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Editor’s choice: ‘Ava Gardner, the Secret Conversations’

Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations by Peter Evans and Ava Gardner; Simon and Schuster, 204 pages ($26). The provenance of this book is interesting, to put it mildly. Not long before her death in 1990 at the age of 67, Ava Gardner called Peter Evans, British journalist and onetime Fleet Street presence just about everywhere (also Vogue and the Los Angeles Times, too).

Did he want to ghostwrite her autobiography? His first reaction was that it was joke, but he played along. “Does Frank [Sinatra] approve?” he asked her. “I don’t want to upset Frank.”

“F--- Frank,” said Gardner, a woman renowned for saltiness over many decades. (The women of M-G-M were, as a rule, a tough bunch.) “Are you interested or not?”

He was. Given the woman’s history, it would be hard not to be. But then Gardner discovered that Evans and the BBC were sued by Sinatra in 1972 for Evans’ limning Sinatra’s mob associations. Gardner went with another ghostwriter. The result “Ava: My Story” was ghostwritten by Stephen Birmingham. Its publication virtually accompanied her 1990 death.

What’s especially interesting in Gardner’s sudden discreet withdrawl and apparent desire not to offend Sinatra after all is its contradiction of one of the more interesting comments here – in which she says that during her marriage to Sinatra, his mob connections were no help at all to Sinatra at his career’s lowest ebb. She was footing all the bills, according to her.

What her withdrawal meant for Evans was a lot of preliminary interviewing of Gardner for a book that never happened. What should he do with it? Before his own death on Aug.31, 2012, he got permission from Gardner’s estate to publish the results here.

Good move. Few movie stars of her era were more compelling than Ava Gardner. Few were more beautiful on screen; few were privy to more famous dirty laundry (her husbands alone included the randy and compulsively philandering Mickey Rooney, the brilliant and distant Artie Shaw and, most famously of all, Sinatra, a love affair that, whatever else, neither forgot). All the indiscretion anyone could ask for (e.g. a drunken George C. Scott beat her) is here.

– Jeff Simon