They decided to marry each other just days after Frank Sinatra divorced his wife, Nancy Barbato.
When Ava Gardner first met Frank Sinatra, she was married to Mickey Rooney but Sinatra had made such a strong and lasting impression on her at the time that she had fallen in love all over again.
"Can you remember the first words you exchanged when you first met Frank?" Gardner was asked by Peter Evans, the man that Gardner picked to be the ghostwriter for her memoir, according to Vanity Fair.
Gardner replied, "I was with Mickey in the studio commissary. We had just gotten married. Frank came over to our table—Jesus, he was like a god in those days, if gods can be sexy. A cocky god, he reeked of sex—he said something banal, like: ‘If I had seen you first, honey, I’d have married you myself.’ I paid no attention to that. I knew he was married. He had a kid, fahcrissake!"
Sinatra may have given her something to remember about him when they first met. But for the iconic musician, it was different. He was captivated by the actress before they even met in person, according to Mirror. When the singer saw a photo of her before they laid eyes on each other, Sinatra declared "I’m going to marry that woman."
However, after meeting each other first in 1943, the two met each other once again only in 1948. By this time, Gardner was not only MGM's most prized actress but she had also had a number of affairs. She had ended her first marriage, started her second one with Artie Shaw, which had also ended by the time she met Sinatra once again, according to The Vintage News.
It seemed like nothing could stop Sinatra and Garnder from the attraction they felt, not even the thought of his wife of many years, Nancy Barbato who would be looking after their children at home, according to Mirror.
"All of my life, being a singer was the most important thing in the world. Now you’re all I want," Sinatra told Ava in 1949, according to author, J. Randy Taraborrelli, as reported by the Daily Mail.
The very famous and very scandalous affair between Sinatra and Gardner started making headlines, leaving Sinatra's wife with no choice but to divorce him.
Only a few days after his divorce with Nancy in 1951, Sinatra was all set and ready to marry Gardner. But a day before the couple were to tie the knot, Ava received a letter. It was written and sent by a sex worker, who claimed that Sinatra had been cheating on Gardner with her for months and she had no idea of it.
Gardner was overcome with rage and jealousy but they went on to exchange wedding vows and thus, began the toxic marriage between two heavy drinkers who would constantly argue with each other even in public.
The Mogambo actress told Evans, "Frank and I had been married barely a couple of years. The marriage was obviously unraveling even then. I’m just surprised it lasted as long as it did. It was a bad time for Frank. Poor darling, he was so insecure. He was broke. He didn’t have a job. He was hanging on to his place in Palm Springs by the skin of his teeth," as quoted by Vanity Fair.
Gardner, at the peak of her career, was the breadwinner of the family while Sinatra was going through possibly the worst time in his career. The two would constantly butt heads with each other and would constantly feel jealous or insecure in their marriage. According to Mirror, Gardner even had two abortions because she believed that their marriage was too volatile for a child.
Throughout their marriage, there was times when Sinatra would fake suicide to get Gardner's attention.
On one occasion, Gardner heard two loud gunshots coming from his room. "Ava screamed and ran into his bedroom. Sinatra was lying on the floor with his eyes closed, a gun smoking in his hand," wrote Taraborrelli, according to the Daily Mail. "‘Oh my God.’ Ava threw herself on to Frank’s body and began to cry. ‘My mind sort of exploded in a great wave of panic, terror, and shocked disbelief,’ she remembered. Then his eyes opened. For a moment, the lovers just stared at one another. Then Ava noticed a gaping hole in his mattress — into which he’d fired the bullets."
Another time, he swallowed sleeping pills and Gardner said, "You can be sure he counted how many sleeping pills he took. I could have kicked the c*** out of him. Instead, I forgave him in about 25 seconds."
Gardner told Evans about the mock suicides and the overdoses, "It was a cry for help. I always fell for it," according to Vanity Fair.
After she was done with the filming of Mogambo in 1953, Gardner flew off to Spain to have an affair with a bullfighter there. She filed for divorce the next year but Sinatra was not ready to go through with it. Over the years, he kept trying to win her back and even after they officially divorced in 1957, Sinatra kept trying to get back together with Gardner with a number of romantic gestures. But they never did.
Nevertheless, Sinatra continued sending her flowers on her birthday every single year even after their divorce, according to The Vintage News. On the other hand, Gardner, who was the one who filed for divorce, according to Mirror, had a picture of Sinatra and herself kept on her bedside until the day she passed away.