GARDNER, Ava (1922-1990)
Plaque erected in 2016 by English Heritage at 34 Ennismore Gardens, Knightsbridge, London, SW7 1AE, City of Westminster
Theatre and Film
AVA GARDNER 1922-1990 Film Star lived and died here
Ava Gardner was one of Hollywood’s most legendary stars, as famous for her off-screen dramas as her glamorous performances. She moved to London in the late 1960s and lived at 34 Ennismore Gardens in Knightsbridge from 1972 until her death in 1990.
Ava Lavinia Gardner entered the film industry in 1941 after her brother-in-law sent her details to the famous film studio, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer (MGM). Gardner’s first big hit was as femme fatale Kitty Collins in The Killers (1946), now considered to be a classic of the film noir genre. Starring roles in numerous high-profile films followed, including opposite Clark Gable in Singapore (1947) and as Julie LaVerne in Show Boat (1951).
She paired up with Gable again in Mogambo (1953), for which she received a Best Actress Oscar nomination. In 1954 she created what was to become her signature performance: Maria Vargas in The Barefoot Contessa. The role cemented her reputation as one of Hollywood’s most legendary stars, helped by tabloid gossip about her affair with Frank Sinatra, who she married in 1951 and divorced in 1957.
As well as her beauty, Gardner was renowned for her hard drinking, swearing and hot-headedness, which resulted in many a public brawl: ‘When I lose my temper, honey, you can’t find it any place’, she once remarked.
She moved to Madrid in 1955 in an attempt to escape the press attention, but her time there became equally infamous. Her lifestyle encompassed heavy drinking, high-speed car crashes, and wild behaviour (she was banned from the Hotel Ritz in Madrid for urinating in the vestibule between the reception and the bar).
THE LONDON YEARS
Gardner moved to London in the late 1960s and lived in the luxury flat at 34 Ennsimore Gardens from 1972 until her death in 1990. She enjoyed the anonymity of her life in England and only made occasional films when she ‘needed the loot’.
Gardner is said to have been a much-loved and admired resident of the square, who looked out for her neighbours. She lived quietly, socialising with close friends and enjoying an occasional visit to the ballet, theatre, concert or the Ennismore Arms pub. Most evenings Carmen Vargas, her long-time housekeeper, gave her dinner on a tray by the portable TV in front of the fire.
According to Gardner’s friend and personal assistant Mearene Jordan, the pair scoured London, Paris, Madrid and Lisbon to furnish the apartment:
The décor owed a great deal to the Orient, and we were not worried at all by which part of the Orient the ornamentation came from. There were screens and vases and big chests. There was a fireplace and a comfortable chair on either side. It was very cozy.
Gardner loved London, even its weather. She particularly liked the parks and could often be seen in Ennismore Gardens walking the latest of her beloved Pembroke Welsh corgis.
A journalist coming to interview her in 1982 was instructed to ‘push the bell that says Morgan’, upon which the door opened to reveal a room of antiques and a yapping corgi. ‘This is Morgan,’ the film star announced, ‘and I am Ava Gardner.’