Frequently Asked Questions

    Is she buried in Smithfield?
    Yes, at Sunset Memorial Park with most of her family. (Sunset Memorial Park is located less than a mile from the AGM, up Market St (Bus 70) to 210 W)

    Was Frank Sinatra at her funeral?
    No, but he sent flowers (her favorite, yellow roses) with a card, “All my Love, Francis”.

    Was she destitute at her death and didn’t Frank take care of her financially in the end?
    Ava was financially secure at the end of her life, and Frank did not take care of her financially at any time in her life, as she made her own money from the time she arrived in Hollywood at the age of 18.

    Didn’t Frank pay for her funeral and for her to be shipped back to Smithfield for burial?
    Frank did not pay for any expenses related to Ava’s funeral or burial.

    Did Frank Sinatra support Ava financially in her final years?
    Ava was financially able to pay for all of her expenses in her final years.  However, Frank did want Ava to visit a certain specialist in Los Angeles.  Ava, at first, refused, but Frank was persistent and it meant a great deal to him to help Ava.  She relented and allowed him to pay for a medically staffed private jet to fly her to Los Angeles, visit the specialist, and return to London.  This was the only thing Frank did for her financially; because he wanted to, not because she could not afford it.

    Is the birth house still standing and can you visit inside the house?
    Yes, but it is a private residence. Visitors may drive by the home and take photos, but please do not disturb the Allen family by knocking on their door!

    We do offer a Heritage Tour to sites that relate to Ava’s years in Johnston County, including a stop at the birth house and her burial site.

    Did she have any children? No

    Where is Grabtown?
    It is not really a town, but that’s what they called the area Ava lived in until she was 3. It’s approximately 8 miles from the museum.

    Who started the museum?
    Doris Rollins Cannon and Tom Banks

    How long has it been in existence?
    Tom & Lorraine Banks started the museum in the old Teacherage building in 1981, operating mostly during the summer months only. It moved to Smithfield in 1991 and into this building in October of 2000.

    Do you get many visitors? Around 6,000 visitors per year.

    Did she come “home” often?
    She did come home when she could, but many of those visits were not publicized, so we don’t know how often.

    Why did Ava marry Mickey Rooney?
    As far as we know, Ava loved Mickey; plus, he was very persistent and charming and she was only 18 years old. Some people believe she did it for her career, but being married to Mickey Rooney did not help her career.

    Can you take pictures in the museum? Yes

    What is Ava’s correct birthdate – 1922 or 1923?
    Dec 24, 1922, we have her birth certificate which verifies this date. 

    The family bible does have the birth year listed as ‘1923’, however due to the excitement of Ava’s birth and the holidays, we assume the birth date was not recorded for a few weeks, and the year got written incorrectly as the new year.

    Where did we get the vast collection?
    The Tom Banks collection, the Bert Pfeiffer collection, some items acquired in auctions, plus donations by family and other collectors.

    What is her nationality?  Was she of mixed race?
    Ava’s documented ancestry was English; she was not mixed race, but because she played Julie, a mixed-race woman in the film Show Boat, some people got her character confused with the real Ava.

    Was Ava’s family very poor?
    By the time of Ava’s birth, Ava’s father, Jonas, had become rather prosperous as a farmer and also owned a sawmill to supplement the family’s income.  However, the effects of the Great Depression caused the Gardner family to lose the farm and they were forced to seek a livelihood elsewhere.  In 1925, Ava and her parents moved to the Brogden Teacherage, a boarding house for teachers at the local Brogden School.  Her mother, Mollie, was the caretaker, cooking the teachers’ meals and tending to housekeeping, and Jonas became the school grounds keeper.  

    During the Great Depression, many did without, losing their homes and their farms.  The Gardner’s never went without food or clothing (including shoes), although by today’s standards they would be considered poor.

    Is Ava Gardner her real name?
    Ava Lavinia Gardner is the name given to her at birth.  She was named after a beloved Aunt named Ava, and Lavinia was chosen by Mollie because she thought it was pretty.  A story was concocted during her career that Ava was not her real name; instead her name was Lucy Johnson and it was changed when she arrived in Hollywood.  This rumor has persisted throughout the years, even to be considered fact during one episode of Jeopardy and was included in North Carolina Fourth Grade Social Studies text books in the 1990s.

    Did her parents live to see her become a star?
    Unfortunately, no. Jonas Gardner died of a bronchial condition on May 26, 1938 when the family was living for a short while in Newport News, Virginia.  Ava and her mother moved back to North Carolina to be close to family and friends and Ava was “discovered” in 1941. Ava’s mother died of cancer on May 21, 1943.  Ava would not rise to stardom until the critical and commercial success of The Killers in 1946.

