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Ava Gardner [userpic]

A Different Kind of Pain in the Ass

August 29th, 2006 (08:40 pm)

June 1942

Earlier this month, during a record heat day in Los Angeles, somebody said, "Okay, let's get someone who's got good legs and knockers and put her in a bathing suit on top of this enormous block of ice." And the block they got really was enormous; it must have weighed a ton. A huge crane was needed to get it into position outside the Picture Gallery. And who was chosen for the honor? Ava G. I wore a red candy-striped bathing suit, and they heaved me up to the top. I had an ice cream cone and smiled happily as they turned on a fan so my hair blew in the wind as my bottom froze. It made all the newspapers. No one ever called this an intellectual profession.

Ava Gardner [userpic]

More MGM Discoveries

August 20th, 2006 (12:49 pm)

April 1942

The truth is, folks, even though all I have to do in this movie-making place is walk on the set and hide in a crowd of extras, I am terrified. But I've discovered someone with a special something.

The prop man.

He has everything that might be needed inn a film scene, and I mean everything. Including all kinds of drinks: coffee, tea, soda, and the real thing. All I have to do is sidle up and raise my eyebrows (the real ones, not those pencil ones), and something is handed to me in a paper cup. I don't know what it is, and I don't care. I don't like its taste either. All I know is that with two big chugalugs inside me, I can calm the rising panic.

Now that I'm used to things, I just love working with the extras, especially the dress extras. Oh boy, they are quite a superior class of folks. They provide their own evening clothes, which means tuxedo or white tie and tails for the men, a variety of evening gowns for the ladies. And no matter how old or crippled or gay they get, they are always buoyed up by enormous hopes. One of these days, with just the right bit of luck, being in the right place at the right time, the right word from the right director, they would emerge like Cinderella, ready for stardom and all its perks.

My ambitions are nowhere near as high. I spend an awful lot of my time in what is called the Picture Gallery, run by a great portrait artist, Clarence Bull, and his team. But great portraits aren't what they have in mind for me. My specialty is what is called "leg art," publicity stills of the cheesecake variety intended for use and reuse in newspapers and magazines around the country. It is not my favorite activity.

Often the idea is to get pictures to match the holiday seasons: this month I'm a smiling Easter bunny, in December I was a roguish lady Father Christmas or at least one of his reindeer. With other starlets, I've begun to load hay, round up chickens. "And Ava! You mean if we got a cow uou could actually milk it? Come on. I don't believe it. Ava, I bet you don't know one end from the other..." I think some of these guys working for Clarence Bull think milk comes from some underground spring and is packed into cartons at the source.

They produced a cow. Fortunately, someone knows the difference between a cow and a bull. It was a milking cow and I milked her. MGM is overjoyed. They actually have a starlet who can milk a cow. (They get excited easily around here...)

With Gloria DeHaven and some confused chickens.

Ava Gardner [userpic]

Chewing gum blues

August 13th, 2006 (06:21 pm)

Dec. 1941

I keep making mistakes around here. It's been a few months since my incident in the makeup dept. (see last post). Well, after all my trouble there, & then the time with my eyebrows, I thought it'd be all over. Boy, was I wrong.

As I mentioned last time everyone here is mad to look identical. One member of MGM's staff who is certainly not into that assembly line routine is Sydney Guilaroff. He is a master hairstylist, but my meeting with him last week was awful in a way I don't think I'll ever forget.

I was crouched in the hairdressing chair in Sydney's salon, waiting my turn his attention with about three or four other girls. We were only too happy to wait because Sydney is an artist. He's been Joan Crawford's hairdresser, Greta Garbo's hairdresser, God knows who else's hairdresser. But last week he was creating hairstyles for our group of starlets. All of us were playing walk-on parts, but on different sets. Some needed an in-town styling, others an office or country look. And Syndey could effortlessly handle them all.

What he can't handle however is the sound of someone chewing gum. Now you have to understand that chewing gum & cracking gum are like breathing in North Carolina, part of the normal pattern of living. I was chewing away, trying to keep calm, when, without thinking, I cracked my gum.

I paused, frozen, but it was too late. To Sydney, it had echoed as loud as a pistol shot, and he reacted as if he'd been stuck in the neck by a pair of hot curling irons. His voice was loud, cold and clear.

"Who is the girl who is chewing gum in here? Take it out of your mouth this minute."

How had I known about Sydney's diabolical hatred of chewing gum, I never would have dared chew at all. But now it was too late. I did the only thing I could: I swallowed it, cowering even lower in my chair, trying to cringe so far down tha nobody could possibly see me. My face could have been bright scarlet for all I knew. And I couldn't say a word, not a single word.

Sydney stalked around, looking for his victim. All the girls looked innocent. I looked like someone on the way to Death Row. He paused behind my chair instinctively, he knew he was right. But he'd made his point, and no more humility was necessary. He did my hair beautifully and gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder as I left. I survived, and at this stage of my career, if you can call it that, survival is the best I can hope for at the end of every day.

