By Matt Micucci
Among the many tales of Hollywood romances, there is something particularly tragic and passionate that makes the one between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner stand out. In this first of three parts, we take a look at the beginning of their romance, right up to the wedding (that almost didn’t happen), and the instantly negative effect it had on Sinatra’s career.
Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner first met in the mid forties, though allegedly on this first instance, Sinatra limited himself to simply admiring the starlet’s distinctively beautiful green eyes. However, a friend of the actress at the time stated that Gardner initially detested him upon meeting him at MGM, finding him to be “conceited, arrogant and overpowering”.
When they may again in 1948, she was about 23, but despite her young age had already picked up a reputation as a wild cat, and divorced twice – the first time from Mickey Rooney while in her teens, the second time from bandleader Artie Shaw. Sinatra, on the other hand, had been married to Nancy Barbato since 1939, and they had three children together. But with his fame came hoards of women who made themselves readily available to him, thus it was no secret that he wasn’t the most faithful of husbands. Coincidentally, one of his most notable affairs was with Lana Turner, who had also previously been married to Artie Shaw.
Gardner and Sinatra started spending a lot of time together from 1948, while living close to one another in Hollywood. They seemed to love many of the same things. They liked to drink, they loved jazz and both were extremely sexual. But they also shared a common flaw – both were very insecure and dreaded being alone. The origin of Sinatra’s insecurity came right from his birth, when he had to be pulled out with forceps that left a visible scar on his face. Gardner’s lack of confidence led her to constantly drown her sorrows in alcohol. From early on, they were known in their circle of friends as being able to erupt in the most spectacular of fights over nothing at all.
Despite this, there was an obvious attraction that kept them together, and as time went on they became more and more careless about the repercussions their affair might have in the public’s eye. When they were finally caught in 1950 at the London Palladium, their picture was printed on magazines and newspapers.
Sinatra certainly was the one that took the biggest blow, and fell out of favour with some of his more conservative audience, who not only criticized him for being unfaithful to his wife, but also saw his image essentially altered by his romance with a woman who was considered in and out of the screen a morally questionable femme fatale. The negative publicity led him to a downward spiral that would leave him without a recording or film contract shortly thereafter. It is possible that the unfavourable situation Sinatra experienced in his career also affected the psychology of the couple, and his hurt pride would ache even more in thinking his wife as the couple’s breadwinner.
Nevertheless, soon after the affair came public, it was announced that Sinatra had divorced from Nancy, and by 1951, despite the continuous outragrous fighting, he had married Gardner. Nancy had initially refused to grant the divorce, but was eventually granted one in Nevada in October 1951, and subsequently obtained a marriage license in Pennsylvania, marrying Gardner in a small ceremony.
The day before the wedding, she had received a letter that would possibly mark the way in which Gardner would treat Sinatra from there on. It was from a prostitute who claimed she had been sleeping with her sweetheart for months. Gardner would later painfully recall how that day she felt so sick that she almost threw up, but in the end, let Sinatra off with a warning – “if you treat me the way you treated Nancy, I’ll kill you!”.
The 2nd part of the story of the affair will be published on JAZZIZ.com tomorrow!