“We became lovers forever, eternally. Big words, I know, but I truly felt that no matter what happened we would always be in love.”
— Ava Gardner
What could be more captivating than a great love story, that, despite a tumultuous and condemned beginning, defied all odds to become one of the most passionate romances of the 20th century?
Frank Sinatra, already a legend in Hollywood, the master of the love song and the crooner of every young girls’ dream, had been at the top of his game for over a decade, when the alluring and seductive Ava Gardner appeared in his life. Insanely beautiful and oozing with sex appeal, fans were utterly devastated at the news that Frank had left his wife of twelve years, Nancy Sinatra, for an alleged home wrecker.
It was Ava’s ravishing good looks, and her often-recurring role as a femme fatale in numerous MGM films, that had fans in an uproar.
Above, on their wedding day, November 7, 1951
However, it was Frank who had immediately decided to pursue Ava after first laying eyes on her in the MGM lot. It is said that upon noticing the long limbs and perfectly curvaceous figure of the starlet, Frank proclaimed to a friend, “I’m going to marry that girl”.
“I damn well knew he was married, and married men were definitely not high on my hit parade. But he was handsome, with his thin, boyish face, bright blue eyes and incredible grin. And he was so enthusiastic and invigorated, clearly pleased with life, in general, himself, in particular, and, at that moment, me.”
— Ava Gardner
In 1951, immediately following Frank’s divorce from Nancy, the pair married amid scandal and criticism — but it seemed they had eyes only for each other.
An intensely passionate and fiery liaison ensued, with both becoming insanely jealous of the other for any number of reasons, from a co-star to an over-enthusiastic fan. Both were quick tempered, but also quick to forget their disagreements and fights, which made for a wonderfully exciting and ardent relationship.
Ava had become one of the greatest silver screen actresses of the time, and to the other extent, Frank’s success was beginning to dwindle. He often felt overshadowed by his wife’s success and worried that she would leave him, and so accompanied her to all of her film sets.
Above & below, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Tony Curtis, and Janet Leigh attending a dinner at the Empress Club, London, December 1951
All Ava wanted was for Frank to be happy again, and eventually called on some powerful connections to secure him a part in the film From Here To Eternity, which successfully invigorated his career with an Academy Award.
The pair were now immensely happy — the centre of the Hollywood party scene, and with movie scripts flying in from all directions. They still quarreled and bickered about the slightest of things, but their infatuation for each other was instantly obvious.
But, it was this considerable success that would prove the undoing of their relationship. So often called to opposite ends of the continent, or world for the matter, for various movie productions or publicity tours, the pair were simply spending too much time apart. Eventually, not even Cupid’s bow could prevent this intensely passionate marriage from unraveling, and in 1957, the pair divorced.
According to Kathryn Grayson, an old friend and former co-star, “Work took him in one direction and her in another, they couldn’t be together enough.”
Above, November 1956, Costa Brava, Spain — When Frank Sinatra (seated, right) heard of romance brewing between Ava Gardner and Mario Cabre in 1950, he rushed over to Spain to woo Ava back. Here they are sitting in a garden overlooking the beautiful Costa Brava.
Following their divorce, Ava never remarried, but instead relocated to Spain, perhaps to avoid the immediate presence of Frank. It is also said that for many years following their separation, Frank kept a picture of Ava taped to his mirror in every dressing room he prepared in. Rumors flew that they wanted to reunite, but unfortunately, circumstances always kept them apart.
In her later life, Ava, who had always been a tedious smoker, suffered from multiple health complications — emphysema left her bed ridden and two eventual strokes partially paralyzed the once luminous star. Her medical expenses were great, and her still very dear friend Frank insisted on paying for all of them, as well as arranging for her to fly on a medically staffed private plane to the US to visit with a world renowned specialist.
Despite the high level of care and medical attention, Ava tragically passed away in 1990. Upon hearing the news of her death, Frank was found slumped in his room, unable to speak and crying uncontrollably.
Even after all these years, his love for her was immense; it was her tragic passing that inspired on of Frank’s most intimate & personal songs, I’m A Fool To Want You.
Following Ava’s death, fellow actress and close friend, Arlene Dahl, told reporters, “She told me that she never loved another man as much as she loved Frank.”
Tumultuous and ever exciting; deeply passionate and wonderfully affectionate — there was never a dull moment in the love story of Frank Sinatra & Ava Gardner. It seems to be, the intense emotion and utter infatuation was the essence of this great love story, but also, in an ironic twist of fate, its undoing. But, as many of these great romances will prove, “’Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”