- Merle Oberon, Night in Paradise, 1945. Producer Walter Wanger wanted MGM’s Gardner for the Persian Princess Delerai due to wed King Croesus, circa 560 BC. Universal insisted on Oberon. Neigher lady could save such a turkey from a director Arthur Lubin, mainly known for Abbott & Costello and Francis The Talking Mule turds.
- Barbara Stanwyck, EastSide, West Side, 1948. Casting changes for all kinds ofreasons, including, once in awhile ... adultery! The first that Ava realized that Barbara knew about Ava’s “secret” affair with Stanwyck’s husband, Robert Taylor... was when Barbara used her clout to snatch Ava’s lead in this Metro soap opera and had Ava forced her into an unimportant support role.Who’s da boss!
- Ann Sheridan, I Was A Male War Bride, 1948. Cary Grant was always going to be Captain Henri Rochard but who should be his wife...?Howard Hawks mused upon Ava before going back to the girl he’d tested for The Road To Glory a dozenyears earlier.And by now she had becomea star...TheGirl!
- Hedy Lamarr, Samson and Delilah, 1949. Good idea. Except “Angel,” as Frank Sinatra called Ava, was obviously too much for director Cecil B DeMille.
- June Allyson, Right Cross, 1949. Sure helps if you’re sleeping with the star. Allyson was the wife of the movie’s star, Dick Powell. First choice would have made more sense. Ava! Or even the girl just about seen as the model Dusky La Dieu in her tenth movie. Marilyn Monroe.
- Jeanne Cagney, Quicksand, 1949. Stealing, er “borrowing” $20 to splash on a date with his gal is just the start of Mickey Rooney’s problems. The main one being he didn’t want to make this B-thriller but A Ticket to Tomahawk with Anne Baxter. Gardner didn’t want it, either, and got her way. She was. of course, The Mick’s ex-wife (1940-1941). Andy Hardy, he wasn’t anymore.
- Yvonne De Carlo, The Girl Who Took The West, 1949. Howard Duff, Stephen McNally and Deanna Durbin (or A Gardner) became Scott Brady, John Russell and Yvonne Yvonne De Carlo. Their tale was told three ways - by two Western cousins and the gal they’re fighting over - in a Western Rashômon made a year before Japanese ace Akira Kurosawa made his instant classic - re-made as a Western in its turn as The Outrage, 1964.
- Deborah Kerr, Quo Vadis, 1950. Took America 26 years to film Henryk Sienkiewicz’s 1895 epic novel about ancient Rome. MGM won the rights in 1925. And planned to shoot in 1935…or ’42… or ’43… By 1950, Lana Turner was set for Lygia. When he couldn’t get her, director John Huston, quit at the first opportunity - ie when Gregory Peck’s eye injury meant he had to leave Rome, ancient and modern.
- Elizabeth Taylor, The Girl Who Had Everything, 1951 The usually trustworthy Daily Variety reported on August 2, 1951 that Gardner would play Jean Latimer. Liz, however, was far better suited to the role. And the title!
- Jennifer Jones, Carrie, 1951. Frank Sinatra’s career was in tatters and Ava supported her greatest love every which way - not helping her own career by refusing most everything including this class act: William Wyler filming a Theodore Dreisler novel with Laurence Olivier.
- Eleanor Parker, Scaramouche, 1951. Impossible to be Leonore in thisMGMfilm as she (always) had another MGMovie to make.
- Marilyn Monroe, Monkey Business, 1951. Ginger Rogers’ character (Cary Grant’s wife) puts Lois down as “that pin-up girl.” Sorry, Ava, baby, but Lois just had to be the biggest pin-up in the world!
- Elizabeth Taylor, Ivanhoe, 1952. But Ava got to play Guinevere in the same castle (exceptnow it was Camelot) in The Knights of the Round Table, 1954, with Robert Taylor (except now he was Lancelot).
- Ginger Rogers, Monkey Business, 1952. Howard Hawks’ first thought for the wife of the suddenly rejuvenated Cary Grant.He felt she was (already) too young for him. At 41, Ginger was the oldest leading lady ever selected by Hawks.
