Gardner’s exceptional Spanish beauty was carried proudly for many years, with head thrown back, half dutifully for so many artistic still photographers and half to compensate for short sight. No doubt about her vivid looks, but rather more concerning the character and intelligence behind them. Apart from being glamorous, she was good as a man’s woman, a sort of gypsy Jean Harlow— indeed, she took the Harlow role in Mogambo (53), John Ford’s remake of Red Dust.
She made her debut, in 1942, in Robert Z. Leonard’s We Were Dancing and had a mixed career for the next few years, playing in the first American films by Fred Zinnemann and Douglas Sirk—Kid Glove Killer (42) and Hitler's Madman (43)—in Young Ideas (43, Jules Dassin), and adorning Dr. Kildare movies. It was after the war that she broke through to stardom, first as a gangsters moll in Whistle Stop (46, Leonide Moguy) and then in Siodmak’s The Killers (46). MGM pushed her hard, in Jack Conway’s The Hucksters
(47) , John Brahms Singapore (47), and One Touch of Venus (48, William A. Seiter), but she was more suited to exotic romance: thus, she never looked better than as the gambling beauty in Siodmak’s The Great Sinner (49), in The Bribe (49, Leonard), modestly touching in George Sidney’s Show Boat (51), and dottily mythic in Albert Levvin’s Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (51).
She made more conventional films—such as Mervyn Le Rov’s East Side, West Side (50)—but was generally put out of doors and/or in costume. Her own busy romantic life (including marriage to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra), her looks, and her taste for sporting activities led to her being cast as a Hemingway woman, first in The Snows of Kilimanjaro (52) and then, incredibly, as Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises (57), both films by Henry King. Otherwise, she made Lone Star (52, Vincent Sherman), Ride, Vaquero! (53, John Farrow), and Knights of the Round Table (54, Richard Thorpe) before playing the title part in Mankiewiez’s The Barefoot Contessa (54), perfect casting and clever use of her narrow range. Cukor’s Bhowani Junction (56) was much more demanding and the Anglo-Indian in that film is her most touching performance. She then played in Robson’s The Little Hut (57) and was an overdressed Naked Maja (59, Henry Koster).
She worked sparingly in later years, without distinction in On the Beach (59, Stanley Kramer) and Nunnally Johnson’s The Angel Wore Red (60), but gloriously good-looking and worldlv wise in Ray’s 55 Days at Peking (63), Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May (64), and Huston’s Night of the Iguana (64)—in the last of which she almost manages to be an earth mother. She gave herself up to lavish gesture—as Sarah in The Bible (66, Huston) and as an overblown Hapsburg in Mayerling (68, Terence Young)—but played a Queen of the Fairies in the fascinating The Devil’s Widow (71, Roddy McDowall); was still very beautiful as Lily Langtry in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (72, Huston); Earthquake (74, Robson): Permission to Kill (75, Cvril Frankel); The Sentinel (76, M ichael Winner); The Cassandra Crossing (76, George Pan Cosmatos); and Blue Bird (76, Cukor).
She was in City on Fire (79, Alvin Rakoff); The Kidnapping of the President (80, George Mendeiuk); Mabel Dodge Luhan in Priest of Love (80, Christopher Miles); on TV in The Long Hot Summer (85, Stuart Cooper); in the miniseries A.D. (85, Cooper); and in Harem (86, Billy Hale).
Born December 24, 1922
Died January 25, 1990