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Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations Hardcover – July 2, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In 1988, only two years before her death, legendary actress Ava Gardner, then living in semiseclusion in London and running low on money, asked the late Evans to ghostwrite her autobiography: “I either write the book or sell the jewels, and I’m kinda sentimental about the jewels.” Gardner didn’t want to do a sugarcoated memoir, preferring to tell it straight, the real story of the marriages to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra, the multiple affairs (with Howard Hughes, among many others), the hardscrabble childhood in North Carolina tobacco country. But as the two met and Gardner began speaking of her life, it became clear to Evans that the actress was more reticent about telling it straight than she pretended to be. The conversations were uninhibited, to be sure, but Gardner balked at the finished chapters (“I sound too fucking vulgar”), leading ultimately to the project being abandoned. Shortly before his own death in 2012, Evans wrote this memoir of a memoir-in-progress, transcribing Gardner’s recollections and providing connective passages setting the scenes. What emerges doesn’t cover the sweep of the movie icon’s remarkable life as fully as Lee Server’s Ava Gardner (2006), but it does capture Gardner’s indelible voice—vulgar, yes, but humanly so as well as unfailingly witty and movingly melancholic. Finally, 25 years after the fact, we have at least a facsimile of the unbuttoned version Gardner claimed she wanted to tell. Movie buffs will be as transfixed by the actress’ own words as they have always been by her drop-dead beauty on the screen. --Bill Ott


"[Makes] you feel as if you're eavesdropping. . . . Watching this Venus ply her mind games, sensuality and stubborn will on [her coauthor, Peter] Evans, it's easy to imagine what it was like to be a love object jerked on her marionette strings in her prime. You wouldn't have a chance." (Maureen Dowd The New York Times Book Review)

“I read Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations in a delirious gulp. It is absolutely terrific. I couldn’t put it down. Gardner comes across as a flamboyant but tragic figure who always spoke the truth no matter how painful. And the way writer Peter Evans has shaped their conversations is truly remarkable.” (Patricia Bosworth, author of Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman)

“Jaw-dropping anecdotes about film legends and the studio system in its heyday make this an irresistible read. . . . Even seasoned fans will learn fresh tidbits about ex-husbands Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra, as well as her tumultuous relationships with Howard Hughes and George C. Scott. . . . Gardner is funny and frank, and Evans's diligence makes the book not only one of the more revealing celebrity autobiographies published recently, but a candid glimpse into the world of a ghostwriter, star handler, and late-night confidante.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“An unvarnished account of [Gardner’s] marriages and affairs in golden-age Hollywood. . . . Give[s] a vivid sense of Gardner’s salty, no-BS personality. . . . Juicy.” (Kirkus Reviews)

"A complete delight. . . . [Gardner's] quotes exude the musk of a woman supremely indifferent to the social proprieties and expectations of her era. . . . Hers is the heartbreaking memoir of the ultimate heartbreaker." (Carrie Rickey Philadelphia Inquirer)

"As a siren, [Gardner] held her own with [Marilyn] Monroe. And to judge by Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations, Gardner was a more interesting woman. . . . A little jewel of a book." (Harry Levins St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 293 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (July 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451627696
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451627695
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (317 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #231,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 81 people found the following review helpful By D_shrink VINE VOICE on July 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found the book thoroughly enjoyable, with the only fault being that the author didn't get to complete it, as the actress stopped cooperating, but I will leave that for the end. Ava Lavinia Gardner was born on Christmas Eve of 1922 in Smithfield, NC and ended being buried there 67 years later in Sunset Memorial Park next to her brothers, her father, Jonas, 1878-1938, and her mother, Mary Elizabeth, "Mollie", 1883-1943. Her actual date of death was January 25,1990. She swore voraciously and smoked 3 packs a day for many years suffering from emphysema, pneumonia, and had several strokes. But her adult life was dominated by her looks and extreme fondness for unadulterated sex.

