Past Times

Things happened fast for the young Ava Gardner

Newlyweds Mickey Rooney and Ava Gardner are greeted by Gardner’s mother with a plate of fried chicken.
Newlyweds Mickey Rooney and Ava Gardner are greeted by Gardner’s mother with a plate of fried chicken. N&O File Photo

It was 75 years ago this week that one of Johnston County’s favorite daughters, having made news by going off to Hollywood to become a movie star, again made news by marrying one. Only eight months after she left home for New York, the 19-year-old Ava Gardner had been “discovered,” signed a movie contract, and was now Mrs. Mickey Rooney. The front-page news included an interview with Gardner’s mother, who was living near Wilson at the time.

Mrs. J. B. Gardner, mother of Ava Gardner, the bride of Mickey Rooney, was advised of the wedding today. She had known beforehand when the nuptials would take place, but had been asked by her daughter not to divulge any details.…

Ava had written her mother previously that the marriage would take place between “January 8 and 12,” and Hollywood columnist Jimmie Fiddler had said it would be on January 12. But Ava’s mother disclosed here that she thought “they’re going to put one over on us and make it a secret.”

The announcement of their engagement was made last month here and was confirmed by Rooney in Hollywood.

Mrs. Gardner disclosed the honeymoon plans of the couple here late today as she said that they were going to Del Monte for a few days in California after the wedding and were then coming east to Boston, on to New York and Washington and would “then spend a few days here in Wilson before they go on to Florida.…”

She also announced that Ava was going to continue her screen career and that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had just taken up a third option on her contract and had given her a newer and longer one.

Ava met Rooney on the studio set one day last fall and since then has been seen with him constantly. She went to Hollywood last summer after she was given a short-term contract with M-G-M on the strength of a screen test in New York. She lived with her older sister, Beatrice, in Hollywood. The N&O Jan. 11, 1942

Soon after the ceremony, Rooney got a chance to meet the folks when he and his bride visited Raleigh. N&O writer Herbert O’Keef shared the details.

Mickey Rooney met all his brand-new North Carolina relatives at a quiet family party here last night – and it’s an understatement to say that everybody was mighty well pleased with everybody else.

The moment Mrs. Rooney – the former Ava Gardner of Rock Ridge in Wilson County – introduced her husband to her mother, Mrs. J. B. Gardner of Rock Ridge, the family reunion got underway in grand style. The only difficulty was that the Rooneys didn’t have much time here, but Mickey himself promised to come back for a longer stay the first chance he gets.…

Early today the Rooneys left Raleigh by train for Washington.… Tonight they appear at the President’s Birthday Ball in Washington, which means more crowds, more autographs and more samples of the famous Rooney grin, which is a mighty spontaneous sort of a grin, too.

Don’t get the idea that any rest is in sight when the Washington appearance is over, either. Rooney has to be in Hollywood Tuesday to begin work in “Girl Crazy,” in which he plays with Judy Garland.

There was no fuss or fanfare about the Rooneys’ trip to Raleigh to let Mickey meet his wife’s relatives. Rooney didn’t want a crowd, just wanted the chance to meet his wife’s people quietly. He got the chance….

The family reunion was just what you would have expected such a gathering to be. Everybody was glad to see everybody else, there was a lot of chatter and everybody was glad to dive into the plates of fried chicken.

The Rooney of real life is a lot different from the Rooney of the screen. Actually, he’s not the cocky little fellow that his movie roles show him to be. He’s just a well-mannered, smiling, 21-year-old man.

As for Ava – well, she’s as pretty as her Hollywood pictures show her to be and that’s very, very pretty. One glance is all that is needed to show that the top-notch Hollywood cameramen didn’t need to go to any trouble to make her look glamorous. The N&O Jan. 30, 1942

By September, the Rooneys had separated and Gardner sued for divorce.

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Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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