Ava Gardner: "Love Is Nothing"

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Macmillan, May 15, 2007 - Biography & Autobiography - 560 pages
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"The most complete and engrossing biography yet of this exotic Southern girl...Excellent."—Liz Smith

She was the sex symbol who dazzled all the other sex symbols. She was the temptress who drove Frank Sinatra to the brink of suicide and haunted him to the end of his life. Ernest Hemingway saved one of her kidney stones as a sacred memento, and Howard Hughes begged her to marry him—but she knocked out his front teeth instead.

She was one of the great icons in Hollywood history—star of The Killers, The Barefoot Contessa, and The Night of the Iguana—and one of the few whose actual life was grander and more colorful than any movie. Her jaw-dropping beauty, charismatic presence, and fabulous, scandalous adventures fueled the legend of Ava Gardner—Hollywood's most glamorous, restless and uninhibited star.

"A seductive book."—The New York Times

"Deliciously entertaining."—Publishers Weekly

"Irresistible and finally heartbreaking."—The Newark Star-Ledger

"Super."—USA Today

In this acclaimed first full biography of Gardner, Lee Server recreates—with great style and vivid detail—the actress's life, from her beginnings as a barefoot North Carolina farm girl to her heady days as a Hollywood goddess. He paints the full spectacle of her tumultuous private life—including her string of failed marriages to Mickey Rooney, Sinatra and Artie Shaw—and Gardner's lifelong search for adventure and love.

Ava Gardner: "Love is Nothing" is both an exceptional work of biography and a richly entertaining read.


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AVA GARDNER: Love Is Nothing

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Little falls on the cutting room floor is this full-dress biography of a screen icon.If a photo of a stunning beauty in a New York City photographer's window hadn't caught the eye of a passerby, Ava ... Read full review

Love is Nothing

User Review  - evedallas - Overstock.com

Excellent book on the life of Ava Gardner. I couldnt put it down. You will come away with a better understanding of ther life her love for Sinatra and the way she lived her life. Read full review


Goddess Country
Zombies at the Beachcomb
Femme Fatale
Venus in Furs
Spanish for Cinderella
Sun and Shadow
Vita Dolce Vita
Love Is Nothing
Venus Falling

Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Torrid Was Your Blood
Tempt Me to Madness

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About the author (2007)

Chapter One
Goddess Country

She was born in Johnston County in the red-dirt heartland of North Carolina, beyond Smithfield, at the western bend of the old Grabtown Road. The baby was delivered from her mother at ten o''clock that December 24, 1922, healthy, noisy as hell. In the morning family and friends gathered around a candlelit Christmas tree and cheered the new arrival and everyone had a look at the infant girl and listened to her yell. Two cakes--one chocolate and one white coconut--were baked to honor a twice-blessed day--a Christmas/birthday ritual forever after. Though one cake was intended to honor the baby Jesus, the girl would come to think of them both as tribute to her alone. They named her Ava Lavinia Gardner, the first after a beautiful maiden aunt, and the second because it sounded so pretty.

Her people were from the Piedmont plateau, the wide central strip of rolling hills between the Allegheny Mountains and the low-lying coastal plain and wind-whipped barrier isles to the east. Her bloodlines were a composite of the Piedmont''s migrant herds: English, Irish, Scotch-Irish, a drop or two of French Huguenot. They had come to North Carolina over the previous century and a half, come down the Pioneer Road, down the Great Valley Road in the era of European settlement of the Carolina backcountry that started in the 1750s. Few whites lived in the region before that time. Neighboring Virginia and South Carolina were settled and prospered, but North Carolina long resisted greater colonization due to its hazardous Atlantic harbors and the lingering stigma of Roanoke Island, the death-cursed lost colony where English America had falteringly begun. The land was as it had been since its creation, granite mountain, forest and foothill, ancient seabed plain, home to wildlife and for ten thousand years to scattered tribes of Amerindians: the Bear River, Cape Fear, Catawba, Cheraw, Cherokee, Coree, Chowan, Eno Hatteras, Kajawee, Meherin, Nachapunga, Neuse River, Occaneechi, Pamlico, Saponi, Secotin, Sissipahaw, Sugaree, Tuscarora, Waccamaw, Wateree, Waxhau, Weopomeoc. A young London-born naturalist and Crown surveyor named John Lawson would make the first formal exploration of the interior lands, traveling far along the upper reaches of the Neuse and beyond, visiting the tribal settlements and recording the unspoiled terrain and abundant natural resources. He would publish an avid account of his experiences in a volume titled A New Voyage to Carolina, producing much interest in the forgotten colony and helping set off a wave of migration to inland North Carolina that would last for more than a hundred years. Now arrived newcomers by the thousands from Virginia, Pennsylvania, England, Wales, Ireland, half a million from the ports of Ulster alone. The wilderness was cleared for farmland, the hills and valleys echoed with English drinking songs, Scottish reels, and Goidelic hymns, and the Native American tribes were all but eliminated by war, smallpox, and syphilis. Some years after the publication of A New Voyage to Carolina, and in thanks for spreading the good word about their homeland, some Tuscarora Indians would find John Lawson and stick his body full of sharpened splinters of kindling and set them on fire.

