If books have a mind of their own, one could argue that Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations was intent on being published. The ground work for the book, which came out on July 2 from Simon & Schuster and was recently excerpted in Vanity Fair, began over 20 years ago. Now, after the death of both its subject and its author, the Hollywood tale is finally seeing the light of day.
The publication backstory, according to editor Bob Bender, is something of a doozy. Evans, a British journalist and biographer, first met with Gardner in the late 1980s through a mutual acquaintance. At the time, the former star was living in England and in need of cash. Bender said that when Gardner met Evans she told him, candidly: "I need to either write the memoir or sell the jewels, and I'm kind of sentimental about the jewels."
Meeting over what Bender called a "substantial period of time," Gardner talked with Evans for a planned memoir and quasi Hollywood tell-all. But the working relationship came to an unexpected end after Evans offhandedly mentioned that he had once been sued by Gardner's ex-husband, Frank Sinatra. (The suit was pegged to comments Evans made on the BBC about Sinatra landing his role in From Here to Eternity through mob ties, and Sinatra sued both Evans and the BBC.)
The relationship between the journalist and star, as Bender put it, had been something of a "ballet" in which Evans was placed with the burden of convincing Gardner to do the book, even though the project was initially her idea. But, after the Sinatra comments, the book died. Evans believed that when Sinatra learned about the project, he offered Gardner financial support so she wouldn't have to go through with the book. (Bender said that Sinatra and Gardner had both told each other, at some point, that they would never write a memoir.)
The conversations between Evans and Gardner got a brief, new life when Evans was contacted, years after Gardner died in 1990, to do a story about his experience working with the star. The piece got Evans wondering if there was a possibility to revisit the book. After contacting his agent, Ed Victor, Evans found out that the book could go forward, after all these years, if the Gardner estate gave its blessing.
Once the Gardner estate gave the green light, Evans dug up his old notes and began again working on the book. The "kicker" Bender said, in a sad twist, was that Evans died of a heart attack right after sending in the nearly-complete manuscript. The final chapter was finished by Bender, Victor and Evans's wife, Pamela, who had found some additional notes by her husband. And, for those who want to find out about the off genesis of the book itself, there is an epilogue, by Victor, that explains the title's tumultuous road to publication and how, unexpectedly, it became its author's final work.