When The Voice Met The Shape cover

When The Voice Met The Shape


THE first meeting between ‘The Voice” and “The Shape” would set the scene for one of the stormiest, most passionate romances in Hollywood history.
Frank Sinatra described Ava Gardner as having “the easy grace of a tigress.”
And although she would become the second Mrs. Sinatra, the famously controlling singer never did get to tame her.

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When The Voice Met The Shape

Collision Course

THE first meeting between ‘The Voice” and “The Shape” would set the scene for one of the stormiest, most passionate romances in Hollywood history.

Frank Sinatra described Ava Gardner as having “the easy grace of a tigress.”

And although she would become the second Mrs. Sinatra, the famously controlling singer never did get to tame her.

He was still married to first wife Nancy Barbato when the two superstars collided in the fall of 1949 at a party thrown by producer Darryl F. Zanuck in Palm Springs, California. Ava’s career was on the rise following her femme fatale roles in movies like ‘The Killers’ while Sinatra was in a slump.

Spark From The Start

Spark From The Start

The chemistry was almost immediate, fuelled by their heavy drinking.

According to Lee Server in his biography of Ava ‘Love is Nothing’, the stunningly beautiful and famously foul-mouthed actress left the party with a bottle of booze after flirting and drinking for hours.

Bullets Fly

Roaring off in Sinatra’s Cadillac, they passed the bottle back and forth “like two kids on a joyride.”

They started making out in the car after pulling up in the small town of Indio.

Then Sinatra pulled two .38 Smith & Wesson pistols from the glove compartment.

He took aim at a streetlight and fired and then shot another. Never one to be left out, Ava, the 36-20-36 farmer’s daughter from North Carolina, wanted a piece of the action.

Whooping a rebel yell she proceeded to empty the barrel, firing into the night. Capping her gunplay she leveled her pistol towards the local hardware store and shattered the window.

Incredulous, Sinatra knew he’d found his soul mate.

Wonderful Night

Not surprisingly, the police soon turned up and hauled both stars off to jail. They were only released after a publicist flew out by chartered jet from Los Angeles supposedly carrying a big black bag full of cash.

The following morning back in Palm Springs, Ava’s sister, Bappie, wondered where she’d been.

“I went out with Frank Sinatra,” she said. “We had a wonderful night.”

Young Beauty

Young Beauty

The couple had actually first met eight years earlier when she’d just arrived in Hollywood, before her short-lived marriages to actor Mickey Rooney and bandleader Artie Shaw.

Although Sinatra was struck even then by her beauty, he’d dismissed her as being too young.

Different Time

Now, it was quite a different story. At 26, Ava was being feted as the most beautiful woman in the world. It was her time and everything was within her grasp, even Sinatra, then 33.

“I damn well knew he was married,” Ava recalled later, “and married men were definitely not high on my hit parade.

“But he was handsome, with his thin, boyish face, bright blue eyes and an incredible grin. And he was so enthusiastic and invigorated, clearly pleased with life, in general, himself, in particular, and, at that moment, me.”


Such an explosive chemistry was bound to be incendiary.

“We were high-strung people,” she said. “Possessive, jealous and liable to explode fast. When I lose my temper, you can’t find it any place. He’s the same.”

Both had a cruel streak and would turn it on each other in a flash of those green and blue eyes.

But the making up would be as wild as the arguments. “The problems were never in bed. The problems would start on the way to the bidet,” Ava would say later.



Part of the attraction for Sinatra was undoubtedly the emotional connection he found in Ava to his tough-as-nails mother, Dolly, who had alternately praised and berated him throughout his childhood.

Ava wasn’t going to be run over by anybody. She certainly wasn’t going to turn a blind eye, as Nancy had done, to Sinatra’s infidelities.

Early Warnings

Even before they married they quarreled constantly and Ava was irritated when Sinatra dragged his heels getting a divorce from Nancy.

When he finally ended his first marriage they didn’t let the paper dry on the decree before getting hitched 72 hours later on November 7, 1951.

Gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the Hollywood establishment and even the Catholic Church beat up on the couple for their reckless courtship.

But Ava didn’t care one jot.

“Mrs. Frank Sinatra is the happiest girl in the world!” she gushed. She even promised to cook for her new husband.

Passion And Romance

Passion And Romance

At the beginning of the affair, he was wildly romantic. Once, when they were out driving, he pulled up to serenade her under a palm tree.


Sinatra’s vocal chords were giving him trouble and his career was at a low ebb, meaning he focused more attention on his new bride.

They celebrated their first anniversary on their way to Africa, where the in demand actress was filming ‘Mogambo’ with Clark Gable for MGM.

“It was quite an occasion for me,” she recalled. “I had been married twice before but never for a whole year.”

From Here To Eternity

Ironically, it was Ava’s favor to her husband, putting a good word in for him to star in ‘From Here To Eternity’ - the film that would win him an Oscar and put his career back on track - that would play a key role in ending their marriage.


Working Apart

For a start, it meant they would be working separately, never a good idea for two flirtatious stars with so much temptation all around them.

And while Sinatra was shooting the movie in America, Ava was chasing a famous bullfighter four years her junior in Spain, where she was on location with Humphrey Bogart filming ‘The Barefoot Contessa.’

“With him it’s impossible,” Ava confided to her ex-husband Artie Shaw. “It’s like being with a woman. He’s so gentle. It’s as though he thinks I’ll break, as though I’m a piece of Dresden china and he’s gonna hurt me.”

Cry For Help

During the marriage, Ava had two pregnancies but had abortions both times.

In those days, MGM had strict penalty clauses about their stars having babies, but Ava was more prosaic later when she explained why she didn’t want to start a family. “We couldn't even take care of ourselves. How were we going to take care of a baby?" she said.

Although there was cheating on both sides it was Ava who finally ended it after a photo emerged of Sinatra with a woman on each arm. In a desperate bid to keep her Sinatra slit his wrist and was rushed semi-conscious to hospital.



According to biographer James Kaplan in ‘The Voice’ he imagined Ava “at his bedside, her green eyes looking down at him.

But she didn’t come. She’d made up her mind. There was no going back and they were divorced in 1957.

Kate Gabrielle

(CC BY 2.0)


They remained friends the rest of their lives. Ava never married again and although Sinatra walked down the aisle twice more, her enigmatic larger-than-life shadow would always be there.

She told actress Arlene Dahl that she never loved another man the way she loved Sinatra and friends said she would often play his records at the London apartment where she lived out her twilight years.

Unbroken Ties

He insisted on paying for a private plane for her to see a specialist in the United States after she was left paralyzed and bedridden by two strokes in 1986.

After Ava’s death in 1990 at the age of 67, Sinatra’s daughter, Tina, found her father slumped in his room, crying and unable to speak.

He was mourning the great love of his life.