- Mary Welch, Park Row, 1952. Tough guy auteur Samuel Fuller financed his cut-price Citizen Kane - and lost the whole shebang: $200,000.The Press loved the newspaper story, but Darryl Zanuck was right. To win the the public Sam needed stars. For example, Gardner as the tabloid queen boss of honest editor Gregory Peck.Or (better) Peck and Susan Hayward.
- Jean Peters, Pickup On South Street, 1952. Ava, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Shelley Winters... Maverick auteur- and “tabloid philosopher”! - SamuelFuller, who invariably spoke in CAPITALS, was offered a jolie brochette to choose his Candy: “NOT SEXY ENOUGH to be a hooker, NOT SMART ENOUGH to be a housewife. AVA WAS JUST TOO LUSCIOUS TO BE CREDIBLE.”
Pier Angeli, Sombrero, 1953. What does a gal do?Her stormy lover, Frank Sinatra, wanted to take her on holiday to Hawaii. MGM wanted her to start a dullard romantic drama. Answer: She was suspended by Metro in a note sent to her in… Honolulu!
- Eleanor Parker, Scaramouche, 1952.
“I was never an actress - none of us kids at MGM were. We were just good to look at.” And, she always added: “exploited like animals.” Of herself, she declared: “She made movies, she made out and she made a fucking mess of her life. But she never made jam.”
- Lana Turner, Betrayed, 1953. You don’t mess with MGM… When La Turner missed a wardrobe fitting appointment in London for Clark Gable’s Metro finale, the suits reached for Plan G and J - Gardner or Jennfier Jones. Turner talked her way back. She was, after all, on honeymoon with the fourth of her seven husbands. Lex Barker, aka Tarzan, circa 1948-1952.
- Phyllis Kirk, Crime Wave,1954. Head Brother Jack Warner is screaming at director André De Toth.“What the hell are you thinking of?I offered you Bogart and Ava Gardner, the biggest names. You don’t want them…! Go ahead, Tex, make the goddamned picture with nobodies. Cut your own throat. But you’ll have to shoot it in 15 days. Go on, get out!” De Toth was delighted at refusing Bogie a second time and getting his own way.” He shot the thriller in14 days - with Bogie and Ava he’d have had 35.
- Lana Turner, The Prodigal, 1954. Prodigal means “recklessly wasteful and extravagant.” Exactly. Change of Samarra, the lightly-clad temptress who incited history’s first juvenile delinquent, Edmund Purdom, to leave home. Now, over to our on-set reporter Lana Turner in her autobio… “The Prodigal Son they named Micah, and to play him, chose Edmund Purdom, a young man with a remarkably high opinion of himself. His pomposity was hard enough to bear; worse yet was the garlic breath he brought back from lunch. My lines were so stupid I hated to go to work…. Even the costumes were atrocious... the material was so stiff that I felt I was wearing armor. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘I may be trapped in this picture, but I’m going to make myself as sensuous, sexy, and gorgeous as possible.”
- Doris Day, Love Me Or Leave Me, 1954. After MGM thoughts about Janes Morgan and Powell, Gardner was suspended for refusing the biopic of Ziegfeld Follies star Ruth Etting - and her first husband, James Cagney as gangster Moe “The Gimp” Snyder. (Director George Cukor also refused; he didn’t do gangsters!). Forget it, she cabled from Spain. She was only returning to the US for her divorce from Sinatra, not for another musical where “I stand there mouthing words like a goddamn goldfish while you’re piping in some goddamn dubbed voice” (as happened on Show Boat, 1951).
- Olivia De Havilland, That Lady, 1955. “And I made a mess of it,”admitted De Havilland afterone Howard Hughes lover substituted another.
- Grace Kelly, Green Fire, 1955. In the two years since sharing Gable in Mogambo, Alfred Hitchcock had made Grace the bigger MGM name.For better or worse, Ava’s philosophy had always been: “If I’m in love or having an affair, I stop working.”
- Elizabeth Taylor, Giant, 1955.