    Is Smithfield, NC Ava Gardner’s hometown?
    Ava was born and raised in a small community, called Grabtown, 8 miles east of Smithfield, NC. Grabtown (or Brogden, as the area is now referred) was nothing more than a crossroads with a general store and the local cotton gin.  Smithfield was the nearest town and where the Gardner’s would go for household items or for entertainment, like watching movies at the Howell Theater.

    What religion was Ava Gardner? Ava was raised Baptist.

    Where is Ava Gardner buried?  
    Ava Gardner requested that her remains return home to be laid to rest alongside her parents and siblings. Ava’s gravesite is located one mile from the museum at Sunset Memorial Park, at the intersection of Highways 70 Business and 210.

    Did Ava come back home to visit family after she went to Hollywood?
    She came home to Johnston and Wilson counties often, and usually secretly, to spend precious time with her family, neighbors and other friends from her early years.

    Did Ava ever visit the Museum?
    While visiting Ava in London in 1978, Tom Banks, the original owner of the Ava Gardner collection, discussed donating the collection to an institution such as Columbia University, but Ava suggested the collection belonged in her home state.  In the early 1980s Dr. Banks purchased the Brogden Teacherage, the house where Ava lived from age 2 to 13, and operated his own Ava Museum during the summers for nine years.  During a visit to Johnston County, Ava visited the Museum with her sisters but found it to be locked.  Someone suggested they get someone to open it, but Ava told them not to worry.  “I already know everything that’s in there.  I lived it.” 

    Does Ava have family still in the Smithfield area?
    Ava has many nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, and cousins that still live in Johnston County.  Several family members have served on the Museum Board of Directors and the family has long supported the Ava Gardner Museum and its mission.

    Questions about Ava Gardner’s life in Hollywood:

    How many times did Ava marry?
    Ava married three times: Mickey Rooney (1942-1943), Artie Shaw (1945-1946), and Frank Sinatra (1951-1957)

    Why did she never have children?
    The marriages she had were rocky, even with the love of her life, Frank Sinatra.  She did not want to bring children into a family that wasn’t stable.  In addition, she was under contract with MGM and they would want her to continue to work even after having children.  Ava felt children should be raised by their mothers, not by nannies, and wouldn’t have children if she couldn’t be home with them.

    When Ava went to Hollywood, she had a pronounced Southern accent. How was that corrected?
    As part of her contract with MGM, Ava was given lessons in voice production, elocution, and in drama. Ava worked tirelessly with Gertrude Vogeler, a voice coach assigned to her by MGM, to get rid of her thick North Carolina accent. Later, in her role as Julie LaVerne in Show Boat, Ava would have to work to get her accent back. 

    What size was Ava?
    By today’s standards, Ava would be a women’s size 0 (US).  She was 5’ 6.5”, wore a size 6 shoe (US), and had an 18-inch waist.

    Did Ava have an affair with Howard Hughes?
    Howard Hughes was very interested in Ava, showered her in gifts of jewelry, furs, and exotic vacations, and proposed marriage on several occasions. However, Ava was never romantically interested in Howard and always considered him just a friend. She was put off by his strange ways, including eating the same thing for dinner every night and his lack of personal hygiene.

    Questions about Ava Gardner’s life abroad:

    Why did she spend the last 35 years of her life in England and Spain?
    Ava was a very private individual and craved a life away from the limelight. As long as she was in America, she was hounded by the press and photographers. After traveling abroad for the first time and visiting Spain during the filming of Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), she fell in love with the Spanish people and felt she could be herself in Spain. After her marriage with Frank Sinatra began to crumble in 1955, she decided to move to Spain, both to escape the pressures of Hollywood and the press surrounding their breakup. For the first time since living in North Carolina, Ava felt she was in a place she could call home. She lived in Spain until 1968 and then moved to London and lived there until her death in 1990.  

    What was the cause of her death?
    Ava had a stroke in 1986, which left her paralyzed down much of her left side and severely weakened her. She had smoked for decades and could not go far without an oxygen tank. In her poor health, Ava passed away in her sleep due to complications from bronchial pneumonia.

    Was Ava financially destitute at her death?
    Ava was under contract with MGM from 1941-1958. During these years, Ava could not choose the film roles she wanted and regardless of how successful the films may be, she still received her weekly pay according to her contract. After 17 years under contract with MGM, Ava was finally free to choose to do the movies she wanted to do and negotiate the salary for each film. It was in the years after 1958 that Ava made the most money and due to smart financial management, Ava was very comfortable financially at her death.


    Logo for the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, NC.




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