In Hollywood, it isn’t uncommon to find friendships that pleasantly surprise you.
One of these close duos happen to be the unlikely paring of Ava Gardner and Lena Horne.
Much has been heard about these two, and we all know about that infamous “battle” for a coveted role in Showboat. But, if you were to go behind the scenes and take a deep dive into these two women, you’ll see that they were quite possible the closest pair of friends you’d ever meet.
As part of the Summer Under the Stars lineup, TCM has dedicated two separate days for both LenaHorne and AvaGardner. Airing on the 6th and 8th respectively, Gardner and Horne have much more in common that most people would be led to believe.
After movie shoots, Ava and Lena would go to each other’s apartments, drink, laugh, and tell stories of sleazy co-stars that tried to hit on them.
Ava would tell Lena how difficult it was up-holding the status of being a sex symbol and Lena would open up about the struggles of being a light skin black actress in a notoriously prejudiced Hollywood.
There were even times where Lena, being the brilliant singer that she was, would help Ava sing her way through her own recordings in order to help her prepare for the role of Julie LaVerne in Showboat.
Both of these women have incredible bodies of work and I urge you all to check out at least a couple of their films. They both persevered and fought through the crazy system that was the Hollywood golden age.
When I’m not watching classic films or laughing hysterically at What’s My Line? clips on YouTube, I spend my spare time reading.
Back in the day, I wasn’t a huge fan of reading; I would’ve much rather been working with my hands in some, unique, creative way, whether that may have been cooking, writing or playing an annoying soccer simulator on my phone that refused to let me win for some, frustrating, reason.
This toxic mindset of mine did a complete 180° when I discovered the love I have for classic movies my freshman year of high school. As I explained in a previous post, I was introduced to a number of classics through a very informative (and transformative) Film Appreciation class. It taught me that there’s more to movies than explosions, random sex scenes and lazy directing that were so prevalent in modern films.
From that point on, I found a new hobby – collecting, and reading, books about classic movies.
The more I watched these pictures, the more information I wanted to know about them. This lead me to seek out every and any book printed about that specific moment in time. I combed over a multitude of books that would help me get a better understanding of an era of movie history that I held so dearly.
The following are a list of books that I’ve read over the years. If you’re so inclined, I strongly suggest you pick up a couple. You’ll have a better understanding of the world of classic cinema and will certainly deepen your love and admiration for them.
5. By Myself and Then Some by Lauren Bacall
Written without the help of a ghostwriter, By Myself and Then Some is Lauren Bacall – unfiltered.
Ms. Bacall goes through each portion of her life with extraordinary detail.
It starts off with her birth in The Bronx, talking about her absentee father and being raised by her mother, then takes you through how she got her first job working as a theatre usher and how that lead her to be discovered by Howard Hawks‘ wife Silm thanks to a Harper’s Bazaar cover. Eventually, she takes us through the courtship, marriage and eventual death of Bogart, heartbreakingly describing the terrible night he passed away in 1957.
This sounds somber, yes, but there are quite a few upbeat moments as well. There several behind the scenes stories of rowdy on-set antics of some of Bacall‘s favorite films. The African Queen, How to Marry a Millionaire and To Have and Have Not are some of the many films that Bacall writes about in this book.
Since she wrote this herself, the book does run a little long, 500+ pages to be exact. But, it does provide a fascinating insight into what it must’ve been like living during the Golden age of Hollywood.
ISBN 10: 0061127914
ISBN 13: 978-0061127915
4. Grace by Robert Lacey
Much has been written about Grace Kelly, so much, in fact, that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction.
Thank the Lord for Robert Lacey.
For a long time, I was trying to find a definitive Grace Kelly biography. I would search Amazon Books, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads to no avail.
Until I stumbled upon Grace by Robert Lacey.
Perhaps, the most lengthy biography of her, Grace covers every single aspect of Kelly‘s life. Now, the reason why I said I was searching so heavily for something like this is that there have been various, let’s just say – rumors, about Grace that no one would confirm or deny. I wanted a book that would clear up some of the stories that I’ve so often heard surrounding the Grace Kelly “legend.”