- Doris Day, Love Me Or Leave Me, 1955. Forget it, she told MGM from Spain. She was only returning to the US for her divorce from Sinatra, not for another musical where “I stand there mouthing words like a goddamn goldfish while you’re piping in some goddamn dubbed voice” (as happened on Show Boat,1951).
- Maureen O'Hara, The Magnificent Matador, 1955. Why play opposite Anthony Quinn’s fake bullfighter, when she was playing Budd Boetticher’s script for real with Luis Miguel Dominguin in Spain. Her career never interested her. “I did it for the loot, honey, always the loot.”
- Rossana Podesta, Helen of Troy, 1956. For the face that launched a thousand ships... how’s about Ava, Yvonne De Carlo, Rhonda Fleming, Liz Taylor, or Lana Turner? No, let’s find an unknown Italian who can’t speak English....
- Sophia Loren, The Pride and the Passion, 1956. As usual, Frank Sinatra had jumped into ta role that Marlon Brando refused. He soon wished he hadn’t. (a) He hated locations. (b) His wife, Ava Gardner, couldn’t be Juana due to The Little Hut. (c) Their marriage was crumbling. For her first English-speaking debut, Loren mastered the language with the aid of director Stanley Kramer’s then-wife, Anne.
Jane Russell, Hot Blood, 1956. Director Nicholas Raywanted Ava and Marlon Brando for his gypsies and settled for Jane and...Cornel Wilde??!! Marlon saw the result. And thought Russell-Wilde looked good... “in their costumes.”
- Yvonne De Carlo, Band of Angels, 1957. Ava passed on another “mixed blood” heroine after Show Boat, Bhowani Junction, despite the star being GableHerpal, directorGeorgeCukor,told her the beauty from North Carolina’s Grabtown: "Ya jes talk lak ya done in Grabtown and it’d be perfect. "
- Rita Hayworth, Fire Down Below, 1957. She wasn’t interested but Robert Mitchum was happy with the Ava idea. During My Forbidden Past, 1951, they’d had awild affair replete with (allegedly) golden showers.
- Elizabeth Taylor, Raintree County, 1957. Apart from the all-star luncheon seen inso many Hollywood documentaries,MGM alsoplanned tocelebrate it’s 1949 silver jubilee by adapting Ross Lockridge’s novel for Ava, Van Heflin,Lana Turner, Robert Walker.
- Marlene Dietrich, Witness For The Prosecution, 1957. As if he didn’t have enough trouble settling upon his hero (Kirk Douglas, Gene Kelly, Jack Lemmon, etc), Billy Wilder considered both Ava and Rita Hayworth for the titular Christine Vole.Their Cockneyspeak would have been no less horrendous than Marlene’s.
- Elizabeth Taylor, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, 1958.
“Miz Taylor was never my idea,” said Tennessee Williams. The playwright hated the film. Before director Richard Brooks took it on, MGM planned Ava opposite Anthony Franciosa or William Shatner as Brick in monochrome. Also seen: Carroll Baker. Grace Kelly, Lana Turner. In mid-shoot, Taylor’s third husband, producer Mike Todd, died in a plane crash on March 22, 1958. She collapsed but returned to woerk between April 14-May 19 - “the film saved my life.”
- Haya Harareet, Ben-Hur, 1958. Ava was considered for Esther when Marlon Brando and Robert Taylor were considered for the lead (before Charlton Heston won it). After all, MGM had last rescued Taylor's career in ’51 with Quo Vadis. Director William Wyler (of the original’s 1924 crew) looked at Gardner, Pier Angeli. Plus Carroll Baker and Carolyn Craig from another epic. Giant. Harareet, from the Israeli Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, 1955, retired in 1964 after just eight films in nine years.
- Barbara Bel Geddes, Jovanka e le altre (US: Five Branded Women, Italy-US, 1959. With their heads shaved for sleeping with German soldiers during WWII, five Yugoslav women then bravely fought for their homeland with the very partisans who had humiliated them. Also seen for the heroines: Claire Bloom, Julie Harris, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, Shirley MacLaine, Barbara Nichols, Lee Remick. Bel Geddes was not shaved for the film due to her next assignment on Broadway. (Jeanne Moreau also wore a skullcap or bald-wig).
