28 September 2014

My dear Ava

After her roles in "Mogambo" (1953) and "The Barefoot Contessa" (1954), Ava Gardner --often seen as one of Hollywood's most beautiful leading ladies-- was beginning to be taken seriously as an actress. Her next film "Bhowani Junction" (1956), in which she played an Anglo-Indian woman, earned her critical praise, as did several of her later films like "On the Beach" (1959) and "The Night of the Iguana" (1964).

Not long after Ava had finished making "Bhowani Junction", her friend and manager Jess Morgan wrote her this very entertaining (undated) letter, presumably written while Ava was in her home state North Carolina. Being away from the Hollywood hubbub, Morgan kept Ava in the loop on all the news. In the letter, he first talks about his plane catching fire and then tells her --in a fascinating paragraph that gives us a peek inside MGM's executive room-- that she probably will be getting her well-deserved car. Next, he updates Ava on the latest Hollywood gossip before urging her, in the final paragraph, to do a couple of photo shoots to promote "Bhowani Junction" ("Know how you hate it"). 

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission



My dear Ava:

Wanted to write a few lines to you earlier but goddamn it there really hasn't been time. I really jumped into a hotbox here. Lotsa production, lotsa problems and headaches, lotsa work. Believe me, I didn't know when I was well off. At least in London-- or [redacted] anywhere else for that matter, you're away from all this hulabaloo. Can I come to Spain with you?

First off-- suppose you've heard by now that your dolls and your painting and your x-ray were all delivered. For a time there I didn't think they'd make it. [redacted] The damn plane caught fire in Iceland-- fortunately just before we took off-- and we all had to climb out in [redacted] whatever we were wearing (nylon shorts for me) and look on from a distance. It seemed the plane might explode any minute and of course it's a miracle that it didn't. [redacted] Somehow as I stood there on that icy volcanic island --it was in the middle of the night-- and watched the flames licking about the fuselage I thought of all my clothes going up (a little sadly) and then I thought of the x-ray of your kidney -- and somehow I saw the humor of it. Anyway -- they finally put the flames out and later were able to climb [redacted] aboard and rescue everything -- although we had to sit on the darned island 24 hours and wait for another plane to come from Paris.

I had the M-G-M office in New York mail the dolls and painting to N. Carolina. Hoped they arrived safely.

[redacted] The first day I was in New York I was in Howard Dietz's office and was showing him photographs of you (the ones made in the rain cabin) and raving about your performance -- and the picture as well.  I also told him about your message to Benny Thau. And told him I thought you deserved the car. Well-- a couple of hours later it was lunchtime and Dietz took me up to the executive dining room to give Nick Schenk, Arthur Loew and others a run down on the picture and your performance -- also showing them the stills. It happened Benny [redacted] Thau was sitting at the table. Dietz then said-- "You have a message for Benny, don't you, Morgan?" I asked Thau if he wanted me to give it to him just as you had told it to me. He said "yes"-- So I said "Ava says you can go fuck yourself and she says she'll know what she means". Thau laughed weakly -- and Schenck wanted to know what the message meant. Then Thau told about Allenberg's visit to your office and the request for the car. He said that for tax reasons or something (I never did get it [redacted] straight) it hadn't seemed a good idea either for you or the company. But Thau then launched into a long discussion about what a great job you're doing in the picture --how cooperative you've been-- how hard you've been working, etc. Schenck nodded approval and said he could see by the photographs what a superb job you're doing. Thau said he thinks you should have the car-- or indicated he thought you should have it. Soon after that I left the dining room so I don't know final disposition. But I certainly would be surprised if you don't get the car (handwritten comment: Think you should have Allenberg follow through again).

Here at the studio things seem more hectic than ever. I'll write a few lines of gossip: 
Eddie Fisher and Debbie seem washed up, although he flew out to see her [redacted] over last weekend... Sinatra was on the lot yesterday to test wardrobe for "The Tender Trap" which he is doing with Debbie and David Wayne... it's [redacted] an amusing script and a good part for him ... Chuck Walters is directing... Understand Frank resented Brando on "Guys and Dolls" .. he wasn't very cooperative on the picture from all accounts..... but that's his business of course.... Lana and Lex have been tiffing but are still happy on the surface.... Lex was made [sic] about her trip to Mexico.... Lana is telling everyone she won't be happy unless she can you to do "My Most Intimate [redacted] Friend" with her.. she thinks it's a good script...Understand "The Female" is off for a while... I talked to Grace Kelly in New York... she is due out here end of this month.. will do "The [redacted] Swan" with Charles Vidor directing .... Dave Boulton is here... what a surprise...Bob Taylor's baby due any minute.. Ursula went to [redacted] hospital two days ago but it was false alarm... Gable probably will be married before end of the month-- to Spreckles.... everyone is raving about "Bhowani", what they've seen of it. 

Hope to hell you'll be able to do that special art and the glamor pictures, Ava. There's nothing more important as far as exploitation on the picture goes. Even if Dave isn't there-- try to do a few glamor covers for magazines. They have nothing left in New York and of course it'll be a hell of a long time before you're in a gallery again. You've done such a wonderful job --in every way-- on the picture that you might as well go all the way and do your part for us, too. Try to do what you can. Know how you hate it. But, believe me, it is important. We want to put a really big selling campaign behind the picture and you know that Ava Gardner is what we're selling the mostest.

Love to you-- let me know if anything I can do for you-- miss you and hope it won't be too long before we see you.

Love -

Ava Gardner in a publicity photo for "Bhowani Junction", and Ava with Stewart Granger having fun on the set.
Ava Gardner with good friend Lana Turner. Jess Morgan says in his letter that Lana wanted to do the film "My Most Intimate Friend" with Ava; the film, however, was never made.


  1. Fascinating letter. All the gossip of Hollywood at the time.