Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner: A Story of Golden Couple

Her biography, Ava, a Life in Movies, drops bombshells at her marriage to Frank Sinatra.

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Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner were an iconic celebrity couple back in the 1950s. Frank Sinatra, no doubt was a major star of 1940s, and Ava Gardner was once been proclaimed the most irresistible woman in Hollywood. Here’s a story of the impressive celebrity couple’s romance, with its ups and downs.

Before even turning 25, Ava was out of two marriages: a 9-month whirlwind romance with young star Mickey Rooney and a short-lived marriage to bandleader Artie Shaw. Sinatra, on the contrary, was married to his sweetheart Nancy for 12 years before leaving her for Gardner. How come such a solid marriage was destroyed?

Their first meet

Sinatra first met Gardner in 1943 when she was at a studio commissary with her then-husband Mickey Rooney. At that time, Gardner was only 21, she has just made her first appearance in a feature film. Upon seeing her, Sinatra approached and said something utterly banal, like: ‘If I had seen you first, honey, I’d have married you myself.’ She didn’t even pay attention, as she recounted, he was married and had a child.

After multiple short affairs with her co-stars, Gardner reconsidered Frank Sinatra and initiated what would become the most defining relationship in her life.

Both kept their distance until a fateful 1949 meeting at MGM. Sinatra was completely smitten by her, despite having been happily married to his longtime love, Nancy. Gardner’s acting career took off with a few major releases, including “The Hucksters” (starring Clark Gable) and a femme fatale role in “The Killers”.

“I looked at her and said, ‘Jesus, you got prettier since last time I saw ya,’” Sinatra said, according to the biography. “This was not the young girl from Carolina at the studio. This was a woman who was glorious.”

The two started a whirlwind affair that would later become an example of deeply troubled relationships. After his affair became public, Nancy left Frank with the three children. A few weeks into their divorce in 1951, Sinatra became Gardner’s husband. Nancy went on to raise their three children: Nancy, Frank Jr. and Tina.

It seemed that both have finally found their happiness. What could have gone wrong?

Their careers went unsynchronized

Just before the two got married, Time put Gartner on the cover, referring to her as to ‘Hollywood’s most irresistible female’. While her career took off, Sinatra was on the skids. MGM had dropped his contact a few times, so he was not in a good place.

Not only did his career take a turn for the worse, but according to media outlets, many things in this relationship were unhealthy. Whenever Sinatra bought Gardner gifts, he would charge them to her account. Gardner also had a clause written into her contract saying her studio would find him some job opportunities. 

Here’s how Gartner referred to her relationship with Frank Sinatra in an interview for her autobiography:

“Frank and I had been married barely a couple of years. The marriage was obviously unraveling even then. I’m just surprised it lasted as long as it did. It was a bad time for Frank. Poor darling, he was so insecure. He was broke. He didn’t have a job. He was hanging on to his place in Palm Springs by the skin of his teeth. It was the last real asset he had. If he’d lost that, it would have been the end of the line for him.”

Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner: A Story of Golden Couple Celebrities

Ava Gartner had two abortions while married to Frank Sinatra

While preparing for her role in Mogambo in Nairobi, Gardner became pregnant. She always wanted a family but stability was critical to her. She thought she needed to provide the same stability she used to have as a child.

At that time, Sinatra was hitting the bottle, and their relationships were strained, to say the least. Ava wasn’t sure whether she could provide the stability to her children. On top of that, MGM had several penalty clauses that prevented actresses from having babies. After multiple considerations, she decided to have an abortion without telling him.

For Sinatra, it was a personal tragedy and after he learned about the baby, he was absolutely overwhelmed.

Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner tried to make their relationships work, however, after she got pregnant for the second time and chose the same option, it seemed that he was just not enough for whatever needs she had.

Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner: A Story of Golden Couple Celebrities
American actors and singers Frank Sinatra (1915 – 1998) and Ava Gardner (1922 – 1990), circa 1953. Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Ava Gartner had an affair with a co-star

Gardner was always open-minded towards adultery and often cried foul at the double standards that allowed men to sleep around while women were shamed for the same kind of behavior. While filming in Singapore, the actress felt an instant connection with her married co-star Fred MacMurray and they began a secret relationship. However, when she learned that his wife is sick, she immediately ended this affair.

How it ended

Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, a beautiful celebrity couple, were married for 6 years, from 1951 to 1957, and eventually parted their ways. The two would go on to have multiple affairs with others before divorcing in 1957, though they remained close friends until her death in 1990.

Sinatra later married actress Mia Farrow and their marriage lasted two years, from 1966 until 1968. He later married Barbara Sinatra, which turned out to be his longest marriage, from 1976 until his death in 1998 at age 82.

Gartner never remarried. She resented having spent too much time filming the movies. “I wish now I had the things most important to a woman— a good marriage, children, a better education”, she said.

Both Frank Sinatra and Ava Gartner influenced their generation and changed vintage fashion forever.

Ava, a Life in Movies and Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations are both available on Amazon.

Adapted from Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations, by Peter Evans and Ava Gardner, published by Simon & Schuster; © 2013 by the estate of Peter Evans and the Ava Gardner Trust.


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