Ava Gardner, publicity photo for The Killers
The love affair—and I'm using that term loosely—between Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra was doomed from the start. Both stars were emotionally immature with little impulse control. Both were alcoholics, and both had a history of affairs with equally unstable partners.
And so The Voice and The Shape plunged into a tsunami of a relationship and a six-year marriage (1951 - 1957) punctuated by unbridled passion, threats of suicide, and metronomic doses of violence.
In Autumn of 1949 Gardner and Sinatra, not yet lovers, were both guests at the Palm Springs home of producer Darryl F. Zanuck. The liquor flowed, and the two stars locked in on each other like lethal missiles.
Ava said, “You're still married.”
Frank responded, “No, doll, it's all over. It is done.”
For hours they drank and flirted. Ava's career was going through the roof. Her smoldering role as the femme fatale in "The Killers
"—one of the best noir movies ever—catapulted her into the Hollywood stratosphere.
For a shoeless farm girl from North Carolina with no father and little education, Hollywood stardom was a dangerous perfume. In a few short years Ava went from being a sensitive, prim and proper virgin to a notoriously promiscuous, hard-drinking woman.
Sinatra's career was in trouble. His records were not selling and MGM was anxious to drop his contract as his box office appeal faltered. Sinatra did not help himself by being obnoxious and hostile to the media.
Sinatra and Gardner exited Zanuck's party with a bottle of booze in hand. They clambered into Sinatra's Cadillac and putting pedal to metal, Sinatra roared into the night.
Driving along they passed the bottle back and forth.
Like two crazy kids, they were going nowhere fast.
Soon, they ended up in the small town of Indio. Sinatra pulled into the main street and parked. There he and Ava kissed and groped under the stars.
Taking a break from their make-out session, Ava tipped back her head for another long gulp of hooch. Sinatra leaned forward, opened the glove compartment and pulled out two .38 Smith & Wesson pistols.
Sinatra took aim at a street light and fired. Glass exploded. He aimed at another street light and hit it on the first shot.
Ava, a country girl who grew up around hunters, cried: “Let me shoot something.”
Sinatra grinned and handed her the second pistol. Whooping like a Confederate soldier Ava Gardner aimed at the twinkling stars and blasted away.
Frank stared at Ava, mesmerized, and he knew beyond a shadow of doubt that he had finally found his soul mate. Here was the most beautiful woman in Hollywood shooting up the inexplicable universe.
Ava downed more liquor, squinted down the barrel of the Smith & Wesson and fired into the window of a hardware store.
Ava shot the chambers empty and continued to shriek the rebel yell.
Sinatra put the huge Caddy into gear and headed back to Palm Springs. They didn't get very far before they heard a police siren.
Two small town cops approached with guns leveled.
Sinatra said to Ava: “Christ, what do these clowns want now?”
A few hours later, as Ava lay unconscious on a wood bench in the police station, a publicist from Los Angeles arrived by chartered plane with a big black bag that he handed over to the cops.
Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner were released. There was no paper trail and no publicity.
Two small town cops enjoyed a comfortable retirement.
In the morning, back in Palm Springs, Ava Gardner's sister, Bappie, was up having breakfast when Ava returned all rumpled and haggard and smelling like a speakeasy.
Bappie wanted to know where Ava was all night.
Ava replied: “I went out with Frank Sinatra. We had a wonderful time.”
Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra party hard
My main source for this anecdote is Lee Server's fine biography Ava Gardner, Love is Nothing.
Legal Disclaimer: Big Hollywood does not condone or recommend this style of dating. We strongly support meaningful conversation over coffee or tea, a night at the movies, respect for private property, and oh yeah, firearm safety.
Copyright Robert J. Avrech