Howard Hughes punched Ava Gardner in the face so she smashed an onyx ashtray over his head
On Saturday, in the first part of a major series, we revealed in Ava Gardner's own words how her marriage to Mickey Rooney was plagued by his infidelities.
Today, in our second extract from a new book based on a series of interviews suppressed during her lifetime she tells PETER EVANS about her violent relationships with Howard Hughes and George C. Scott, her adoration of musician Artie Shaw and her affair with Robert Mitchum.
Why had they been arguing? All that Ava Gardner could recall was that her latest boyfriend had suddenly punched her hard in the face, dislocating her jaw. And instead of bursting into tears, she'd coolly smashed an onyx ashtray over his head and probably killed him.
Panicking, Ava did what all movie stars used to do when they got into major trouble: she picked up the phone and rang the film studio. And the head of MGM, Louis B Mayer, did what studio bosses always did: he sent round his boys.
'Louis Mayer nearly had kittens he was convinced I'd whacked the bd,' said Ava, with her customary barrack room vocabulary. 'His boys got me out of there so f fast, my feet didn't touch the Orientals.
'I don't think he gave a damn about me, but he didn't want any scandal attached to his studio.'Hughes eventually recovered. And one of the first things he did afterwards was to ask his assailant to marry him.
Ava Gardner's life, as I discovered when who sells pandora bracelets she asked me to help write her autobiography, had been laced with drama, violence and sex. And even in her mid 60s, after two devastating strokes, she still prided herself on her ability to captivate men.
Of course, she knew that half her face drooped and barely anyone recognised her as she limped round the streets of London. But one day, when her publisher came to see her in Knightsbridge, I caught a glimpse of the old Ava the seductress of matadors, big game hunters, billionaires, leading men and passing hunks.
'I look terrible, honey. I look as if I've been in a f train wreck,' she complained to me the day before the publisher's visit.
There was a long silence. Then she said: 'Call Jack Cardiff.' Cardiff had photographed Ava in both Pandora And The Flying Dutchman and The pandora usa Barefoot Contessa. In 1988, when I phoned him, he was probably the world's leading cinematographer but he came round to her flat right away.
After setting up a key light above a chair in Ava's sitting room, Cardiff told me: 'It's the best I can do discreetly. When she sits in that chair, keep telling her how beautiful she looks.
'Lay it on thick. She won't believe you she's too smart to fall for blarney but it's what she wants to hear. It's the tribute you must always pay to great beauties when they gold pandora beads grow old.'
The next day, when I arrived for the meeting with her publisher. Ava was sitting in the chair Cardiff had lit for her. The ruined side of her face was in darkness and she tilted her head so the light made her eyes shine. Tricks of the trade, she said.
The publisher was utterly bowled over just as she'd intended. That's when aviation billionaire Howard Hughes had come calling.
'Nothing was ever an accident with Howard,' she recalled. 'He had people meeting every plane, train and bus that arrived in Los Angeles with a pretty girl on board. He had to be the first to grab the new girl in town.
'And when he read the story of my divorce in the papers, he decided I was the new girl on the loose.'Howard never cared much about what he wore, or what he looked like. Maybe on our first dates he did but he went downhill pretty fast after that. And he was never really aware of his personal hygiene.'
So what was attractive about him, then? She considered that for a while.
'He was a skinny guy, not bad looking, well over 6ft. He reminded me of my father. He had a kind of remoteness about him like Daddy had, and that's always attractive in a man.'
It also helped, she said, that he was 17 years older and 'infinitely more serious and smarter and sophisticated than anyone else I'd dated up to then'.
True, he was still seeing plenty of other women, but, she pointed out, 'that didn't stop him proposing to me all the fg time.'
His wealth never impressed her much, though he showered her with diamonds and furs. In the middle of the war, he even used to bump four star generals out of their airline seats (Hughes owned TWA) for ship pandora charm Ava.
Nor did she really appreciate his idea of a date, which was to hire an exclusive private club, clear it of people and have an orchestra playing while he and Ava dined alone.
'The first couple of times were amusing although dining a deux in an empty restaurant can lack a bit of atmosphere,' she said. 'It felt as if we were a couple of actors being served by other actors on a candlelit stage.'
Once, she asked him: 'Couldn't you have invited a few extras along to cheer the place up a bit?'Regular as clockwork, he'd always ask her to marry him just when the lamb chops arrived. And she always said no.
She recalled: 'Although Howard was crazy about me (this was before I realised that he was just plain crazy), we still hadn't slept together. I enjoyed the power I had over him. I enjoyed his frustration.
'I knew that he had a reputation as a cksman, but the powder room scuttlebutt was that he was no great shakes in the sack.'
The powder room gossip was wrong, she discovered eventually.
'I'll say this: he knew how to take his time with a lady. At least with this lady he did. He was a patient sonofabitch, the complete opposite of Mickey Rooney.
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