09/23/09 — Smithfield to celebrate Ava Gardner's life and career

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Smithfield to celebrate Ava Gardner's life and career

By Staff Reports
Published in News on September 23, 2009 1:46 PM

SMITHFIELD -- Johnston County is gearing up to celebrate the life and career of its most famous native, the late actress Ava Gardner, with its annual Ava Gardner Festival, which will culminate with a gala at the Ava Gardner Museum on Friday, Oct. 9, a special exhibit portraying her relationship with famed writer Ernest Hemingway and showings of several of the movies she starred in that were based on Hemingway novels.

A museum honoring Gardner, a legendary beauty who died in 1990 at the age of 68, is located in her hometown. Most of the events will be held there.

Gardner was married to three of Hollywood's biggest stars: Mickey Rooney from 1942-43, bandleader Artie Shaw from 1945-46 and Frank Sinatra from 1951-67. She also was romantically linked at one time to billionaire Howard Hughes and was close friends with Hemingway for many years.

The public has been encouraged to participate in a reading series since August, focusing on Hemingway's novels "The Sun Also Rises" and the "Snows of Kilimanjaro," as well as the short story "The Killers." Gardner starred in movies based on each of the works.

On Thursday, Oct. 8, at 6:30 p.m., Jason W. Faulkner, an English professor from East Carolina University, will present a lecture about Hemingway at the museum. Faulkner's master's thesis discussed Hemingway's female characters and he will focus on Lady Bret Ashley of "The Sun Also Rises" (played by Ava in the film).

On Saturday, Oct. 10, people will be able to watch the film adaptations of these works at the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.

The film screenings will be provided to the community at no charge.

Other activities include the gala on Friday evening, Oct. 9, at which time a special exhibit called "Ava and Hemingway" will be unveiled.

On Saturday, Oct. 10, in partnership with the Johnston County Heritage Center, tours of points of interest in Ava's life will be scheduled throughout the day, starting at 9 a.m.

Gardner and Hemingway were close friends. She called him "Papa," and he called her "Daughter." Hemingway was never very pleased with the film versions of his fiction. He said Gardner was the only actor who portrayed his characters the way he envisioned them, and the only good things about "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" were Gardner and the hyena.

Gardner and Hemingway didn't meet in person until seven years after "The Killers" and two years after "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," in which she played Cynthia Green, a young woman who died during the Spanish Civil War.

In the spring of 1954, Gardner was in Madrid, Spain, having left Rome after filming her role as the tragic beauty, Maria Vargas, in "The Barefoot Contessa." At that time, Gardner and her third and last husband, singer Frank Sinatra, had come to a parting of ways, although they didn't obtain a divorce until a few years later.

In Madrid, she began attending bullfights and drowning her Sinatra sorrows in the adoring company of handsome Luis Miguel Dominguin, the country's most famous bullfighter.

Hemingway was in Madrid at the same time, and was a friend and admirer of Dominguin, who urged him to meet the actress who brought his female characters to such beautiful life on the screen. Hemingway's 1932 book, "Death in the Afternoon," was an in-depth look at the physical and psychological aspects of bullfighting.)

Their friendship last until his death 17 years later.

The exhibit will run through May. At its centerpiece will be a pocketwatch given by Ava to Hemingway on his 55th birthday.

Tours will include points of interest in Ava's hometown, including her birthplace, the Teacherage where she grew up, the Howell Theater where Ava first went to the movies, and will end with a visit to her gravesite at Sunset Memorial Park.

Among the highlights of the tour will be The Little Brown Jug, a famed bar in downtown Smithfield built in the 1940s by Gardner's brother, Jack, the Howell Theatre located at 141 S. Third St, where she saw movies as a girl, and the Brogden Teacherage, where the Gardner family lived when she was a child. It was a boarding house for young lady teachers. Jonas Gardner served as its caretaker and Mollie Gardner was the cook. The Gardners lived here until effects of the Great Depression forced the Teacherage to close.

Gardner requested that after her death her remains be returned home to be laid to rest alongside her parents and siblings. Ava's gravesite is located one mile from the museum, at the intersection of U.S. 70 Business and N.C. 210.

For more information about the festival and the Hemingway Reading Series, call the museum at 934-5830.

The Ava Gardner Museum is located in downtown Smithfield, at 325 E. Market St. More information may be found on the museum website, www.ava gardner.org, or by calling 934-5830. The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Sundays from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. with admission of $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and groups and $4 for children.