Ava Gardner [userpic]


July 28th, 2006 (08:03 pm)

I've had to put my small North Carolina foot down whether Mr. L. B. Mayer and all of Hollywood likes it or not. Over what you may ask? Over my eyebrows. They wanted to pluck every one out! I said a loud "Nooo!" I would have added, "If anyone tries it, I'll kick in his teeth," but I'd already made my point.

They either shave off or pluck out the eyebrows and replace them with a thin pencil line, as if maybe what we're given is such a disgusting thing they must be abolished entirely and replace by something beautiful that man creates.

I did let them have their way with my lips, turning them into a sort of huge Joan Crawford scarlet blur. In fact, when I looked in the mirror afterward I had a hard time knowing it was me. That's just Hollywood's standard starlet treatment I suppose: orders are to turn out a series of look-alike china dolls, and everyone follows orders.

Ava Gardner [userpic]

Learning the ropes in makeup.

July 22nd, 2006 (09:58 pm)

September 1941

I haven't been at MGM long, but I've been here long enough to know that I'm not making the kind of money Clark Gable is, or even the hundred and twelve thousand that Deana Durbin, just about my age, is pulling in. I get fifty dollars a week, and, courtesy of a little firecracker embedded in my contract, the studio has the right to impose an annual twelve-week layoff period during which my pay drops to thirty-five dollars.

Clearly, on money like this Bappie and I have left the Plaza. The desk clerk there helped us find an apartment on nearby Wilcox Avenue: one room with a pull-down bed, a two-ring cooker, and a microscopic bathroom. Nothing classy, but we can afford it, especially after Bappie used an introduction from her New York boss to get a job at I. Magnin.

That same clerk worked out my bus route to the studio. Let me tell you, honey, you want to be a film star, you've got to be an early riser. I am stepping out into the cold dawn of Hollywood at 5A.M. I walk to the bus terminal about three blocks away and take the first bus out of there to Wilshire Boulevard. A second bus takes me close to Culver City and a third one drops me off in front of the studio.

The nice men on the gate, who have obviously seen a thousand white-faced kids go through in their time, told me the way to makeup. That was my first destination. I held a piece of paper giving me my orders -- the call sheet -- which informed me that I had to report to a stage where I'd be an extra dancing in a ballroom scene. It sounded very pleasant. But the first makeup department. I was terrified.

As soon as I walked in through the white coats and the bustle and announced shyly, "I'm Avuh Gardnuh. I was told to come here," I realized that my statement did not electrify anybody. Nobody had ever heard of Avuh Gardnuh. Nobody cared if they ever saw Avuh Gardnuh again. Oh, they were busy all right, but evenutally Jack Dawn, who is head of makeup, was told of my arrival, and he came out to see why I was lost. He was very brusque. "You are in the wrong department. You should be down in the extras' makeup department." His tone indicated that the extras' makeup department was a sort of leper colony reserved for juveniles like me.

Confused, I held out my piece of paper and said plaintively, "But they told me to come here!"

"Wrong place," insisted Jack. "Extras' makeup." Of course, I have since learned that I should have told him I was under contract, that magic little word that makes all the difference between officer class and the lesser ranks.

I think Jack decided to be nice, for he pulled out a piece of paper and went on, "Now here's a list of the makeup you'll need down there," making it sound like the last circle of Hell. And, as my eyes popped out, he went on: "Pancake makeup." What the hell is that? "Mascara." I've never heard of it; it sounds like a disease. "False eyelashes." I need artifical eyelashes like I need another head. Plus a lot of other things. I stood looking down at the list thinking, "How am I going to afford this on thirty-five bucks a week, plus fares, plus rent, plus food..."

Well, I went to the drug store and used up all my money, except for the three bus fares home. Bappie looked at my purchases very suspiciously and made rude noises. Especially about the pancake makeup. She is right. It's terrible stuff, a bright-yellowy-colored cream. You dab it on with a sponge. When you smile everything cracks. Even Garbo looks like Frankenstein, I'm sure.

As a matter of fact I don't use any of it. Somewhere in makeup they've finally got the message that this kid is a contract player, not an extra. The cosmestics are on the house, paid for my Louis B. Mayer. And this last time I went in I was passed to Charlie Schamm, who is a sweetheart.

Ava Gardner [userpic]

More Stars Than There Are In the Heaven

July 19th, 2006 (09:25 pm)

August 24, 1941

Today began a tour of the MGM lot in Culver City, a site that is definitely worth seeing. Twenty-three modern sound stages, great caverns of darkness as big as aircraft carriers, are spread out over a huge expanse of real estate. MGM has the world's largest film lab; MGM has four thousand employees; MGM has a railway station, a harbor, even a miniature jungle ready and waiting for a director who might fancy it. But most of all, MGM has stars. More Stars Than There Are In the Heaven, one studio ad claimed, and I'm sure as hell not going to argue.

