Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner marriage -- We remember the 1951 love affair between the crooner and the actress

Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner marriage

For Frank Sinatra, it was the worst of times. By the end of 1950 he had lost his MGM movie contract, his CBS TV show was bombing, and his voice was failing. Then he was hit by Ava Gardner — a gorgeous divorcée (from Artie Shaw and Mickey Rooney) who loved a bullfight as much as Sinatra loved a boxing match. He had grown tired of family life with demure wife Nancy Barbato and their three children. On Nov. 7, 1951, just days after his divorce came through, Frank, 37, and Ava, 29, were wed at a friend’s home in Philadelphia.

It was a match made in gossip-column heaven. Their public brawls were bigger and better than anything Madonna and Sean Penn would spark decades later. The press, which had dubbed him ”the Voice,” rechristened him ”the Angry Voice.” He was jealous of her leading men, She flipped if she saw him flirt. And she had an abortion without telling him. While his popularity waned, Show Boat (1951) established her as one of MGM’s most bankable stars. By 1952, his ego bruised, he told Sammy Davis Jr., ”I’ve got problems, baby. That’s what happens when you get hung up on a chick.”

But if it weren’t for the chick, the Chairman’s career might never have recovered. She helped persuade Columbia Pictures’ Harry Cohn to test Sinatra for the role of Maggio in From Here to Eternity, which earned him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1953 and gave him fresh luster. The marriage, however, was over; Gardner filed for divorce in 1954.

Although remarried twice to Mia Farrow (1966-1968) and Barbara Marx (since 1976), Sinatra kept in contact with Gardner (who never again married) until her death in 1990. In her memoirs, Ava: My Story, she called him her ”big love.” And biographers Kitty Kelly (His Way) and Earl Wilson (Sinatra) maintain that he never stopped loving her. ”It was Ava,” said Sinatra’s arranger, Nelson Riddle, ”who taught him to sing a torch song.”


Nov. 7, 1951
Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts was a TV favorite, and critics labeled the epic Quo Vadis, starring Robert Taylor ”intoxicating.” Herman Wouk had a best-seller in The Caine Mutiny, and Tony Bennet’s single beefed about a ”Cold, Cold Heart”