to 25th January 1990)

 

When you think of a 1950's pin-up sex symbol you might think of legendary actress Hollywood Ava Gardner. Someone wrote of her, “She had luminescent white skin, eyes like emeralds, eminent cheek bones, a wide sensuous crescent mouth, a sleek strong body that moved with a female indolence and dancer’s grace.” Cameras were in thrall to her and her beauty seemed to have an almost supernatural effect on some men. Frank Sinatra left his wife Nancy for her and later attempt suicide because of her. Here I am outside the home where she lived and died.

 

I was staying in a hotel at Primrose Hill but decided to walk twenty minutes down into central London, through Hyde Park and down Ennismore Gardens. The more I walked down the lane the quieter the volume. A beautiful square opened out in front of me. The hush of distant traffic was replaced with birdsong. Ava had a flat here overlooking the square. She moved here aged 47 and this was her main home until she died aged 67. She’d come a long way from the farming community in Grabtown in North Carolina where her parents were cotton and tobacco farmers - also a long way from her dazzling career comprising sixty films.

 

I soon found number 34 and stroked the big doorknob. Frosted glass prevented me from looking into the communal foyer Ava must have passed through thousands of times. You’d think she’d have lived in Manhattan or Bel Air wouldn’t you? Perhaps it fitting that she lived and died here as her ancestry was English. I sound found the wee plaque on the gable end wall of the mansion block and saw the memorial urn in Ennismore Gardens (but the gates were locked so I couldn’t get up to it.) You have to live here to get a key to the gardens. Ava would stroll there with her dog and was often seen walking round the square. Her flat gave a decent view of the gardens. She described it as her 'little London retreat' and spoke of her love of its history and grandeur. Recently it was up for rent at £10,500 per week – yes week. Looking at photos of the flat in Ava’s day I doubt she’d like the current contemporary look that spans five bedrooms, five bathrooms, two large reception rooms, study and kitchen.

 

What would genteel London people think when they saw a Hollywood siren strolling around here? Though she was known for her acting she was equally known for her devil-may-care way and marriages to famous men. Hollywood was crowded with beautiful women but she was an tantalizing animal who stood up to film moguls, drank heavily, swore, danced on tables, threw wine bottles at people, dived in swimming pools naked, spat champagne in men’s faces, knocked Howard Hughes’s teeth out and jumped into bed with strangers (one was a bullfighter.) People who knew her said she was warmly kind but started drinking in the early evenings and turned into someone else.  She wasn’t a gold-digger or vulnerable or fawned over powerful film makers however when Frank Sinatra was down on his luck she begged studio bosses to put him in From Here To Eternity.

 

I had a stroll around the square as Ava would have done with her pooch. She probably cut a lonely figure. By the time she moved here she’d lost interest in stardom, Hollywood gloss and men. She once said, “Love is nothing but a pain in the ass.” Perhaps this is why she died a single woman. I returned to number 34 and looked up at the windows of her flat on the first floor. She died there after years of bad health. When she first moved here in 1947 she had a hysterectomy to prevent her contracting uterine cancer which had claimed her mum. It worked – there was no cancer at the end but she suffered from emphysema due to a lifetime of smoking. She’d had two strokes when she was 64 that left her partially paralysed and bedridden. Even though she was wealthy Frank Sinatra said he’d pay for her to fly privately to America so see a specialist but she never went. A week before she died in January 1990 she had a bad fall at this flat and lay along on the floor until her housekeeper arrvied. Days later she said to the same housekeeper, "I'm sooo tired" (her last words) and died of pneumonia. I suppose she was the type of woman whose life burned than plodded on and she’d never make it to 95. Her body was returned to North Carolina where life had started and she was buried next to her siblings and their parents.

 

 

 

 

The flat is near the end in the distance…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The view of Ennismore Gardens from her flat’s entrance…

 

 

Ava walked her dog around the square…

 

 

 

The flat now…