Other studios might have better directors, or better writers, but MGM has the stars! Greta Garbo. My old heartthrob Clark Gable! The Barrymores. Joan Crawford. Spencer Tracy. James Stewart. Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Greer Garson. You name it, MGM has it. I hear Mr. Louis B. Mayer, the man in charge, likes to think of the studio as one big family. You can guess who's the daddy, and who are the kids taking the orders. A meeting with "L.B.", I understand, is to be treated as kind of a papal encounter.

The studio tries its hardest to live up to Mayer's dictum, I saw today: "Make it good...Make it big...Give it class."

MGM succeeds often enough to make it the most famous -- and most successful, in terms of both profits and Oscars -- studio in Hollywood. If I'm going to be anywhere in Hollywood, this sure seems like the place to be.

Ava Gardner [userpic]

Welcome to Hollywood and MGM

July 18th, 2006 (10:25 pm)

August 23, 1941

When Bappie and I stepped off the train at Union Station this morning, we were immediately struck both physically and emotionally by Los Angeles' most enduring product: sunshine. It seems to radiate off everything, even the sunglasses and smiling teeth of one Mr. Milton Weiss. He held out his hand and said, "Welcome to Hollywood and MGM."

Bappie thanked him; I said nothing. I am still overwhelmed by what I'd seen during our train journey across the country. I tried to hide my nervousness with a fixed smile. Bappie says I'm as green as a spring tobacco leaf.

Mr. Weiss (from MGM's publicity dept. as you all know) is a thin, sharp-featured young man. He was wearing a light gray tropical suit and a neat-looking Borsalino (the sort favored by Mr. Bogart). With his pleasant, deep voice and his anxiousness to please, he is to be our shepherd for the next few days, breaking me into the system.

On the way to our hotel (in a company car, no less) I liked the bits and pieces of L.A. I managed to see, the tall palm trees and the beautiful houses surrounded by clipped green lawns. The hotel (the Plaza on Vine St.) is right in the heart of Hollywood! Sunset, Hollywood and Santa Monica boulevards are only a few blocks away. The intersecting streets are quiet and on the narrow side, shaded with trees and lined with small one- or two-story houses. It's thrilling!

Ava Gardner [userpic]

Myra Gardner Pearce

July 16th, 2006 (06:24 pm)

I was 7 years old when Ava was born, and I remember it very well. It was Christmas Eve and and my brother Jack and I were sent away from home for a little while. I still believed in Santa Claus back then, and I was worried, afraid he wouldn't come if we weren't there. I guess that was kind of silly, but at that moment Santa Claus meant more to me. I probably didn't realize what was going to happen.

We lived in Grabtown, right out in the country, and Ava was born at home. My father, who had a little country store, also owned a sawmill and sawed the lumber and built the house we lived in. It was a very nice-looking house, with five bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, and a little kitchen that came out from the side of the house. We needed a lot of room because my father's sister, Aunt Ava, who Ava was named for, lived with us some of the time.

My mother was just a wonderful cook; in fact, she was noted as the best cook in Johnston County. She made the best fried chicken around, and every weekend she'd bake two or three cakes, whip 'em up in no time. She was a very caring person, very interested in her children, as my father was. My mother was a bit more outgoing, and more of disciplanarian, and he was more easygoing.

We were a very close family. I always thought we had a good life. I didn't think of us as dirt poor, which has been written time and time again, until we are sick of reading it. I can tell you now we were never dirt poor. We may have had some homemade clothes, but we always had plenty of good food. On Sunday, if we had company drop by, there was always enough food for everybody. We had a wonderful vegetable garden and had our own cow for milk. I know because I wanted to do the milking one time and failed. That seemed to be my brother's job.

Because there were seven years between Ava and me, I guess a baby was not expected when she came along. Because of that she was sort of special, and everybody did dote on her. She had naturally curly hair that Mama had to brush every morning before she'd go to school, and Ava always hated that. But in the first year of her life, we thought she was never going to have any hair at all. She was kind of a baldheaded baby; she didn't grow a lot until she was about a year old.

Ava was sort of a tomboy, always climbing trees. When we lived over at Brogden, she got half way up to the town's water tank. Everybody was so frightened to see her up there. Finally, someone went up and got her down.

Ava was a pretty little girl, too, and everyone thought she was so cute and wonderful, but to me she was just my baby sister. We roomed together and we loved each other. But I never got the impression that she wanted to be in the movies. Mama loved to go to the movies, though, and she and some of the teachers from the Teacherage would get together and go to Smithfield to see one most every week. Mama especially liked Clark Gable. I wish she could have lived long enough to know that Ava did a movie with him.
-Myra Gardner Pearce-

The Gardner children:
Raymond (died: two years, two months and fifteen days old)
Melvin (aka: Jack)
Beatrice (aka: Bappie)
Elsie Mae

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