The American Film Institute ranks the top Hollywood movie stars by gender, and Humphrey Bogart, born on Christmas Day, and Ava Gardner, born the night before Christmas, rank No. 1 and No. 25 respectively.
The two Hollywood movie stars were cast by David L. Mankiewicz in “The Barefoot Contessa,” a classic film that he wrote and directed.
The film premiered on Jan. 1, 1954. Gardner portrayed Maria Vargas, a fictional Spanish dancer who was a sex symbol brought to Hollywood by Humphrey Bogart’s character, Harry Dawes.
The two stars could not have come from more different backgrounds in that Humphrey’s father, Dr. DeForest Bogart, was a surgeon in New York City and his mother, Maud Humphrey Bogart, worked as an illustrator.
Gardner was the daughter of Jonas Bailey Gardner, a N. C. tobacco farmer, and his wife Mary Elizabeth Gardner. Ava was born in Graptown near Smithfield, N.C.
By chance, Ava was discovered by Hollywood scouts who were in New York City and happened to see her photograph displayed in a photography studio’s display window.
The scouts learned about Ava from the studio’s owner who happened to be her brother-in-law.
She was invited to Hollywood for a screen test that she failed miserably by Hollywood standards, leading MGM’s Studio Chief Louis B. Mayer to conclude that she couldn’t act and she couldn’t talk but that she was a terrific find. He signed her to a contract immediately despite her thick southern accent. Her beauty won the day.
Ava was given acting lessons and schooled in speech while appearing in bit roles for four years before getting her first substantive role when MGM loaned her to Universal Pictures to play opposite to a newcomer, Burt Lancaster.
In her role as a double crossing femme fetale in “The Killers,” a classic film noir released in 1946, she gained fame that led Hollywood to bill her as the “World’s Most Beautiful Animal.” She was also touted as the most beautiful woman in the world.
By the time Ava Lavinia was birthed the night before Christmas in 1922, Humphrey was already 22, a day shy of 23, and he was on his way to becoming the American Film Institute’s No. 1 actor of all time.
Born on Christmas Day in 1899, Humphrey won his only Oscar for portraying a grungy riverboat captain in “The African Queen” in 1951.
He rose to Hollywood fame ten years earlier when he portrayed Sam Spade, the detective in John Huston’s adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s “Maltese Falcon.”
“High Sierra” was another hit that Humphrey starred in in 1941.
In 1942, he starred in “All Through the Night” and “Across the Pacific.”
For what has to be one of the most productive years for a movie star, Humphrey starred in “Casablanca,” the film that won the Oscar for Best Film of 1942.
The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best movies ranks “Casablanca” as No. 2, trailing only “Citizen Kane,” (1941) as No. 1.
Ava and Humphrey experienced similar Hollywood backgrounds in that each star had numerous rocky marriages. Ava married Mickey Rooney when she was 18. The marriage lasted from 1942-1943.
In 1945, Ava, at 22, married Artie Shaw, the 35-year-old jazz band leader who had been married four times. The couple divorced in 1946.
Ava married Frank Sinatra in 1951, but the couple divorced in 1957, the year Humphrey died.
After three unsuccessful marriages, Humphrey married Lauren Bacall in 1945. He was 45, and she was 20. They said their wedding vows in Mansfield, Ohio.
The marriage lasted for 12 years till Humphrey passed away. The couple had two children, Stephen (1949) and Leslie (1952).
Ava, who never gave birth, died in London, England in 1990 at 68, and there is a museum in Smithfield, N. C. that contains memorabilia from her life prior to and following her film career that lasted from 1941-1981.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.