Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hollywood And Mallorca - Ava Gardner

Of the Hollywood greats who attached themselves to Mallorca in any particularly prominent fashion in the 1950s, Ava Gardner's greatness was greater than others. Unlike Errol Flynn, her star was still in the ascendant, her fame enhanced - sort of -by her marriage to Frank Sinatra. That marriage, her third and last, was her longest (six years). But it was as shaky as the two previous shorter marriages to Mickey Rooney and Artie Shaw. Ava Gardner, member of Hollywood royalty, a renowned beauty and a femme fatale, separated from Sinatra after just two years of their marriage. They finally divorced in 1957, by which time Gardner had been living in Madrid, on and off, for six years. If Mallorca was able to shine with the glow of some Gardner stardust, Madrid was able to beam with headlights full on. But that - the glow from the stardust - was and is a myth.

It was said of Gardner that she drank Madrid for fifteen years (she moved to London in 1967) and that there was no man in Madrid who had not slept with her or who had not drunk in the same bar as Ernest Hemingway, with whom she was friendly. Just one of the stories about her time in Madrid involved the exiled former president of Argentina, Juan Perón. She lived above Perón in an apartment on the Calle Doctor Arce. He denounced her because of the noise from the parties that would take place night after night.

The Ava Gardner association with Mallorca began in 1955. In that year she visited Robert Graves in Deya for the first time. There was, and neither of them sought to deny it, a great deal of mutual attraction, but it went no further than that. In his poem "Not to sleep", Graves expressed how he felt and how insomniac he became when Ava came to stay: "Will she be wearing red, or russet or blue; Or pure white? - whatever she wears, glorious; Not to sleep all the night long, for pure joy."

The relationship with Graves and his family should have afforded Gardner a Mallorcan reputation that was of a more sophisticated nature than that of Errol Flynn. Perhaps it did, but her Madrid reputation was not lost as she crossed the sea to the island. This said, while there are documented tales of Flynn and his drinking, a greater discretion has been shown towards Gardner, though as I noted in yesterday's article, Riki Lash has intimated that in addition to alcohol she was partial to the odd joint as well.

Gardner's Mallorca connection was, in truth, never that strong. Of tourist destinations, it is fair to say that Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava has made far more of a connection (there is a statue to her that overlooks the sea). It was here where Gardner first fell in love with Spain. She came to make the film "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman" in 1950. James Mason was her leading man, and among the cast was a bullfighter-turned-actor called Mario Cabré. Stories of a romance between the two may only have been for publicity, but during the time she was filming she began to develop other passions, very Spanish ones - those for the bullfight and flamenco.

On the face of it, therefore, Gardner might have seemed ideal for giving a more positive image of Spain to the wider world. But that wasn't the case. Ex-president Perón was not the only one who objected to her partying. The regime was not exactly enamoured of her either. She represented everything that it rejected. Single, divorced, a drinker, a woman of questionable morals, she may have been a celebrity whose fame went round the world, but hers was not an image that the Franco regime craved. When Hemingway, one of her closest friends and allies and who was a regular visitor to Spain, committed suicide in 1961, her relationship with the regime became ever more tempestuous. The Minister for Information and Tourism, Manuel Fraga, famously stood her up when she invited him for drinks. She wasn't to leave Spain until 1967, but as far as the regime was concerned, it would have been happy to have seen the back of her well before she did ultimately go.

There is a good deal of rewriting of history where these Hollywood greats and their Mallorcan promotional role is concerned. Gardner, for one, was never cultivated as some sort of "face" of Mallorca. The regime may have wanted Hollywood and the film industry to have helped it with its image, but this was help sought on its terms. Gardner and her reputation were not among those terms. She may have spread awareness of Mallorca among Americans, but as far as what were to become the key tourism markets, her involvement with Mallorca, together with Flynn and others, had negligible influence.

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