Now, this may come as a shock to some, but the muddy, rainy British countryside is not the most glamorous place to grow up. Don’t believe what “Downton Abbey” or “Bridgerton” show you; for most of us, it’s a humble upbringing. As an adult, I’ve grown to appreciate the understated beauty of the sprawling fields, farmyards, and hills, but as a kid in the early 2000s, it felt like the dullest, most uninspiring place on earth.

Lucky for me, my parents agreed with this and did everything they could to introduce me to other worlds and ways of thinking. Their main methods involved music and classic cinema. I walked into the living room one day as they were midway through a documentary on Joan Crawford. At that point, my 15-year-old self had never seen anyone so glamorous; that is, until about 10 minutes later when I was introduced to Ava Gardner and Lana Turner, in that order. They were only on screen briefly as pop-up photos, but it didn’t matter. I was completely in awe. I remember making a point of writing their names in sparkly pink gel pen on the back of my school planner; immediately joining the ranks of Liv Tyler and Angelina Jolie, who were my main Hollywood idols at the time. From that point on, Ava and Lana became permanent favourites in my life. Ava took precedence for two reasons: I related to her small-town upbringing and the local Blockbuster video rental store stocked more of her films. She naturally became my main muse, though Lana was never far behind. They were my version of Barbie dolls: fun and unapologetically glamorous, pure escapism from life in the sleepy countryside.

They, along with others, ultimately influenced my decision to audition for drama school. I wanted to get a taste of the industry that made them famous, even if the glory days of Hollywood’s Golden Age were long gone. I won a place at a school in Central London, three hours and a world away from my hometown. My arrival in the big city was awkward at best, but I took solace in the fact that Ava, a fellow country girl, probably went through the same teething stage when she moved to California.

Ava Gardner embracing Lana Turner to pose for the photo

Photograph of Ava Gardner and Lana Turner, a copy of which hangs above my desk.

The main perk of going to a drama school was that the libraries were filled with books on actors. I spent every free class I had taking full advantage of its resources. As I read more about my favourite vintage stars, I began to notice a pattern; the more beautiful and glamorous they were, the less focus there was on their personality and friendships. In the case of Ava and Lana, most accounts (though there were very few) portrayed them as self-involved with an endless slew of rivals, including one another. I’ve never understood why people enjoy reading about rivalry, but I can totally see the appeal with Ava and Lana. There is so much crossover in their stories; both extremely charismatic, stunningly beautiful women, never far from controversy or men (or the same man, when you consider that they were both married to Artie Shaw), but these are also reasons why they would’ve related to each other and been friends. After reading Living With Miss G by Mearene Jordan, Ava’s long-time companion (which I highly recommend if you haven’t), it was apparent that Ava looked up to Lana and that there was a friendship there, so I made it a personal mission to try and find out more about them as the women behind their goddess alter egos.

After graduation and with a fair bit of luck, I got a job at The British Film Institute. Whilst working on their 66th London Film Festival, I met Craig, a vintage film enthusiast and retired critic, who would soon become the most valuable person in my quest to learn more about what Ava and Lana were really like.

He told me that his neighbour, an elderly lady living in Islington, had talked to Ava when she lived in London and that her uncle, who had worked at MGM studios, frequently encountered both her and Lana on the lot. He recommended we keep in contact and that he’d put in a good word for me to see if she’d be willing to talk. Cynically, I took him at face value; after a while of working in film spaces, you realise everyone “knows” everyone, yet very few people actually make good on their promises. To my positive surprise, Craig was an exception. Months later, he emailed me letting me know he’d spoken to his neighbour, Pat, and that she’d invited me for tea. I couldn’t believe it! The following weekend, I showed up at her house, nervously excited with journal and pen at the ready. As soon as she opened the door, her energy was warm and welcoming. She led me into a neat little reception room where, on the coffee table, there were an assortment of biscuits, a cafetiere and a small pile of film related artefacts. It was evident that she’d thoroughly prepared for our conversation; I wish I could say the same.

I introduced myself:


“Hi, I’m Karis. Thanks so much for inviting me over, I really appreciate it”

“You’re the one that likes Ava Gardner. Is that right? I hope it is. I have a story.

I asked her if I could audio record bits of our conversation, and she agreed. As soon as I sat down, she jumped straight in:

“The first time I saw Ava in person was when I was walking down Brompton Road in 1973. I had just started a new job at Harrods. I was with my mother; she was the one that spotted her first. It was odd because she didn’t look glamorous like you’d expect, but, just by the way she walked, you could tell she was an important lady. She came into Harrods frequently, often just to browse. I served her twice. She made an effort to make conversation with me, like I was on equal footing with her. She even asked me if I had any dreams. I told her my main ambition was to not work in a department store. She said, ‘Looks like we both work in thankless jobs.’ It was funny, but I wasn’t sure if she wanted me to laugh, and I wasn’t confident, so I sort of awkwardly smiled instead. It was such a small moment, but it was the world to me. She was very human. I saw an invoice with her address on it and wrote it down, I know I shouldn’t have, but I just wanted to see if she’d respond, and she did. Even signed a photograph. Most of them weren’t like that. They weren’t good like that.

