“I either write the book or sell the jewels,” Ava Gardner told co-author Peter Evans in 1989, shortly before her death, “and I’m kinda sentimental about the jewels.” Finally comes Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations (Simon & Schuster, $26), Evans’ accounts of the unbelievably candid conversations he had with one of the silver screen’s most glamorous icons. Gardner originally commissioned Peter Evans to help her write her autobiography, but decided it was too salacious for her to publish during her lifetime. Evans put the manuscript aside and in 2009 proposed writing a book based on the tapes they had made and the experience he had had reliving the star’s memories with her. With the blessing of her estate, Evans went forward to create an autobiography unlike any other.
The book is a wholly original view of one star’s life in Hollywood’s golden age.
This glimpse into Gardner’s reflections is one of the most revealing Hollywood autobiographies ever written, and her voice shines through the stories of classic Hollywood. She reflects on her husbands—Mickey Rooney, bandleader Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra—and her lovers, including Howard Hughes and George C. Scott. She remembers her friends, like Lana Turner and Grace Kelly, and her friends who almost became lovers, like John Huston.
But more than a tell-all, the book is an unprecedented look at what happens when the glamour is almost gone. Gardner’s incredible frankness with Peter Evans—from setting the record straight about her childhood to what she considered her finest films through the stroke that altered her famous face—is unlike any other Hollywood tale. Gardner’s wicked sense of humor comes through on every page, as she describes:
· Her childhood in Grabtown, North Carolina, where she described her family as “often broke…but never dirt-poor,” as an MGM press agent had described her, to her rage.
· Her marriage to Mickey Rooney, a serial cheater so notorious that even his mother warned Gardner about him—but he was her introduction to the fun in Hollywood in the 1940’s.
· Her second marriage to bandleader Artie Shaw, whom Ava calls “a dominating son of a bitch . . . always putting me down.”
· Her third and final marriage Frank Sinatra, to whom she was married for seven years in total. (“We were fighting all the time. Fighting and boozing. It was madness. But he was good in the feathers.”)
· Her friendships, for example with Princess Grace (“There aren’t many people I miss, but I do miss Gracie Grimaldi.”)
Barbara Stanwyck’s astonishing career spanned six decades and 88 motion pictures, from the Ziegfeld Follies and Broadway in the 1920s, the earliest days of sound motion pictures, the golden age of Hollywood, the collapse of the studios, and the 1960s. Beginning in the 1950s, Stanwyck was a pioneer in television with a whole other career that sustained itself for two decades. Frank Capra called her, “The greatest emotional actress the screen has yet known.” Christopher Plummer said of her, “God, what an actress. There was no one better at telling the truth than Barbara.”
Now Victoria Wilson gives us the most complete portrait we have yet had, or will have, of one of the most revered screen actors of her time.
In A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True, 1907-1940 (Simon & Schuster, $40), readers learn who Stanwyck was as a human being—her fears, her strengths, her needs, her frailties, her losses, her desires. She used herself in everything she acted. She made use in her work of the darkness in her soul and kept it at bay in her private life through her early years escaping the poverty and loneliness of her Brooklyn childhood, working in New York and Hollywood, through the fraught years of her first marriage to Frank Fay and her flight to escape it. Yet she was willing to fall in love again and marry Robert Taylor. Through her drive and determination to work no matter what, she became the highest-paid woman in America. We see the years of the Depression; the New Deal; the rise of the unions; the years in which Stanwyck became a star and straddled her need for independence as she simultaneously accommodated the studios’, and Hollywood’s (to her, anathema), demands.
Fifteen years in work, the book is the result of Wilson’s extraordinary grasp and knowledge of the subject as well as extensive original research from film archives. This monumental biography was written with the full support of Stanwyck’s family, friends, and coworkers. Wilson conducted more than one hundred interviews with actors, directors, costumers, cameramen, screenwriters, and make-up artists who worked with Stanwyck, including Lauren Bacall, Jane Fonda, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Robert Wagner, and many more. She had complete access to letters, diaries and notes.
Wilson is at work on a second volume (it opens where Volume One leaves off) and will explore Stanwyck’s life and work from the start of World War II to her death in 1990, and will tell the stories of such iconic Stanwyck films as The Lady Eve; Meet John Doe; Double Indemnity; The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Sorry, Wrong Number.