Okay, now today I've got a book review for you - "Ava Gardner: Love is Nothing," by Lee Server.
Let me start off by saying that this is a pretty decently sized book. The actual biography comes in at exactly 500 pages, and though it's not a monster, it's on the huge side for sure.
That was my one reservation about reading this book - not that I don't like thick reads, but I'm not Ava obsessed or anything and I was wondering if I was really willing to read that many pages about her. Okay, scratch that: it sounds mean, because I do really like Ava Gardner but this is versus, perhaps, five hundred pages about Lucy in which I wouldn't think twice about purchasing (if it's Lucy, the thicker the better).
ANYWAY, my thirst to know more about her and my love of Classic Hollywood won out - so I went ahead and decided to read it.
My thoughts about this book are kind of all over place, but here's an attempt at trying to review it.
Okay, so for sure I did learn lots of details about Ava's life, personal and professional, through reading this book. Though a lot of it was clarification from what we already know about Ava's "Cinderella story" (if you called her life story that to her face, though, she'd probably throw a drink on you) - she had humble beginnings as a "barefoot farm girl" (and I'll give it to her, she was never ashamed of this, telling Bogie once she was a "little hillbilly girl" at heart or something), but went onto become one of the prettiest starlets in Hollywood who really enjoyed hard drinking and partying.
Ava's life is so tumultuous (especially during her Frank Sinatra period) that this is most certainly a page turner (a better title might have been "Ava Gardner: Never a Dull Moment"). And her story is an exciting one, almost written out like a novel. Reading about her childhood in "Grabtown", North Carolina was particularly interesting. I read that a young Ava hated to wear shoes (a symbol of her playful, footlose and fancy free kind of spirit that would last her through and through) and after school would stick her shoes in her mailbox and run around barefoot years before she even became the Barefoot Contessa.
The author really can write and if you gave him the most dull subject he can make it exciting. You can tell he really adores Ava, but does not put much effort into defending her at her most unlikable moments. He wants you to love Ava but is pretty blunt about the bad things, like Ava throwing tantrums with reporters, having an affair with Robert Taylor (when he was still married to Barbara Stanwyck), drinking too much, etc. His excuse is "she was so beautiful, no one cared."
By the time I reached the middle of the book I didn't hate Ava but I was coming to the conclusion she was some kind of a monster and I was confused. In her start, she seemed so humble and naive and within a couple turn of the pages she turns into this hard drinking party girl who hates Hollywood. I was wondering about the transition and though we know she throws drinks on reporters because she thinks her face is now too old to be taken photos of, how did she come to these stages? Though I don't always encourage biographers to turn into psychologists, sometimes digging deeper to come to conclusions about their subject's behavior (like Suzanne Finstad did for "Natasha", the biography of Natalie Wood) not only defends their subject and makes them more likable, gives closure to the reader.
Lee Server (also author of "Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don't Care") definitely provides us with a lot of brutal facts that are interesting and gossipy, but verging on tabloid fodder at points because he cannot provide much reason for her behavior except that she was "beautiful." Just from reading the book one can make guesses, but Server should have had that in the actual book and since he does not, it lacks completion. Having studied and researched someone for so long, you would think that he would feel comfortable enough to jump in with his own theories at times. I wouldn't have minded; I think it would have connected a string of dots to make this book an excellent biography.
Because over all, it was good. A blunt portrait of Ava but I was expecting a lot it beforehand, just from what circulates about Ava through the grapevine. There are a lot of good things to be said about Ava, too, and things to sympathize with her over. By the end of the book I still managed to like her. The "old" Ava, once she got over her fear of aging, is lovable. The old Ava seems to return to her humbler roots... she enjoys cartoons and ironing and walking her Corgis around London. And there were remaining, redeeming factors about Ava strung throughout the book: she was far from racist, believed in everyone being equal. She was modest when it came to her acting (though not always about her beauty). She loved animals, especially dogs (Corgis in particular).
Basically, in the end, Ava comes across as human. The book is thorough without exactly arriving to a point, but it comes out alright in the end because we see Ava as human. Not a monster and not an angel, but human which is the perfect medium and how someone should come across in a biography (unless we're talking about like, Adolf Hitler). There are definitely points through the middle of the book where she is not likable but by the time you're finished, you can sympathize with her and still like her. What I'm trying to say is: though you will have your doubtful moments, this won't tarnish your view of Ava completely.
What I mean is: this will not exactly shatter but at least make cracks in the Golden Hollywood Goddess that defines Ava's image. I cannot exactly imagine Ava being upset about it though. You can tell she was someone who didn't like Hollywood (the exact reasons why are never explained, to my annoyance) and probably didn't care what anyone else thought. She would probably encourage the honesty of this book. When I did my review for Lauren Bacall's autobiography, I said that by reading the book you will love Lauren and have immense respect for her. I don't think that exactly applies to this book, but Ava's memory is not shattered and hardcore fans won't be disturbed. I wasn't surprised, though. If you told me these things about, oh, Audrey Hepburn I might have been - but with all fairness, it was Ava, and I saw it coming. ;)
A lot of solid facts in this book and gossipy tidbits that delve into Old Hollywood for us classic Hollywood fans to enjoy. There's also bits about her relationships with other Classic figures, like Lana Turner, Howard Hawks, and John Houston. What this book lacks is a few paragraphs here and there that would have tried to explain and defend Ava's sometimes wild behavior. "Beauty" and "Hollywood" are not always good excuses.
I would suggest this book in the end, because it had the potential to be a great biography, but there were things it simply lacked. I will give it a 4/5 - only with slight generosity, because the fact remains that I definitely know a lot more about Ava after reading this book.
Before I leave: a new poll is up! You now have about twelve days to vote and tell me whether you like "Rebel Without a Cause" (1956) or "West Side Story" (1961) better.
That's it for today! Tomorrow I will hopefully have a movie review of a "scary" film for Halloween. :)
I'll leave you with a photo of Ava in a Halloween pinup:
And I'm off to enjoy the snow with a cup of hot chocolate! :)