Lacey goes in-depth into Grace‘s life, from the highs (winning an Academy Award) to the lows (her overbearing parents rejecting every man she brought home to marry) and everything in between. If you always wanted to see the other side to Grace Kelly, this book is for you.
ISBN 10: 0399138722
ISBN 13: 978-0399138720
3. Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations by Peter Evans
I always wondered what it would be like to have a drink with Ava Gardner, luckily this book gave me the chance.
Written by Peter Evans, The Secret Conversations is a wild ride. Devilishly candid and wildly witty Ava Gardner sounds off on her life, loves and career in this recently released ‘memoir.’
The book is a hilarious look at Ava Gardner‘s stream of consciousness. With Peter Evans visiting her during her wine-fueled late night rants, this book is filled to the brim with juicy tidbits about Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, Howard Hughes, and quite frankly, any person Ava came in contact with during her days in Hollywood.
It makes you feel like you’re eavesdropping into to a conversation between two friends, I think that’s what makes this book feel so…intimate. It feels real and down to earth, just like Ava.
I have to warn you, however, the book does get fairly explicit, and you may be shocked at some of the stuff you read, but, if you read it through the lens of modern-day Hollywood, I promise you, it’s less ‘pearl-clutching’ than you think.
ISBN 10: 145162770X
ISBN 13: 978-1451627701
2. Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the Dawn of the Modern Woman.
Everyone loves Audrey Hepburn.
Everyone loves Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Why not combine the two?
That’s exactly what Sam Wasson does in Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman. My favorite piece of in-flight reading material, 5 A.M, reads like a warm cup of tea.
In the book, Wasson tells the behind the scenes history of the production of Breakfast at Tiffany’s against the backdrop of the personal lives of everyone involved. Truman Capote, Blake Edwards, and Audrey Hepburn all had a hand in making ‘BaT’ the cultural icon as we know it today. Sam Wasson compartmentalizes their lives in a fun read that every fan of this 1961 classic should have on their nightstand.
ISBN 13: 9780061774164
1. Conversations With Joan Crawford by Roy Newquist
The first and final book on this list is one that I enjoyed the most.
Joanie, Joanie, Joanie, what have you done?
Maybe the funniest and most enlightening on this list, Conversations with Joan Crawford left me in tears – the good kind.
I absolutely adored this book.
It made me see a side of Joan Crawford that I never knew she had. Printed in 1979, it took me a while to find a copy of this book in circulation, but when I did, I never looked back.
‘Conversations’ is basically 179 pages of a collection of interviews Joan has done talking about her career, lovers, children and anything else that may have been bothering her at the time. Boozier than a bar the night prohibition was implemented, Joan confesses to a lot of things that normal Crawford biographies wouldn’t touch.
Raucously funny, and at times very emotional, Conversations with Joan Crawford is an intriguing look at the last days of a Hollywood legend, and a fitting end to this list of books that would fill any classic movie fan with glee.
About 3 weeks ago, I had to flee my humble abode due to Hurricane Irma.
It wasn’t an ideal situation, but, I made the most of it. My family and I packed up our things, loaded up our cars and took off. We didn’t know exactly where we were going, so, we drove until we couldn’t do it anymore. 2 days and many bags of Doritos and trail mix later, our final destination was Greenville, North Carolina.
Now, I wasn’t too keen on disrupting my life due to a hurricane (very selfish, I know) however, what I got to experience because of it was marvelous.
During this period of adjustment, I had the opportunity to visit a classic Hollywood attraction that not many people are aware of.
Nestled within a busy downtown shopping district, The Ava Gardner Museum is the crown jewel of Smithfield, North Carolina.
When I first walked into that lovely establishment, I was greeted by a ‘larger than life’ sized picture of Ava Gardner as her character Kitty Collins from the hit 1946 film noir The Killers.
That photo instantly caught my attention and set the tone for what was a fascinating look at the life and loves of this remarkable woman.
