Cinema: The Farmer's Daughter

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The men in her life are mostly tight-lipped about their memories. Back home in North Carolina, a boy who used to squire her will only say that she was a nice little country girl with a better-than-average figure. Husband No. 1, brash little Mickey Rooney, declares stiffly: "I have a code of ethics, and it doesn't include talking about my ex-wives." Husband No. 2, Bandleader Artie Shaw, says: "She is a nice girl. I feel complete detachment." Potential Husband No. 3, Crooner Frank Sinatra (now on the hunt for a divorce), is on record as saying only that she is "terrific." Only one of the men who have pursued her does not share this impassioned discretion. Spanish Bullfighter Mario Cabre freely expressed his feelings at her departure from Madrid last spring in a book of poems. Excerpt:

In my breast you will still remain

With a throbbing that recalls you.

London will see you arriving,

With your waist slim like the palm tree.

In my troubled silence

Cries will pierce deeper within me . . .

The palm-slim waist as well as the effusive adulation belong to a green-eyed, reddish-haired young woman in the bare shade of 30 named Ava Lavinia Gardner. Movie bigwigs, whose vocabularies are more limited, put their praises in calmer terms than Serior Cabre. But from the Olympian executives in the Bel Air hills to the plebeian pressagents down on Wilshire Boulevard, the consensus is that Ava Gardner may well turn out to be the best thing for Hollywood since the late Jean Harlow.

The Ancient Question. Ava's open affair with a married man—following Ingrid Bergman's escapade with Roberto Rossellini and Rita Hayworth's fling with Aly Khan—has inevitably reawakened in some quarters the ancient question about Hollywood morals. It has brought her some censure (one letter writer habitually addresses her as "Bitch-Jezebel-Gardner"). Yet it actually seems to be helping, rather than hurting, her earning power. Reports Columnist Sidney Skolsky solemnly: "Ava worried. She lost weight. But now she has found that scandal can't hurt her." Her current picture, Show Boat, is breaking box-office records across the country. In Lone Star, Metro cast her opposite Clark Gable, still one of the greatest favors in its power to bestow, and it has two more important pictures lined up for her. Other studios are clamoring to borrow her services.

The swirling eddy of interest around Ava Gardner is no fluke. Though Hollywood's rulers, whose egos are as tender as a redhead's complexion, are understandably reluctant to admit it, the movies have had to take up arms against a sea of troubles. Recovered from the first shock but still haunted by the specter of TV, beset by mounting production costs, harried by a falling box office, Hollywood is also facing an unexpected shortage in its most vital commodity of all—the mysterious attraction that everybody recognizes but no one has ever .been able to label more accurately than glamor, or oomph, or It.

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