Ava Gardner: ‘Love Is Nothing’

Before there was Angelina Jolie, there was Ava Gardner. Millionaires ransomed her hotel pillows. Avamania swept Latin America. The rich and powerful (Sinatra, Howard Hughes) were putty in her hands. This book is not as focused or linear as Lee Server’s acclaimed Robert Mitchum biography. Still, it’s a fascinating account of an icon both ahead and behind her time. Gardner defied movie moguls and American morals, and directors wasted reels of film on gratuitous close-ups from multiple angles while using key lights (even in her supporting roles). She was complex and contradictory, and writers tailored parts to her persona. Naïve and sophisticated, a monogamous playgirl, an innocent hedonist, Gardner slept platonically with hunks, hung out in brothels just for the ambience and skinny-dipped through scores of celebrity pools. Gardner was a woman of contrast: She did the Flamenco until dawn with gypsies, and dated matadors, but was an anglophile, and she made the Harlem/Watts jazz scene but was anti-drug. In addition to other innocent “outrages,” she was scandalized by the tabloids (and society) for sitting on Sammy Davis’ lap (he was dressed as Santa for a magazine cover)—all because she didn’t care about reputation.