Thursday, July 20, 2017

Book Review: "Ava: A Life in Movies"

This new biography of screen legend Ava Gardner is one pretty package. Authors Kendra Bean and Anthony Uzarowski, while focusing on Gardner’s “life in movies,” also smoothly weave in pertinent information on the star’s personal life. The book is loaded with gorgeous photographs—some candid, some studio generated—that remind us what a beautiful woman Gardner was.

Gardner was born in “a five-bedroom clapboard house in Johnston County, North Carolina on Christmas Eve, 1922.” Her rise to stardom and iconic stature during Hollywood’s Golden Age is the stuff of fairy tales. Gardner never having any ambition to be an actress of any stripe got noticed by Barney Duhan, a Loews Incorporated employee (parent company of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Gardner’s photo was prominently displayed in her brother-in-laws photographic studio in New York and Duhan, looking for a date, inquired about the beautiful girl in the window. In a phone call to the photo shop, Duhan mentioned that he worked for MGM. Gardner wasn’t in New York so she never met him. Based on Duhan’s interest, Gardner’s brother-in-law decided to deliver her photos to MGM’s New York office. This led to a screen test and a contract in 1941. She was only 18 years old.

Ava: A Life in Movies details the actress’s rise from bit player to major movie star with words and pictures. And as mentioned before, the photographs are plenty and beautiful. Many haven’t been seen before. My favorite is a studio test shot of Gardner taken in 1942  (page 31). This headshot was attached to her MGM employment questionnaire. She already looks like movie star; it’s obvious that the camera loved her. I don’t know how many pictures of Gardner Bean and Uzarowski looked at, but all the pictures in their biography are pretty amazing. The woman apparently never took a bad picture.

A studio publicity photo on Gardner in fashionable beachwear

Not meaning to take anything away from the text—which is engaging, well researched, and easy-reading—I would be negligent if I didn’t mention what a beautiful package this book is. The cover, the endpapers, the typography, all make it the perfect book for your coffee table (it’s too beautiful to put on your bookshelf). If you’re interested in Ava Gardner and classic Hollywood, I think you’ll enjoy Ava: A Life in Movies.


Ava: A Life in Movies
Hardcover: 264 pages
Publisher: Running Press (July 11, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0762459948
ISBN-13: 978-0762459940
Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 1.2 x 10.4 inches
Price: $30.00

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