Picking up my jaw and wiping the drool off my bottom lip after what I’ve just witnessed, I was escorted to a dark room filled with various paintings and movie posters of Ava where I was shown a mini-biography of her life.
The film features numerous interviews and first-hand accounts from friends and family members discussing how Ava affected their lives.
The movie was quite charming and it certainly established the mood for the rest of my tour of the museum.
Following my excursion to the theatre, I was promptly submerged in all things, Ava Gardner. The exhibits ranged from Ava‘s early years growing in Garbtown, North Carolina to her lifelong friendship with Gregory Peck and even a few props from some of my favorite films she starred in.
What I particularly enjoyed about my walk around was how intimate it was. I truly felt like I knew Ava, it was as if I was alongside her through each and every stage of her life. These exhibits transcended her movies, they gave me a glimpse into the world of a Hollywood icon.
If you ever find yourself in Eastern North Carolina, I highly recommend stopping by this hidden treasure. Not only will you find yourself face to face with artifacts of a Hollywood legend, you may end up learning a thing or two and as a classic film fan, it gave me everything I wanted – and more.
If you ever wanted to roam the savannas of Kenya with two gorgeous women and a very gray Clark Gable, then Mogambo may be the movie for you.
Directed by John Ford and filmed on location in Tanzania and Kenya, Mogambo isno one’s favorite movie, unless you ask me.
Kelly. Gable. Ford. Gardner in Africa
I can’t think of anything better.
The film starts off with Eloise “Honey Bear” Kelly (played by Ava Gardner) taking a shower to cool off from the hot African sun. It appears that Eloise is in Africa hoping to meet up with a rich maharajah who promised her that he takes care of her for the rest of her life. True to classic Hollywood form that doesn’t happen, so, Eloise is stuck in the middle of Kenya, with no money and no man.
Right after we get introduced to the raven-haired beauty, we meet a very gray-looking Clark Gable who’s playing a big game hunter named Victor Marswell.
Victor Marswell is your typical 1950s male. Big, strong, brash, and attracted to women half his age. These characteristics are the most apparent in the scene where Victor stumbles upon Eloise scantily clad in a robe, just inches away from stepping out of the shower. The two trade jabs for a few moments until Eloise tells him why she’s really here.
Amused, but slightly annoyed, Victor, begrudgingly agrees to let Eloise stay on the reservation until the next boat to the airport swings by. During those few days, Victor and Eloise develop feelings for each other.
Here’s where things get a bit tricky.
Off to the horizon, a boat gets docked. In it brings a lovely pair named the Nordleys – Donald (played by Donald Sinden) and Linda (played by Grace Kelly.) The Nordleys are wealthy English couple who came to this Kenyan reservation with the hope of being able to go into gorilla country.
Victor, being the grumpy old man that he is, flat out refuses to re-adjust his schedule just to play tour guide to a couple of privileged Brits. Meanwhile, when all of this is happening, Eloise returns to the reservation due to a malfunction on the passenger boat that she intended to take out of Africa.
The next morning, Eloise and Linda convene for some breakfast. For some reason, Eloise takes the liberty to tell Linda about all of her past sexual escapades. This, understandably, makes Linda uncomfortable, but, this interaction is a good indicator of what their relationship will look like as the film progresses.
Those brief exchange of words prompts Linda to take a stroll around the reservation to get her thoughts in order. While out on this walk, she stumbles upon a black leopard ready to pounce.
Unbeknownst to Linda, Victor was behind her the entire time, making sure that she doesn’t get killed. If it wasn’t for his heroics, Linda would’ve been a dead woman, and we couldn’t have that, can we? On their way back to the base, an unnatural wind-storm stirs up around them, which forces Victor too, literally, sweep Linda off her feet and carry her to safety.
This intense moment, obviously, causes Linda to see Victor in a different light – a romantic light.
Well, “oh, no!” you say, “Linda’s married!”
The conflict arises.
