Picks and Pans Review: Ava: My Story

updated 12/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Ava Gardner

She was blisteringly beautiful, with lips even Julia Roberts would envy. But Ava Gardner was famous for more than her looks. She was famous for her men: Torrid affairs with Spanish bullfighters and tempestuous marriages to Mickey Rooney, bandleader Artie Shaw and, most dramatically, Frank Sinatra, got her into unwanted headlines in the '40s and '50s.

It's to set the gossip record straight, Gardner says on the cover, that she wrote this autobiography, which she finished just before her death from pneumonia last January: "If I don't tell my side of the story...some self-appointed biographer will step in and add to the inaccuracies, the inventions, and the abysmal lies that already exist."

Ava doesn't disappoint, delivering the dish in a book as forthright and candid as the persona she projected in such films as Mogambo and The Night of the Iguana.

When MGM packaged her as a mindless movie queen, Gardner, who grew up in the cotton and tobacco fields of North Carolina, sought fortification in booze and boyfriends. She discusses her yearlong marriage to Mickey Rooney (she was 19 and a virgin), which broke up due to her suspicions of his philandering, and her year as the wife of bandleader Artie Shaw, who put her down for her lack of education.

It's her volatile relationship with Frank Sinatra that gets the most attention though. Ava went into jealous fits; he twice faked suicide attempts to get her back. Through two abortions and makeups and breakups—the final one in 1953—Gardner says, they were "lovers eternally."

Ava finally fled from a hounding press and a film career that never interested her ("I did it for the loot, honey, always the loot"), expatriating herself to Spain and then to England, where she spent her latter years in the company of her pet corgis. Over the years, Gardner turned down parts she shouldn"t have (Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate) and dated men she wished she hadn't (George C. Scott, who in a besotted rage slugged her so hard she had a detached retina), but there are no excuses here.

She stayed friends with her ex-husbands, and she had fun. She stayed especially close to Sinatra, but that's not surprising. She was always a dame who did it her way. (Bantam. $19.95)

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