The backcountry settlers were scattered across a rural landscape in a region without cities and only primitive transportation routes before the railroad came, limiting trade with the outside world. The residents of the Piedmont were simple farmers, most of them, working fifty acres or less. They were known as plainspoken, self-reliant, ornery, blessed with an innate suspicion of government, politics, and religion (at least until the irresistible hegemony of the Baptists). On the subject of slavery--the explosive national issue that would one day be settled in an apocalyptic conflict, state against state--North Carolinians of the central and western counties were widely if not deeply ambivalent. Few farmers in the region owned slaves--few could afford to--but the wealthy planters who did owned enough to bring the black population in the Piedmont up to 30 percent and the culture of slavery thrived openly. In Smithfield, the county seat, there was a large slave market (not far from the present site of the Ava Gardner Museum) where as many as three hundred humans were sold on the block in a single day. "Dey uster strip dem niggers stark naked," said former slave Josephine Smith of Johnston County recalling activities in the Smithfield market, "an'' gallop ''em ober de square so dat de buyers could see dat dey warn''t scarred or deformed." Family on Ava Gardner''s mother''s side were slave owners, with modest stock, at the time of the Civil War; her mother''s mother, Elizabeth Forbes Baker, then of Edgecombe County, was willed the ownership of two adult slaves in her father''s possession--"1 woman Maryann and 1 man Jim"--though with the outcome of the war she was not to collect on this inheritance. A flesh-and-blood link with the time of slavery remained well into the twentieth century. Growing up in Johnston County in the 1920s and ''30s, Ava Gardner would cross the path of many an elderly African American who had been born and sold as human property.

North Carolina seceded from the Union in 1861, giving some 150,000 troops to the Southern cause, one in three never to return alive. A farmer from Wilson County, James Bailey Gardner was among those North Carolinians who would wear the Confederate gray and he would be one of the lucky ones who came back alive and unharmed. He was a farmer, as his father had been before him, working a parcel of land his father had cleared in western Wilson County. Since 1853, James Bailey had been married to Peninah Batts, a planter''s daughter, whose American roots went back nearly two hundred years to the first Atlantic colonies. Their union would be blessed with seven offspring before Peninah''s untimely death in 1867. That same year Gardner claimed a new bride, the teenage Mary Dilda, twenty-two years his junior. With her his issue would grow by another half dozen: Cynthia, Benjamin, Charles, Warren, and in 1878, Jonas Bailey, and two years after that their last, a daughter named Ava Virginia.

James Bailey Gardner was a disagreeable man, prone to black moods, drunkenness, and violence, increasingly so as the years went on. He was a chronic imbiber of moonshine, and when his black moods and his corn liquor converged he was a menace to all. At those times it was the designated job of the youngest child, Ava Virginia, to run into the house and find the old man''s gun and hide it. Gardner and his second family lived on the farm his wife had inherited from her father, and the main cash crop there, as on any farm in the Piedmont that could sustain it, was tobacco, the bright-leaf tobacco that grew best--and for a time almost exclusively--on the rolling red-clay hills of north-central North Carolina. Tobacco had been grown in the region for hundreds of years, but it was only in the 1830s that the secrets of bright leaf had come to be known, a male slave of Catawba County credited as the first to create the flue-cure process that began a revolution in the tobacco industry. Carefully cured, the golden leaves of the Piedmont were so mild that their smoke could be inhaled and held deep within the lungs, thus delivering to the bloodstream a quicker and more addictive nicotine kick. The worldwide cigarette industry--and habit--was born, and quality "yellacured" bright leaf became about the most desired vegetable on earth. Its cultivation remained specialized and painstaking, however, and while the heirs of Washington Duke and others made incalculable fortunes from processing and selling Piedmont tobacco, they would leave the growing to the small farmers who did the difficult and dirty work for far more moderate profit.

Tobacco farmers passed their skill from father to son, and James Bailey''s son Jonas had begun to learn the intricate cultivation of the bright-leaf plant by the time he could walk--the long process from January to late summer, seeding, plowing, cropping off, killing out, grading, sometimes literally making your bed in the barn with the tobacco so you could watch the temperature in the furnace all night long, and finally in August or September preparing the big juicy golden leaves for market. Given his father''s penchant for disappearing off the farm after every drunken dispute, usually holing up for days at the house of one of his older children, Jonas had run a good portion of the farm from the age of ten or eleven. He had little formal schooling, but he was a very learned farmer and he could tell you the story of twelve kinds of dirt just by running them through his fingers.

He was long and lean, hawkish and handsome with green eyes and a cleft chin, brown-skinned on his face, neck, and forearms from the years spent working outdoors. He was a good man, temperate, loyal, hardworking. In his early twenties he found a girl, Mary Elizabeth "Molly" Baker, from Saratoga in Wilson County, the daughter of David and Elizabeth Forbes Baker, a red-haired, red-faced Scottish father and a mother who had died when her girl was very young. Molly was pretty, with dark eyes, skin as white and smooth as cream, and a soft rounded figure. She had a strongly maternal nature, ached to produce children, and was a diligent homemaker and a glorious cook. In January 1903, Jonas and Molly were married in the parlor of the Baker house in Saratoga.

They were opposites in many ways. Molly warm, outgoing, and emotional, Jonas introspective and shy of strangers. But they loved each other, and that love would last with few interruptions till the day that each one died. Nine month

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