Not even five minutes into our chat, and she’d already given me so much valuable insight. It made my heart warm. I know how much Ava means to me, but seeing how much she meant to Pat was just wonderful. I was so glad she’d had such a positive experience with her, albeit slightly envious that I’d never get the opportunity.

We spoke a little about her time at Harrods, which is a luxury department store and all the beautiful treasures it stocked.

You’ll probably like this as well. Hold out your hand.

She pulled out a velvet cloth bag and shook out two ginormous earrings, looked at me:

“They’re Lana Turner’s.’

Once again, in the trajectory of my life, Lana was never far behind Ava.

Now, imagine you’re me; already on cloud nine at the prospect of just talking to someone about your favourite glamour queens, never for one second dreaming you’d actually touch anything that belonged to them first hand, least of all jewels! To say I swooned was an understatement.

The fangirl in me wanted to take photographs of everything, but I restrained myself to Lana’s earrings and a few signed photos. I was conscious that I was a guest in Pat’s home, not a tourist in a public gallery.

circular earrings that once belonged to Lana Turner resting in the palm of a hand

Earrings owned by Lana Turner (after researching, I believe they are probably imitation gems).

She told me that she had inherited them from her Uncle Milton (her dad’s brother). Milton had originally moved to California from Pennsylvania in the late 1930s with hopes of becoming an actor, but he was never able to get a screen test. His left eye deviated, which meant he didn’t photograph well. In 1942, during WWII, he was stationed in Ireland and when he returned to the U.S. in 1944, he was able to secure a job at MGM studios working as a general handyman and occasional driver. During his time there, he met a plethora of stars, though his most memorable interactions were with Ava Gardner and Lana Turner.

Headshot of a man named Milton who met Ava Gardner and Lana Turner

A photo of Milton, Pat’s Uncle, in his late 30s/early 40s.

Pat showed me three entries he’d written about his MGM encounters with them. They were scrawled on both sides of a wafer-thin piece of paper. She read them aloud:

 “Ava Gardner tried out Lee’s slingshot today. Hit a target but not the one she was aiming for. I could hardly look her in the eye. She’s one of the only girls that looks better in real life than in her photographs. I am writing this down so I do not forget it in years to come.” – April 1946

“Just for today, I was the luckiest man in the land. I saw Lana Turner and Ava Gardner together at lunch. It was like seeing the sun and the moon both in the sky at the same time.” – July 1946

“Lucky day today. Billy was sick today so I had the honour of driving Lana Turner to the stage. It was like driving a queen. She didn’t talk much. Asked my name and said hello but nothing more. I didn’t mind. Just seeing her was enough.” – September 1946

Milton stayed at MGM until 1948, when he met his wife, Agnes. The pair relocated to Lake Shore in San Francisco to work at a garage owned by Agnes’ father. They were only married for five years. The more I spoke with Pat, the more I understood how deeply he cared for Lana:

“It was always Lana, that was his true love. I remember when she released her book in the 80s; he was determined to see her again. I went to Dallas with him for a signing. He met her by himself. I didn’t want to ruin the moment for him. She was gracious, she spoke with him for a good while. I think she could tell it was a big moment for him. He came rushing over like a proud schoolboy with his signed book nestled to his chest. In my opinion, she seemed like a different kind of woman to Ava, but I’ll always love her for making him feel that way. A few years after she died, he was able to get a hold of those earrings at an auction. He must’ve pulled in every favour in the place. He told me he’d leave them to me. I was the only one in the family to take an active interest in film and leading ladies. He collected lots of Lana.”

Milton died in 2004 at the age of 84. The majority of his collection was dissolved, with only the important remnants remaining with Pat. This includes Lana’s signed book, some signed photos of Ava and Lana, the folded paper in which he documented his encounters, and, of course, Lana’s earrings.

The whole afternoon was incredibly moving, it was wonderful that multiple members of the same family had their own affinity to the same stars. It was evident that Pat’s admiration for Ava matched Milton’s love of Lana and that both of them had given them memorable interactions that lasted a lifetime. It filled me with such confidence that the women I’d spent so long looking up to and investing my time and interest in, seemed to be just as decent and good natured as I thought they’d be.

Collector's cards for Ava Gardner and Lana Turner owned by Karis Crimson

Cards of Ava and Lana from my personal collection.

Since our chat last Autumn, Pat has moved in with her daughter in Hertfordshire, with Milton’s remaining treasures still in her possession. I am currently still deep in my research developing a short film loosely inspired by Ava, Lana, and the other MGM ladies called For The Glamour, For The Glory.