Ava Gardner began her career first as a model, then as a contract player at MGM, where her gawky, unsophisticated demeanor was totally made over by the studio into an image of inaccessible glamour. Gardner toiled in tiny bit roles, finally getting a worthwhile one on loan-out to Universal in The Killers (1946). MGM was never very comfortable with the bad-girl persona she displayed so well in this film, and, thus, most of her starring appearances at her home studio were relatively sympathetic roles in The Hucksters (1947) and Show Boat (1951). Her cinema reputation as The World’s Most Beautiful Animal (in the words of a ’50s publicity campaign) was once again manifested in loan-out movies like Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) and The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952).
MGM eventually came to terms with the elements that made Gardner popular, notably in the gutsy Mogambo (1953), in which she made an excellent partner to the equally earthy Clark Gable. Director George Cukor was much taken by Gardner and cast the actress in her best and most complex MGM role in Bhowani Junction (1956), in which she was torn not only by love but also clashing East Indian cultural values. Gardner was equally well served in The Barefoot Contessa (1954), which, in many ways, was a replay of her own rags-to-riches personal story. The actress was cast in some of her best parts during the ’60s, notably in Seven Days in May and Night of the Iguana (both 1964), but the pace of her jet-setting lifestyle and increasing personal problems began to show. With roles and public appearances steadily decreasing, she died on January 25, 1990. She was married and divorced three times — to Mickey Rooney, Frank Sinatra, and Artie Shaw.