John Huston stayed with his first choice actress, Ava Gardner to star in "The Night of the Iguana".

In 1963 Ava Gardner was happy living in Madrid, away from Hollywood where paparazzi would not leave her alone. But film director John Huston convinced her to leave Spain to play Maxine Faulk in Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana in spite of the playwright’s objections.  Williams thought Ava was too beautiful for the part and wanted to cast a “beaten up old dame” like Bette Davis, who played Maxine on Broadway. Huston replied, “Ava Gardner is a Tar Heel from North Carolina, someone that sticks to his position in the battle line…. Ava can belt it out.… You’ll see a very fine actress at work.”

“Many critics consider Ava’s role as Maxine to be one of her finest performances,” states Todd Johnson, Director of the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, NC. Ava was nominated for a Golden Globe for this role and went on to win two international awards, the Best Foreign Actress Film Award (BAFTA) and Best Actress at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

This year’s Ava Gardner Festival, October 4-6, will showcase this highly publicized film project, which took place in the little known town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  Ava would dub the location, “Hollywood on the Rocks.”  Director John Huston wanted actors to truly experience the hardships portrayed in the film by insisting they be on set for the entire production, living together under harsh conditions.  Publicity intensified with the presence of Elizabeth Taylor, who was making international news concerning rumors of her marriage to cast member Richard Burton.

Festival visitors can enjoy new exhibits, a Heritage Tour, and a FREE movie screening.  Heritage tours on Saturday, October 5th will be held throughout the day beginning at 9am. The guided tour will take visitors to Ava’s birthplace, to the Brogden Teacherage where she grew up, and to her gravesite at Sunset Memorial Park. In addition, the museum plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the filming of The Night of the Iguana  by showing the movie on Saturday, October 5th, and Sunday afternoon, October 6th, in the museum’s theatre.

Several area hotels in Smithfield have partnered with the museum in offering an “Ava Festival Package” that includes discounted room rates and a gift bag from the Johnston County Visitors Bureau. For more information on hotel accommodations, visit the website:

This year’s festival is presented by Smithfield’s Chicken N’ BBQ, a popular restaurant chain which started out in Smithfield in 1964. The restaurant’s owners have a love for vintage movies, and each of the 33 restaurants has an Ava Gardner photo wall as a tribute to Smithfield’s native daughter.

The Ava Gardner Museum is located in downtown Smithfield at 325 E. Market Street. Information on events and advance ticket purchases is available on the museum website, or by calling 919-934-5830.