Ava Gardner and Lily Moore
By Hilary Davidson
“Hard-partying, foul-mouthed, wisecracking and iconically beautiful, Ava Gardner was one of the biggest stars of the ’50s and ’60s, though most of her films are now forgotten.”
I read that line a few weeks ago, and it left me stunned. That wasn’t so much because of my own admiration for Ava Gardner (though I think she was a great actress, and that anyone who thinks that films like Mogambo, Show Boat, and The Killers have been forgotten is quite the dullard). It was because of Lily Moore, the main character in my three novels, and how she would react to such scorn directed at her idol. Forgotten films? Hardly.
If you’ve read my novels, you know that Lily adores Ava Gardner. Ironically, that wasn’t true when I started writing The Damage Done, the first book in the series. I knew that Lily loved vintage clothing and classic movies, but at that point Ava was interchangeable with Barbara Stanwyck, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman as part of the pantheon of great actresses who starred in noirish films. But when I pictured Lily, she looked a lot like Ava Gardner in my mind’s eye, and I put a photograph of Ava on my desk to keep her image in my mind as I wrote.
That small connection made me read a little bit about Ava Gardner’s life, and I remember the shock I felt when I found out Ava’s father had died when she was 13. Lily’s father had died when she was 13, and that was a detail that had been part of her story from the very beginning, when I’d written the first draft of the first chapter. There was something eerie about that coincidence, and it made me feel like the connection between Lily and Ava went deeper than pure fandom.
Part of the appeal, I think, is that Ava and Lily are both survivors. More than that, they manage to thrive in spite of adversity. Ava Gardner was a person who loved life (and bullfighters, and drinking, and, well, lots of things), and she was wildly successful as not caring what other people thought of her. Lily isn’t quite there yet, but she’s working on it. In my latest book, Evil in All Its Disguises, she starts to see the difference between the studio version of her heroine, and the real-life one:
I turned on the bedside lamp and stared at an image of Ava Gardner on the wall. It was a studio portrait, one of those perfectly posed and lighted visions that looked beautiful, yet held her personality and vibrancy so tightly in check that it almost seemed shot from inside a cage. In a way, it was: Ava hated the endless photo sessions that were demanded by her studio bosses at MGM. The candid shots of the real-life Ava Gardner from the same era were striking by comparison. So often her hair was mussed or her dress was creased, and often she wasn’t wearing shoes. But her vitality, her voracious appetite for life, and her carefree spirit were in plain view and they were overwhelming.
In the first two books, there was a line of Ava’s that Lily had play through her mind now and then: “Deep down, I’m pretty superficial.” That was something her sister used to chide her with, and it stung. In the third, Lily starts to see her idol’s self-mocking words and determination to enjoy life as something more akin to a virtue. She’s been through hell, so if she wants to let her hair down and kick her shoes off and enjoy herself, she will. She’s earned it.
Hilary Davidson will be reading and signing copies of her new novel Evil In All Its Disguises tonight (March 26th) at 7pm on BookPeople’s third floor. Stop by and tell her how great she is!