This Hollywood star is Smithfield’s claim to fame. She actually was born a few miles away and this was the “big city” back then, reached on dirt roads. But she’s buried here and the town is claiming her. And there was no way I was missing the Ava Gardner Museum — just because where else would I find something like this? It’s the sort of thing I stop for on bike rides.
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about her — I certainly couldn’t have told you her movies, and I’d forgotten that she’d been married to Frank Sinatra. So you can’t call me a fan. But this is a true rags-to-riches story.
No photos are allowed inside the museum, which is in an old storefront on Market Street (essentially Main Street) and charges $10 admission. But here’s some of what I learned, both from the displays and the 18-minute movie:
— She basically spent 14 years in Hollywood, from 1941 to 1955, when she decided she’d had enough and moved first to Spain, then London. Not that she didn’t do some movies after 1955, but she didn’t want to deal with Hollywood and the paparazzi of the time.
— During her screen test, her southern accent was so thick that no one could understand her. Obviously she lost it, at least for film.
— Sinatra was husband No. 3. First there was Mickey Rooney, then the band leader Artie Shaw. Those marriages lasted about a year before the divorce lawyers got involved. (Sinatra wasn’t too much longer, though supposedly it was a case of can’t live with, can’t live without on both sides.)
— She liked collecting china patterns. The museum has a few of her plates and such among the fairly modest assortment of personal items.
— It has a dress she wore in a movie at age 26 — when she had an 18″ waist. That’s no one today.