Southern Agenda

Farm Girl to Femme Fatale

When Ava Gardner moved to Hollywood in the 1940s, stardom was her wildest dream. “She came from very simple beginnings and became one of the most famous people in the world,” says Lynell Seabold, the executive director of the Ava Gardner Museum in downtown Smithfield. Born into a family of seven children in a farmhouse in rural Johnston County, Gardner eventually rose to international fame for her leading roles in blockbusters such as The Killers, The Night of the Iguana, and The Barefoot Contessa. She also married three of the most iconic celebrities of the day: Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra. The museum’s highlights include her costumes—the yellow corseted frock from My Forbidden Past, for instance, and the one-shouldered black Vera West gown from The Killers. This year’s Ava Gardner Festival (October 7–9) at the museum celebrates the hundredth anniversary of her birth with film showings, the dedication of a mural and rose garden, and a musical tribute with songs from Gardner’s personal record collection.