Elizabeth McGovern Starring in Play at the Riverside Studios

'AVA: The Secret Conversations' is the theatre's first big production of next year

Elizabeth McGovern as Ava Gardner
Elizabeth McGovern as Ava Gardner. Picture: Riverside Studios

Chiswick-based actor Elizabeth McGovern is to return to the stage in a play about the life of Hollywood legend Ava Gardner.

In the Riverside Studios first big production of 2022 she will be taking the title role in 'AVA: The Secret Conversations.

Ava Gardner was one of the most glamorous and famous stars in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s. Her list of films includes The Killers, Showboat and Mogambo, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress, and her co-stars included Clark Gable, Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, Humphrey Bogart, Charlton Heston, and Richard Burton - the A-list of male Hollywood stars.

Elizabeth McGovern said, ‘In January we’ll go on the stage and give you the story of Ava Gardner and Peter Evans as they struggled to write her auto-biography together.”

The play concerns the period in Ava Gardner’s life when she was living quietly in London in the 1988. Short of cash, she hires journalist Peter Evans to write the story of how a poor Southern farm girl became a powerful Hollywood goddess. He couldn’t believe his good fortune that he was to help write the auto-biography of the devastating beauty whose hard drinking, hard loving lifestyle kept the gossip columnists busy as her movies thrilled movie-goers.

Not always intentionally, Ava spills the beans on her three husbands to often humorous affect: Mickey Rooney, a serial cheater so notorious that even his mother warned Gardner about him; bandleader Artie Shaw "a dominating son of a bitch - always putting me down" and Frank Sinatra. "We were fighting all the time. Fighting and boozing. It was madness. But he was good in the feathers". Her marriages to Rooney and Shaw only lasted around a year while she was with Frank Sinatra for several. She had a long-running affair with Howard Hughes, and a briefer one with George C. Scott, among others.

This new play explores the fractured relationship between the public and private lives of one of Hollywood's great icons. Produced by Karl Sydow, Elizabeth McGovern has adapted the book Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations by Peter Evans & Ava Gardner for the stage. The book was not completed before her death as she decided against publishing it because of the number of revelations it contained. An official auto-biography was published which omitted much of the material in The Secret Conversations.

At the time of their collaboration Gardner was living in London, where she had lived for decades, smoking and drinking heavily. Having suffered a stroke that damaged the left side of her face and her left arm she had trouble sleeping and was often depressed - the glamorous wardrobes replaced by grey. She began the book because, as she told Evans, 'it's either write the book or sell the jewels and I'm kinda fond of the jewels.'

After Gardner's death, her estate authorised the book to be published much as she and Evans had originally conceived it.

The play runs from Friday 14 January to Saturday 16 April.

You can book your tickets for AVA: The Secret Conversations by clicking here.

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October 8, 2021

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