A friend of mine said, it’s amazing how I could go from reading Jane Austen to the Secret Conservations of Ava Gardner without passing go…from a major classic to such smut, as she put it.
I read Pride and Prejudice every summer, a testament to Miss Austen to be sure. Words like thither and vivacity never fail to produce chills down my bony (but nice) spine. It was the last book I read before picking up Peter Evans’s compelling book about Ava Gardner, that I didn’t find smutty at all. Bawdy in spots but Miss Gardner was a very colorful character don’t forget.
Actually I felt Ava and Elizabeth Bennet, Austen’s timeless heroine, had much in common. They were both strong, out-spoken, sensual women living in different centuries…one during the 1800s, the other, born in 1922.
Peter Evans, who passed away before his last chapter was written cobbled together by his wife and long time agent, had 40,000 words of conversation on tape from 1988 when Ava asked him to ghost write her memoirs. She pulled out of the project at the behest of Frank Sinatra, her third ex husband, who had a vendetta against Evans. Even sassy Ava didn’t want to upset Frank who one could easily say, was her Mr. Darcy.
Of course in the nineteenth century divorce was rare, so we just assume Elizabeth and Darcy lived happily ever after (read Death Comes To Pemberley, by P.D. James) unlike Ava and Frank whose six years of marriage ended in 1957, still remaining friends till her death in 1990. I got misty when, during one of her many late night phone calls, she tells Evans Frank never forgot her birthday and always called on Christmas. That was love alright that may have been too hot to handle, but endured just the same.
There was turbulence between both couples so I like to think not just the Sinatras had great make-up sex. I picture the Darcys erotically rolling around the floors of Pemberley after a good fight.
Both books reveal a lot about women and the men we choose. Ava was an admitted hound even after suffering a stroke that left her face partially paralyzed. It reminded me that sexuality is an inside job and has little to do with one’s looks. Explains men in their eighties still making passes and old women flirting with delivery men.
In a way, the strictures Elizabeth had to adhere to must have made flirtation burst at the seams heightening lust that can only be imagined. A couple in the nineteenth century, though dying to maul one another, didn’t dare. And if they did, they had to be seriously sneaky.
I don’t think Ava would have been too happy at Longbourn where the four Bennet sisters chastely lived. When the youngest elopes with a notorious scamp, their mother, in desperate need of smelling salts and a good smack, screams how now they’re all ruined, tainted by association (don’t you love that?)
The last thing Ava Gardner thought about was her reputation, until her late night confessions where she’d curse and tell naughty stories she’d rebuke the next day insisting Evans clean up her language. She even made him omit juicy tidbits like how she and Mickey Rooney, her first husband, spent a lot of time in bed..even during their divorce along with all the times Frank threatened to kill himself. Funny, you don’t think of Frank as suicidal but I guess being married to the most beautiful girl in the world who wanted sex on the hour had its downside. Even our favorite crooner needed a break.
“You want a best seller don’t you Ava,” Evans would say when she demanded an edit, but she still kept him guessing right till the very end.
It’s no wonder Peter Evans died of a heart attack dealing with Ava Gardner for a whole year. Of course he lived another twenty-five after their creative split, but the heart has a way of remembering when it’s been crudely kicked around.
I like that my reading life is so versatile. I never want to be an elite reader who separates literature as if it were steerage on an ocean liner. Think of what I’d miss if I did that.
I gulped those conversations like a jug of cheap, but very tasty wine. Ava’s language certainly wasn’t as crisp and contained as Elizabeth’s, but you can bet their dealings with their men were very much the same.
Of course one woman was fictional, the other larger than life…but after reading Pride and Prejudice close to thirty times, Elizabeth Bennet seems more than a little real…homage to her esteemed creator.