Venus From Mt. Vesuvius: Ava Gardner- Love is Nothing by Lee Server

Amazon Review, 2006; (Reprinted from published media)

Ava Gardner, under the mistaken belief that she

was having a date with director Howard Hawks, soon

learned that the tall, “rail thin” man with the

“rawboned face of a cowboy” was none other than Texas

entrepreneur Howard Hughes. Modestly amused by the

mixup, Hughes asked Ava out again, and they soon began

seeing each other “several times a week or more.” But

let there be no mixup about Lee Server’s powerfully

compelling portrait of Ava Gardner. The man, along

with his international contacts and sources, has

crafted a a complex portrait of a barefooted country

girl whose photograph in the window of a portrait

studio in New York ultimately captivated the world

with her beauty and the antics of her personal life.

Server’s previous biography, Robert Mitchum, Baby I

Don’t Care, showcased his expertise with all things

film and noire, and AVA GARDNER allows him full venue

to elaborate in this ode to the Barefoot Contessa of

two continents. With a surplus of parentheticals and

bottom-of-the-page addendum, Server leaves tidbits

like Ava changed partners, always something new and

savory demanding a change to the next blank page

where something must be written. From Ava’s best

friend in high school, to her last, closest chums in

London’s high-brow Knightsbridge district, everyone

had something to say about Gardner’s extraordinary

goddess-like beauty and her volatile personal


This book reveals Gardner’s inauspicious beginnings

deep in the red-dirt heartland of North Carolina, and

then provides the reader a world tour with the most

enticing brunette of the forties and fifties as she

emotes in private and on film. Hemingway, Sinatra,

Mickey Rooney, Lana Turner, Howard Hughes, Robert

Mitchum, Luis Miguel Dominguin, Esther Williams,

Fidel Castro, Judy Garland, John Huston, and many

others have their moments in the sol and sombra with

Ava. Only MGM central casting would have difficulty

finding all the extras for this moveable feast of a

book. The baked Alaska is Gardner’s jagged frankness

and crisp retorts left unprintable in the 40’s, 50’s,

and 60’s, but poured out on Server’s pages like so

much tequila.

The rise of the paparazzi, the inspiration for La

Dolce Vita and the final cast for The Pink Panther

all had something to do with Ava Gardner. There are

sweet, candid remittances from BBC Television’s Joanna

Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous fame, who was a castmember of

Roddy McDowall’s first directorial effort, Tam Lin, which

starred Gardner in her forty-seventh year. Her utter lack

of prejudice reveals her democratic spirit, and Server’s sources also

illuminate past information from previously published

show business biographies that has been tweaked and

updated with scandal, certainty, and revelations from

Ava’s personal friends (Spoli Mills, Betty Sicre) and

industry insiders like Gene Reynolds, producer of

television’s M*A*S*H*, Hemingway pal A.E. Hotchner,

and Artie Shaw, Ava’s second husband. But it was her

third husband she had the most difficulty releasing.

Server’s depiction of Ava and Frank drops readers in

the minefields and mortar shells of a very personal

war that was unfortunately quite public, and it

leaves no profanity unmuttered. Credits rolled at the

end of their final love scene, and Server fills in

the spaces no one else dared or could.

With a list of 109 personal interviews and 24 pages of

sources, Server ‘s skullduggery into the nine decades

since Ava Gardner arrived in Grabtown, North Carolina,

on December 24, 1922, has revealed the Venus who often

erupted like Mount Vesuvius, leaving heartbreak

and despair in her wake. The only elements missing are

possibly the addition of more photographs and a desire

to see Ava Gardner, the actress and seductress, on

film again. The psychology of her alcoholism and her

regrets at the end of her life reveal the pain. But

her eternal beauty and her gypsy soul dance away the

night in the streets and clubs of Madrid. You can

almost hear the castanets.

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