Acclaimed Beauty Ava Gardner, Pride of Grabtown

Ava Gardner Portrait

Image from the New York Public Library.

On January 25, 1990, Johnston County native and world-famous actress Ava Gardner died in her London apartment.

Born on a Grabtown farm, Gardner moved around North Carolina as a child, graduated from high school in Wilson County and began a program in secretarial studies at what is now Barton College.

Discovered by chance after her brother-in-law posted a photograph in the window of his New York City studio, Gardner was offered a contract with MGM Studios. Since her mother would not allow her to head to Hollywood alone, both Garner and her sister moved to the West Coast in 1941.

Appearing in mostly minor and nonspeaking roles during the first five years of her career, Gardner saw her profile raised significantly after her 1946 performances in Whistle Stop and The Killers. Gardner went on to make at least 55 movies, including On the Beach (1959), The Night of the Iguana(1964) and Earthquake (1974). She also achieved notoriety for her marriages to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra.

Gardner moved to Spain in 1955 to escape constant hounding from the press, and after nearly decade there, moved to London, where she spent the final years of her life.

Visit: The Ava Gardner Museum in downtown Smithfield holds an extensive collection of artifacts from Ava Gardner’s career and private life.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.