Saturday, July 22, 2017

Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies by Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski

I was fourteen years old when The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) made its television debut on the CBS Sunday Night Movie. The film starred Paul Newman as real life Western character Roy Bean, who worshipped legendary actress Lillie Langtry from afar. At the end of the film Miss Langtry visited the self-appointed judge's hometown of Langtry, Texas. I was immediately taken by the actress who played Lillie Langtry. The sequence only lasted a few minutes at most, but Lillie Langtry in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean made an impression on me. The actress playing Miss Langtry was none other than legendary screen goddess Ava Gardner, and I was far from the only teenage boy who had become smitten with her. At the time I would have been shocked to have learned that when the movie was released, Miss Gardner was less than a week shy of her 50th birthday.  In a career spanning around forty years, Ava Gardner became one of the most recognisable names in film. Unfortunately, she was more often recognised for her beauty or her tumultuous personal life than she was her talent as an actress.

Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski have written a biography, Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies, that goes a long way to correcting the view of Miss Gardner as little more than a pretty face who married three times and had several affairs throughout her life. While previous biographies of Ava Gardner focused almost exclusively on her personal life (in particular, her marriages to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra), Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski devote a very large part of the book to Miss Gardner's career. The end result is that those who may be unfamiliar with her work will learn that Ava Gardner was not simply a sex symbol--she was a talented actress who gave quite a few great performances in her career.

That is not to say that Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski do not deal with Ava Gardner's personal life, but they go well beyond her marriages and her problems with drinking that have been the focus of earlier biographies. In reading Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies one gets a real sense of who Ava Gardner was. She was a beautiful woman who was well liked by nearly everyone who knew her, even as various scandals dominated newspaper headlines during certain periods of her life. Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies is a very sympathetic look at Ava Gardner's life and career, all the while insuring the reader knows that Miss Gardner was a flesh and blood human being who even had her own doubts about herself (particularly her acting talent).

Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski's text is complimented by what may be the largest collection of photographs of Ava Gardner in any single book. The photographs range from studio publicity photos to photos taken behind the scenes of her movies to photos from her personal life. I had thought I had seen nearly every single photograph of Ava Gardner ever taken, but Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies featured many that I had never seen before. Here I must point out that Running Press did a wonderful job with Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies. It is an absolutely beautiful book, from its layout to its typography. The look of Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies compliments both its subject and Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski's text perfectly.

Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski did meticulous research in writing Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies and it shows. This not only included interviews with those who knew and worked with Miss Gardner, but also examining her personal papers and correspondence. Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies looks like a coffee table book, but it is actually one of the most in-depth biographies of a legendary star that I have ever read. If one is already a fan of Miss Gardner, Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies will be a most enjoyable read. If one is unfamiliar with Miss Gardner and wants to learn more about the actress and her career, I can say with some certainty that Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies is one of the first places one should start.

(Those who enjoy Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies might want to check out Kendra Bean's earlier book on Vivien Leigh, Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait)

(I want to thank Running Press for giving me the opportunity to review this book.)

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