Ava claims she had a happy childhood, the youngest child born into a working class farm family. She claims to have been a tomboy and loved her "Daddy" best of all, he always just called her "daughter" which she loved, as it made her feel as though she belonged to someone. In Ava's own words, "You can sum up my life in a sentence, honey: she made movies, she made out, and she made a f****** mess of her life." [p2] "Her affairs had brought her final husband, Frank Sinatra, to the brink of suicide, taken her lover Howard Hughes beyond the edge of madness, and provoked George C. Scott to bouts of homicidal rage." [p7]

Ava was a 19yo virgin when she married Mickey Rooney on 1/10/1942 and a very experienced lover by the time she divorced him over his supposed numerous affairs on 5/23/1943; a date she says was easy to remember as it was the same day her mother died. She was tired of Mickey's antics from early on in their marriage, but stayed as long as she did, since the sex was very good. "[H]e was athletic in the sack and I was pretty verbal, and we were both very, very loud!
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59 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Lilly Lavender on July 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This isn't just a biography this is an insight into how a ghost writer interacts with his subject and likewise how the subject interacts with the ghost writer. You soon realise it's no easy ride for Peter Evans when Ava Gardner is appalled at her own story and tries to persuade Evans to smooth over the rough edges or leave them out altogether. But he is having none of it. The Secret Conversations is a beautifully written book that I couldn't put down. I felt sad as I was finishing reading the final chapter - I really felt I had got to know Peter Evans and Ava Gardner so well I didn't want to let them go.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Kujifanya Jina on July 11, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The aborted autobiography of Ava Gardner left the author with hours of tape and notes from daily conversations with the screen goddess after her stroke left her without a career. This quasi-"Sunset Boulevard" tome takes us into the memories and regrets of Ava Gardner's life. Insightful, endlessly fascinating and ultimately sad, we learn that Gardner never stopped loving Frank Sinatra, but never stopped asserting her independence and autonomy as a woman -- and an actress -- to her own detriment. She dishes on first husband Mickey Rooney, telling tales that have never been heard before of Rooney's womanizing, gambling and effervescent personality. She outs Howard Hughes as a racist, Artie Shaw as a spouse abuser, Sinatra as an emotional wreck and George C. Scott as a violent spouse-beater. She also heaps tons of criticism on herself for her failures and faults. This is not to be missed.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By blessingwisher on July 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover
If I could give this book a 3-1/2, I think that is what I'd give it. On one hand, this book does not cover a huge portion of her life, nor does it go into all the romances she's been rumored to have had.

On the other hand, I got more of a feeling for what Ava Gardner was LIKE as a person, from this book, than I did from the bigger book, "Love is Nothing." Actually, this book portrays a much more sentimental person than the other one, which left me feeling I had no idea what she was like to know as a person, other than cold and tough.

Peter Evans had skills as an author(I HIGHLY recommend his book, NEMESIS, which was superbly researched and written), but he was not able to do a book the way he probably would have if he had not been talking to Ms. Gardner and needing her cooperation, as far as it got.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By VerbRiver on July 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a gathering of fragments for a book that was never written. Ava Gardner worked on it for a while, lost interest, then died.

More than two decades passed before her collaborator, Peter Evans, finally assembled his notes on interviews, phone conversations, recorded talks and meetings, thus preserving a few strobe light flashes of Ava Gardner. The result is part biography and part book about writing a book. It is a winning hybrid. Ms. Gardner could be a steely challenge. Mr. Evans had to be a persistent yet diplomatic extractor of stories. It became something of a take-and-take contest, fascinating even apart from Ms. Gardner's vignettes.

By the time the Gardner/Evans work was in progress, Ms. Gardner was already on the way to frail. She had had a damaging stroke, had once been a heavy smoker and an accomplished drinker. The rent on her body had been raised and the landlord was knocking. Consequently, Ms. Gardner comes through in these partly sewn notes as a bit of dowager, once famous, once wealthy, and grace-of-God gorgeous. All of that by this time had fallen away.

She had a fairy tale start, rising from Tar Heel hayseed at 18 to spouse of Hollywood's most notable box office draw, Mickey Rooney, at 19. The marriage failed a year later, to be followed by one to Artie Shaw, then another to Frank Sinatra.

As Ms. Gardner speaks of these things she is bawdy, moody and profane in the war zone/middle school/Glenngary Glenn Ross way ... which is to say a mightily profane lady. Never a very good actress she understood her hypnotic looks made her a star and highly desirable as a sex partner which she seems to have enjoyed.
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