Yours truly cannot think about Ava Gardner without thinking about her body. The Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, North Carolina, displayed costumes from a number of her movies, and the placard near one said that she was 5’6’’ tall and wore size six shoes. The dress indicated nothing more than an average bust size, but the waist of one gown was remarkably small. It seemed to illustrate define the term wasp-waisted. The card said that the dress measured eighteen inches at the waist. That might certainly explain why her breasts appeared bigger on the screen than the dresses indicated.
She did have an hourglass figure, but I still could not imagine a grown woman with that small a waist. That led me later to Google and websites listing measurements of Hollywood stars. (How they know these things I do not know.) One site says she wore a size eight shoe and a size six dress and had measurements of 36-24-37 inches. Another site takes an inch off her waist and says she was 36-23-37, but that her bra size was 34B. (I don’t really understand these things, but doesn’t that contradict that 36-inch measurement?) Looking at her photographs and the clips of her in movies, however, I realized it did not matter what her sizes were. She was a completely beautiful woman.
I am not sure that I could have named a single movie Ava Gardner was in before going into the Museum. She appeared in none of the movies I would have listed as my favorites, and I have little concept of her acting ability. I now seem to have some memory of her from the iconic film noir, The Killers, which made her a star and launched Burt Lancaster’s career. I may watch that again, and I might see The Night of the Iguana, which also starred Richard Burton and Deborah Kerr. I have heard that it is good. The posters in the museum indicated, however, that she was in many movies with some of the most famous actors and actresses.
The visit to the Ava Gardner Museum made me think not only about her but about the museum itself. It made sense that it was near her birthplace in Smithfield, but I found it unlikely that the town or county had spent the money to collect all that memorabilia or to produce the film about her that was being shown in the museum. I thought that the origins of the museum must be due to someone’s obsession. The strange novel, The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish writer who won the Nobel Prize, came to mind. In that novel, Kemal starts collecting objects that relate to his obsessive love of an unattainable woman. He eventually creates the Museum of Innocence from this compulsive collection. And to my surprise, I found that the novel had a reference to the Ava Gardner Museum.
I did not have to wonder long about the obsession that was the origin of the museum. The Ava Gardner Museum itself told me that the museum originated in the collection of one Tom Banks, who had met Gardner when he was twelve and she was eighteen and in her only year of college. The adolescent boys teased the college girls, and one day Ava chased Tom and gave him a kiss. (If I had met Ava Gardner when I was twelve and she was eighteen, there is a good chance I, too, would have been obsessed with her for the rest of my life. And perhaps I still would not have washed the kissed cheek.) He, not surprisingly, noticed when she did not return for her second year and then saw a newspaper article about her Hollywood contract. He immediately started collecting all the memorabilia he could find about her, and later after he was a psychologist, he even bought Gardner’s childhood home. He started a part-time Ava Gardner Museum, and after he died his wife, who apparently joined her husband in collecting anything related to Ava Gardner, donated the collection to Smithfield.
It was only some quirk that finally got me into the Ava Gardner Museum, but I enjoyed it and would recommend a visit to others. That has made me think about all the other local, specialty museums I have seen and passed by. It would not have taken much effort to stop into many of them, and perhaps at least some of them would have been enjoyable and even educational. I realized that had been true for one of my few other visits to a personal museum. It was the Toy Soldier Museum near Cresco, Pennsylvania, and I only went because the spouse and I had guests who were museum people and we knew the owner of the toy soldier collection. The visit, as it was with the Ava Gardner Museum, turned out to be a visual and informative delight. (The spouse has written about the Toy Soldier Museum and given its website in her guest post of February 16, 2018. Check it out.)
I finally made it to the Ava Gardner Museum only because we got a late start for the drive south and stopped well short of my five-hundred-mile mark. On the second day we were near the museum at noon. On the first night, we stopped in Colonial Heights, Virginia, and after we checked into a hotel, we went out to dinner at a local Outback. On the way there and back, we passed the Keystone Truck and Tractor Museum, which apparently would allow me to experience the last century’s agricultural heritage as illustrated by antique farm equipment. Alas, in a familiar story, we were there after museum hours. Now I am wondering if I will ever be back to Colonial Heights when the museum is open because I have decided, if so, I am going to stop in at the Keystone Truck and Tractor Museum.