Later that night at dinner, Eloise notices that things are a little bit tense between Linda and Victor. She quickly catches the drift and starts subtly teasing the two during the entire meal. In order to ease tensions (or in my opinion, escalate them) Victor announces that he’s had a change of heart and will take the Nordleys to see the gorillas, albeit resentfully.
Eloise, pretty much sick of Africa, tags along on the trek so she could leave the group halfway to catch (another) flight back to the States. So, the group leaves the reservation in search of some gorillas, but, as everyone else is trying to enjoy the scenery (mainly Linda’s husband) Eloise, Linda and Victor are stuck in a love triangle.
How about that?
Poor Donald Nordley, all he wanted to see were some gorillas, and all he got was his wife falling in love with a man who looks like Clark Gable.
It’s a pity.
On their way to gorilla country, the group takes a ‘pit stop’ at a mission run by a priest named Father Josef (played by Denis O’Dea) who agrees to lend Victor a few canoes so that he could, safely, cross a rather aggressive river. While Victor is retrieving those canoes, Eloise takes this opportunity to confess to Father Josef about the things that have been weighing heavily on her heart (aka let me tell someone that this lady has been cheating on her husband of 7 years.)
The Father suggests that Eloise should go and attempt to make a friend out of Mrs. Nordley. She takes him up on that offer and apologizes for everything she’s done, while simultaneously extending a hand of friendship. Linda rebuffs her advances, creating an even deeper divide between the two women.
After getting the canoes, the group continues on into the jungles of Kenya. They finally reach a checkpoint where Eloise would be dropped off.
Upon landing on this territory, they find the station manager badly injured from what appears to be a native uprising the night before. This setback causes Eloise to miss her flight (again) and now, she’s stuck on this tour until they head back to the reservation.
As they’re escorting the man out they get attacked by the same tribe that injured him in the first place. Luckily, they manage to escape unscathed.
That night, the group finally reaches gorilla country. After a long day of traveling, everyone comfortably settles down into their campsites. Eloise is busy talking to a tour guide about her late ex-husband, Mr. Nordley is blissfully unaware of what’s happening to his wife, and Victor and Linda are nowhere to be found.
Actually, they’re out taking a moonlight stroll together, but, her husband doesn’t care! He’s out here to see some gorillas.
While out on their midnight walk, Victor and Linda fall into a very passionate embrace. We all knew it was coming, I just didn’t know when; I suppose under the moon in an African jungle sounds like the perfect time to do it.
Realizing what she’s done, Linda sprints back to base camp where she finds her husband fast asleep. He wakes up when she enters their tent and Mr. Nordley proceeds to embrace his wife. Ashamed and on the verge of tears she refuses his affections and promptly goes to bed.
The next morning, Victor takes the Nordleys to see the gorillas.
The guilt of having kissed another man’s wife is weighing heavily on Victor, and he confronts Linda about it. He tells her that he’s going to tell her husband about their affair. Linda is not to content with this idea, but, Victor is going to do it anyway. While his helping hands are setting up the gorilla traps, Victor steps up to Mr. Nordley’s tent and is about to, basically, ruin the life a very decent man in Donald Nordley.
Donald greets him and begins to gush about how much he loves Linda and how he was pretty disappointed that she forgot their anniversary that happened the night before- the same night Victor and Linda were out frolicking in the African jungle.
Overcome with guilt and anger, Victor storms back to his tent understanding that he can’t tell Mr. Nordley about his affair with Linda.
That evening, while the group is sitting around a campfire, an aide to Victor makes insinuations about his relationship with Mrs. Nordley. Donald takes offense to those remarks and leaves the outpost in a fit of rage.
Fast forward a couple of hours, Eloise saunters into Victor’s tent and realizes he’s drunk. She assumes that he went to confront Donald Nordley about his “extracurricular activities” with his wife but ultimately failed.
Eloise then sits down on Victor’s lap, throws caution to the wind, and joins him for a nightcap. About a few moments after this happens Linda walks into to the tent.