- Sophia Loren, The Millionairess, 1960 .“Ava would have been terrible,” said UK producer Dimitri de Grunwald taking over the rights.“All the chemistry would disappear.You need Sophia’s buoyancy.”
- Belinda Lee, The Story of Joseph and His Brethern, 1960. The Columbia tycoon, Harry Cohn, kept talking to Ava about his dream movie in 1952 when all she talked about was how “that sonofabitch husband of mine” was perfect for From Here To Eternity.
- Dorothy Malone, The Last Sunset, 1960. Producer (and star) Kirk Douglas and his Western’s director Robert Aldrich said the tough pioneer Belle Breckenridge was for Ava. But Malone had scooped a surprise Supporting Actress Oscar on March 27 1957 for WrittenOnThe Wind... also co-starring Rock Hudson.
Geraldine Page, Sweet Bird of Youth, 1962. Ava was plain scared of tackling Tennessee Williams (that, she felt, required real actresses) and even more scared of playing, well, herself. Alexandra del Lago was a washed-up, man-hungry movie star. Two years on, director John Huston persuaded her (and not Bette Davis!) to be Maxine in Tennessee’s Night ofthe Iguana,whichhe based on her sad sexiness. Besides, as he told her that year: “The truth, dear Ava, is simply I want you inevery picture I ever make.”
- Capucine, The Pink Panther, 1963.
- Anne Bancroft, The Graduate, 1967. She had not made a film since 1964. She showed the script to her Madrid friend, Betty Sicre. “Ava, this is great!” She was flown to New York to meet director Mike Nichols. Their hotel rooms had connecting doors - and this became her excuse for passing. “Nichols was coming on to me. He expected me to unlock the doors.” Hardly Nichols’ style. Betty figured Ava simply blew it. She (a) “got drunk during the evening interview and Nichols decided she’d be too iffy to work with” and (b) “I don’t think she could do it at the time.”
- Elizabeth Taylor, Reflections In A Golden Eye, 1967.
Announced for Ava in 1964. “I turned down more roles than I accepted... and to be honest, the ones I accepted were often for all the wrong reasons... Hell, baby, after 25 years... if all you’ve got to show for it is Mogambo and The Hucksters, you might as well give up.”
- Melina Mercouri, Gaily, Gaily,1969. Director Norman Jewison got his way when producer Walter Mirisch wantedAva as the brothel madam, Queen Lil, giving a penniless Beau Bridges room and board in 1910 Chicago.
- Melina Mercouri, Promise At Dawn, 1970. What started as an Ingrid Bergman vehicle and ended up with Jules Dassin and his wife, had momentarily been bought by Italian director Vittorio De Sica for Ava. The “perfect script” beat them all.
- Hildegarde Neil, Antony and Cleopatra, 1972. Eighteen years earlier, duringJulius Caesar, MGM production chiefDore Schary wanted Joseph Mankiewicz to direct Marlon Brandoas Marc Antony again - with Ava as Cleopatra! Marlon refused, Joe was aghast...but then turned Ava into his form of Cleo, The Barefoot Contessa, 1954. He late re-wrote Shakespeare for Liz Taylor and Richard Burton in Cleopatra, 1962.
- Piper Laurie, Appointment With Death, 1987. As Frank Sinatra told her by phone: “It stinks getting old,” In 1986, while in hospital with pneumonia, Ava had a stroke affecting her speech and left arm; not her mind. “The part [of Emily Boynton] was of a crippled woman,” said Michael Winner. “She wanted to do it. We agreed on everything. You could see her face... and her movements slightly disjointed. But it would have been fine. Close to the starting date, she called on him. ‘Michael, I hate to let you down, but... I’m just not up to it.’ It’s OK, Ava, I understand. She was the most gracious person, a very sensitive person.”
Robert Mitchum told how on one of their films together, he and the crew hung a sign on her dressingroom door: Honest Abe. “Because she wore her own bosom.”