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 second part of three, we look at their tempestuous marriages right up to their separation in 1953.
On October 1951, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner got married. The idyllic honeymoon was not to last very long.
On an evening in August that same year, at the Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe, a casino-hotel where he often performed and of which he was a shareholder, they drank copious amounts of champagne and ended up having a huge argument. Fifteen minutes later, Sinatra took a handful of sleeping pills and when he came to, Gardner was in his room worried sick, but readily forgave him. It was only a few weeks later that he attempted suicide again after another one of their huge fights, with a mixture of pills and by turning on all the gas burners. He took in a big whiff and passed out.
There was at least one reported incident in which Sinatra tried to re-igniting his affair with Lana Turner, who had had a falling out with her own boyfriend at the time, just to spite Gardner. On the other hand, there were also reports that Gardner dreaded down time on film sets, which led to many one night stands with just about anyone she could find – from the stuntman to the sound guy.
As if things were not tense enough between the two, in 1953 while Sinatra was visiting his wife on the set of Mogambo, which was to be Gardner’s next picture, she told him that she was pregnant with his baby. Sinatra was ecstatic, but Gardner couldn’t picture parenthood working out for them, and snook off to London from Africa to get an abortion. It was later discovered that this was not the first time, and Sinatra had been unaware that she had an abortion before earlier on in their relationship.
To make matters worse, when shoot wrapped up in Africa, Gardner went to Madrid to pursue an affair with Luis Miguel Dominguin, Spain’s most popular bullfighter. Heartbroken and defeated, Sinatra made one final, desperate attempt to attract his loved one’s attentions, and slashed his wrists, picturing her wife’s beautiful green eyes watching over him when he would wake up in the hospital bed. But she never showed up.
When he went over to visit her and talk with her in person, he did all he could to persuade her to go back to him, before finally coming to the conclusion that it was all useless, and his every attempt failed. In 1953, their separation became public. Ol’ Blue Eyes fell into a state of depression.
In the end, what saved him quite unexpectedly was his career. His separation from Gardner somewhat ironically co-incided with a universal embrace from the audience. It was partially because the savage reporting that had turned the lives of Sinatra and Gardner into a precursor of reality TV had altered the cocky image Sinatra had been known by, humanizing him and bringing him closer to the audience that saw him once again as “one of them”.
But even more so, he was able to screen test for the role of Maggio in From Here to Eternity. Not only did he get the part, but his performance also won him unparalleled critical praise as a “serious actor” and an Academy Award.
Little did he know, that it had been Ava Gardner who had secretly begged the producer of the film to give him that screen test. “If you don’t give him this role, he’ll kill himself,” she’d told him bluntly, sincerely concerned. There is no telling now whether what she said might have really happened, but given the countless suicide attempts by Sinatra earlier in their relationship, there is a high probability that she may have in fact ultimately saved his life.
The third and final part of the story will be published tomorrow on JAZZIZ.com