The greatest crime committed against Ava Gardner was that she was denied her humanity. A combination of her beyond belief beauty and her raw and feral sexuality led to her on- and off-screen reputation as little more than a face and a body. She symbolized to the public the personification of the devil's most delicious temptation for man: a bad girl with dangerous curves and an unstoppable sexual appetite. This is evidenced in the fact that her perfect form was immortalized for film three times: twice in sculpture (One Touch of Venus, The Barefoot Contessa) and once in portrait (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman). Too, she was the only choice to star in The Naked Maja, playing the woman who modeled for the infamous artist Francisco De Goya. Ava wasn't known for her warm heart, her surprising talent, or her heavily cloaked vulnerability. She was known for being violently sexy and absolutely wild. Indeed, she was not referred to as a human being, but was instead labeled "The World's Most Beautiful Animal." She was a sex-kitten, a lioness, a man-eater, but never a lady.
Ironically, on the inside, Ava was just a lost and shy little girl wondering how the Hell a "hick" like her wound up in the maelstrom of La La Land. She kept waiting for her invitation to be revoked, and she lived in fear of the day that she would be laughed right back to Grabtown, NC for her uneducated, low class, graceless errors. She was too different, too laid back, too unsuited for the pretentious and glamorous life that was thrust upon her. She could never meld, and the pressures of assimilation drove her a bit mad at times, forcing her to bring out the claws from her otherwise docile paws. But what do you expect when you try to domesticate a wild animal?
Ava didn't think much of herself, and sadly her peers and the people who should have protected her didn't think much of her either. It was only her closest friends and most ardent fans who could see the sad depths of the woman peeking out from under her sultry exteriors. The rag-mags wrote about Ava the "party girl" and Ava the "avid drinker," while her friends knew the woman who hated the taste of liquor but forced herself to drink at parties, because she was too shy to talk to anyone otherwise. The world perceived a lustful tramp who disposed of men like used cigarettes and broke up marriages for sport, while friends saw a woman looking for a love she never found (and in all the wrong places). Constantly objectified, even Ava began to lose respect for herself. With all the garbage flung at her, it is hard to dig through the muck to get at the girl underneath, who was truly loving, scared, and victimized by the men, the system, and the circumstances surrounding her.
Ava didn't care about super-stardom. She kept things simple. She loved to sit on the floor and listen to music all day. She loved entertaining friends by cooking her mama's southern delicacies. She loved to travel to foreign places with more romance, mystique, and privacy than the prying eyes in America allowed. She loved being barefooted, just as the Contessa she played in her most famous role. She loved to dance most of all, and to read and expand the mind that she always considered inferior to others, though it ironically burned brighter than most. She loved people and excitement, and hated being alone. She wanted to belong, but found nothing to belong to, and thus spent her life whirling about like a dervish and never setting foot on solid ground. Men wanted to take her to bed but denied her her feelings. The studios put her in one-dimensional parts in flimsy films and denied her the incredible depth and honesty she was capable of giving. Ava rebelled by giving the people exactly what they wanted: "You want a crazy bitch, I'll show you a crazy bitch! You want a tramp? Here ya go!" Her identity and happiness was the forfeit.
She continued running, trying to get back to a place she could never find and perhaps had never been to begin with. Finally, tired and lost, she collapsed under her own weight, and the weight of being THE Ava Gardner was heavy indeed. It is only after her death that she is starting to get the love and overdue kudos she deserves. Now watching her, you will still first think, "Damn, she's beautiful." But soon too will you recognize, "Man oh man, could she act."