Victor thinks quick, and plays up his ‘drunken’ attitude, seeing it as a way to end his fling with Linda. He drinks, he laughs, he pulls Eloise a little bit closer than he normally would, and all of this makes Linda hysterical to the point where she shoots Victor. Thanks to her horrible aim, she misses his chest and hits him in the arm. Funny enough, just as Linda was doing this, her husband returns to camp just in time to see this trainwreck.
Eloise, being the slick-tongued woman that she is, improvises an excuse, claiming that Victor was making a pass at Linda, and she shot him in self defense.
The next morning, the Nordleys depart, leaving behind a flurry of emotions for both Eloise and Victor. The pair are left behind where they, finally, admit their feelings for each other which concludes with Victor proposing to Eloise.
Conclusion and The Crazy ‘Behind the Scenes’ Stories
Mogambo is a good movie, not a great one. It has a great plot, an astonishing location shoot in Nairobi, and a great director in John Ford, but sometimes the acting was lackluster. As a matter of fact, even the lovely Grace Kelly is overshadowed by the remarkable acting performance that Ava Gardner puts on in this movie.
While most Kelly fans (including myself) went into this movie, hoping for another Kelly masterclass in acting, we actually got to see the acting talents of Gardner flourish a bit. Apparently, I’m not the only one to believe this. The Academy Awards also thought Ava put in a good performance and eventually awarded her with an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1954.
Ava may have gotten nominated for an Academy Award, but it was Grace who took home some silverware in 1954, with a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
For whatever the film lacked in acting, certainly made up for the behind the scenes stories.
It all started when John Ford requested that the main cast spend a few weeks in the sun to make sure they got that “African suntan look.” Well, his plan backfired when the pasty white skins of Gable, Kelly, and Gardner got a little too dark, which was later lightened up by the makeup department.
This incident was only a sign of what was yet to come.
The real ‘fun’ started when Ava brought her then-husband Frank Sinatra to the set in Kenya. At the time, their marriage was having a bit of trouble. Something, apparently, happened back in LA at a house party, which caused Frank to freak out in a fit of anger. We don’t know exactly what happened, but whatever did seem to carry over into their flight over to Africa.
According to a letter written by Grace Kelly to a friend back in the States, she proclaims that Frank and Ava were constantly fighting, making up and breaking up, and that it particularly disturbed her because she had a tent right next to them and could hear everything.
The skirmishes only disappeared when Frank was able to rest easy about his faltering career when he landed the coveted part of ‘Maggio’ in the WWII epic From Here to Eternity in 1953.
Speaking of Grace Kelly, she had her fair share of problems while working on this movie as well; and by problems, I mean Clark Gable. Gable being an ardent outdoorsman, was absolutely ecstatic about living in Africa for a couple of months. Conveniently enough, Grace also happened to be a huge fan of hunting.
Just like their characters on screen, Clark and Grace spent most of their time walking around Africa, just getting to know each other. Eventually, they end up falling into a May-December romance.
Grace would call him, “Ba”, which means father in Swahili, while Clark would be there just enjoying the company of a woman who was young enough to be his daughter.
Even actor Donald Sinden, who played Mr. Nordley, has claimed to have seen Grace and Clark having a *ahem* “afternoon swim” together, hell she confirmed herself.
Heck! When the on-location shoots in Nairobi were over, Kelly and Gable continued their romance in London where Clark rented out a hotel room specifically fitted with an ‘in and out way’ where they could discreetly have access to each other’s rooms without the rest of the cast knowing.
Unfortunately, the affair came to an end when Grace‘s mother, Margaret, came to stay with her 23-year-old daughter in London.
Being your typical overbearing mother, Mama Kelly gave her daughter the ‘okay’ to marry Gable. This, naturally, scared off Gable who clearly didn’t want to. Consequently, Gable refused Grace‘s calls, stopped talking to her on re-shoot days, and basically ‘ghosted’ her. This left Grace heartbroken and she inevitably quit trying to reconcile with Gable.
Based on what happened on screen and off screen, Mogambo is certainly worth your time. If it isn’t for the actual movie, then it must definitely be for the crazy behind the scenes stories. It isn’t the best movie, but, it’s sure as heck one of my favorite movies.