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One Day Getaway takes you to the Ava Gardner Museum

Ava Gardner has been described, by the American Film Institute, as one of the most important actresses to ever grace the Hollywood big screen. (Source: Ava Gardner Museum) Ava Gardner has been described, by the American Film Institute, as one of the most important actresses to ever grace the Hollywood big screen. (Source: Ava Gardner Museum)
SMITHFIELD, NC (WECT) -

Her beauty was stunning and melted the hearts of many of her leading men in the movies, and for this week's One Day Getaway, Bob Townsend takes a trip to Smithfield and the Ava Gardner Museum, to find out about the leading lady in many of the big films produced in the 50s and 60s.

Ava Gardner was born and raised on a farm in eastern North Carolina. But at the age of 19, she left the east coast, heading for California after Hollywood producers saw a picture of Gardner and offered her a movie contract. 

But during her first years in Hollywood, she landed only very small roles. That is until 1946, when Gardner got the leading role in the movie "The Killers", a movie that starred Burt Lancaster. That is when farm girl Ava Gardner became movie star Ava Gardner. 

Her life is told at the Ava Gardner Museum, located in downtown Smithfield. 

"Our museum is really a fantastic resource, not just for Ava fans, but for anyone who is interested in Hollywood, and its heyday, we really do have quite a collection here, over probably ten thousand items, we are currently getting more, people donate all of the time and we also make purchases on really iconic things" said Deanna Brandenberger, Executive Director of the Ava Gardner Museum. 

"We do have a large collection of her textiles, her costumes, also clothes that she wore in her personal life that she wore to various functions" Brandenberger said.  

The museum, which opened nearly fifteen years ago, tells the story of one of Hollywood's most glamorous leading ladies.

Visitors can find out details about her early childhood in North Carolina, as well as many posters of Gardner's movies, including Showboat, Mugambo, The Barefoot Contessa, and The Night of the Iguana.   

There are many of Gardner's personal items on hand for people to view as well, including jewelry and china. 

The Ava Gardner Museum tells of her three marriages, the first in 1942, to actor Mickey Rooney that lasted only two years. She was also married for a short while to band leader Artie Shaw. But people close to Gardner always say the love of her life was singer Frank Sinatra. And in 1951, the two were married. Several of Sinatra's gifts to Gardner are also on display at the museum. 

In the 1952 movie, Snows of Kilimanjaro, she starred opposite Gregory Peck, who remained one of her closest friends throughout her lifetime.   

Despite being one of the country's leading ladies on the big screen, Ava Gardner was described as being a down to earth person. 

"As soon as she got home, she would kick off her shoes" Brandenberger said. "There are people that were close to her who will tell you that she would go to the cocktail parties and the country club, and she would get dressed up and she would play the movie star, but what she really liked the best was being at home, with a gathering of people, shoes off." 

Gardner was born in 1922, but her life came to an end at her home in London, in 1990, at the age of sixty eight. Four days after her death, she was laid to rest, in a simple grave site in her hometown of Smithfield. 

And although it is not part of the museum, many visitors also make the one mile trip from the museum to Sunset Cemetery, where Gardner is buried next to her parents and other family members.   

Ava Gardner has been described, by the American Film Institute, as one of the most important actresses to ever grace the Hollywood big screen.

The Ava Gardner Museum is open daily, but many of the exhibits are about to change and new items are being put on display.  You can also learn more about the famous leading lady when the museum puts on the annual Ava Gardner film festival in early October.

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