From Piney Wood to Hollywood
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Exit 91 I-95s To: Brogden Rd, Smithfield, in Smithfield,NC
Since we are surrounded by piney woods and farmlands, it seems a good time to discuss this area's contribution to Hollywood Glamour. No country has impacted global culture like America. From rock ‘n roll to soul, to hip hop to Hollywood — especially Hollywood — almost every corner of the world knows and follows American celebrities.
Maybe it is because unlike say England and other old world cultures, America worships the people who come up from nowhere. In Britain the media and magazines are all about the Royals and Dukes and Lord so and so. Here, we honor raw talent and worship rags to riches. We make these next door neighbors into classics — Classic American success stories. For the majority of the world, who are still wearing rags, America’s promise came from the slums and woods and factories and farmlands.
Upcoming is the town of Smithfield.
In Smithfield there is a museum to a local school girl who became one of the biggest Movie Stars of the mid-Twentieth Century. That Movie Star was literally discovered by a Hollywood talent scout from a photograph in a Photography Studio on New York’s Fifth Avenue. At the time, that eighteen year old was a student at Atlantic Christian College. Atlantic Christian College is a little further up I-95 in Wilson, North Carolina and is called Barton College today.
Anyways, Hollywood was the farthest thing from her mind. But she did answer the casting call and once in Hollywood, she walked across the room, rearranged a vase of flowers... And that’s all it took. Ava Gardner from Smithfield became a superstar. In short order, she starred opposite Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly and a slew of Hollywood’s Golden Era matinee idols.
Fast forward 50 years and she is now an aging lady at the end of her career and just 5 years from her death at age 63. Still she was a power and more, she had class in her waning days. Here now is an article from the New York Times from 1985. We can imagine what the talent scout saw and why there is a museum in her hometown. Ava Gardner makes any Tarheel proud. Wrote Peter Kaplan about his interview:
“The barefoot contessa wore rubber thongs. She walked over the cream carpet at the Waldorf Towers, which was the same shade of cream as her calves, in a pair of tight watermelon- pink toreador slacks. Above the slacks was a cherry-colored sweatshirt. She had a sequined letter A over one breast, and above the red sweatshirt was a hot-pink scarf, above which was the face of Ava Gardner.
“With her green eyes and shaken-out auburn coif, Miss Gardner did not look so very different from the way she looked 20- 30 years earlier in ''The Barefoot Contessa,'' ''On the Beach'' and ''Mogambo.'' She sat with a bottle of spring water and chain-smoked, talking in a low voice that carried tones of North Carolina, where she was born, and London, where she lives.
“ Speaking of her frequent co-star Clark Gable she said, ‘' Clark was very sweet, and very big and masculine with lots of personality. Of course I had a crush on him. I worked with him in 'The Hucksters' and I had to sing a song to him. Clark used to walk off a set every day at 5 - Boom! - he was gone, but this day he stayed so I could sing to him instead of to some prop man. He straddled a chair and sat just off-camera, and every once in a while I'd think, 'It's Clark Gable!' and I'd go to pieces.’'
The next time she worked with Mr. Gable was on ''Mogambo,'' in Africa, and her director was the top ten director of all time, John Ford. ''Adored him. Adored him!'' she said. ''The meanest man on earth. Thoroughly evil. We started off with such a battle. He didn't want me at all. He wanted Maureen O'Hara, and he let it be known.”
''Grace Kelly was in the picture, and he adored her. But he was very cold to me. Didn't even look at me. Just cold, and that was all. So I went back to my room and talked it over with Frank.'' She was married to Frank Sinatra - her third husband - and he had flown to Africa with her for the shooting.
''So I told Frank, 'I'm going to talk to Ford.' I stomped in and I said: 'I'm just as Irish and mean as you are. I'm not going to take this. I'm sorry if you don't like me - I'll go home.'
''And he just looked up at me as if he didn't know what I was talking about and said: 'I don't know what you mean. Who's been rude to you?' ''
She battled with Mr. Ford through the picture and ended up being great friends with him. ''He was big,'' she said. ''If he hated you, he let you know it and made you fight with him. The only people I didn't like were the nitty ones who never let you know. You couldn't fight with them.’'
'Listen, honey,'' she said. ''I was never really an actress. Not really. None of us kids that came from M-G-M were. We were just good to look at.’'
Born in 1922, she left North Carolina and arrived in Hollywood in 1941. Famous for her tempestuous passion, she married three times: to Andy Rooney, Frank Sinatra and the bandleader-clarinetist Artie Shaw.
Her marriage to Frank Sinatra, however, became the legendary one, through the pain he said he suffered. Their love affair, many said, led to the anguished resonance of his classic albums of the 1950’s, songs like “In the Wee small hours of the Morning”, and “Dancing in the Dark”.
Ava says Mr. Sinatra is ''a great artist.’'
''He has a thing in his voice,'' she said. ''I've only heard it in three people: Maria Callas, Frank and Judy Garland. A quality that makes me want to cry, like a beautiful sunset or a boys' choir singing Christmas carols. Those three people make me cry for happiness.’'
“About 7:30 P.M., Miss Gardner exchanged her water for a Scotch. Ava Gardner sipped her Scotch. She remembered a story about the great director George Cukor. She got up. ''I hate dirty ashtrays,'' she said, going around the room emptying them. An ash dropped on her watermelon-pink slacks and she brushed it off.
''You know,'' she said, ''George Cukor said the nicest thing that's ever been said about me. 'Ava,' he told an interviewer, 'is a gentleman.' ''
Ava Gardner, in red and pink, stopped in the middle of the cream carpet. ''A gentleman,'' she said. ''I like that.’'
Then she recalled a final story about George Cukor which said as much about her and loyalty and forgiveness, qualities that she likely learned in either Atlantic Christian College or right here in Smithfield North Carolina.
‘'George Cukor was in Russia, making a film called 'The Blue Bird,' and I came over to help him. We had been friends for years, and they didn't have much money. So I said, I will work for free.
''Well, it was hell. It probably hastened his death. It was very, very difficult. And one day we were doing a scene, and George suddenly turned nasty, as I'd seen him get nasty to other people. He was a wonderful man but he could be extremely rude. When I was done, I left, and he didn't say good-bye.
''Well, months and months went by, and we didn't speak. Then one day I saw one of his old movies with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. It was wonderful, and I wrote him a telegram that said, 'They don't make 'em like that anymore.’
''And he wrote me a telegram back, and it said, 'They don't make 'em like you anymore, Ava.' ‘'
So driver, if you got a little time, you may want to check out the Museum in Smithfield. It was created for an American Classic — who happened to grow up right here.
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