Thursday, March 15, 2012

Peter woos Ava Gardner--and comes to regret it

Ava Gardner had just been voted the most beautiful woman in the world when Peter began to date her in 1944. She had been married to Mickey Rooney and the bandleader Artie Shaw. Peter liked her, he said, because "You can really talk to Ava. She has an insatiable thirst for knowledge." According to Phil Silvers' wife, Jo-Carroll, she also had an insatiable hunger for men: "She was sexually uninhibited, wild, all kinds of goodies and quick. You couldn't get ahold of her. She was gone and off with somebody else before you knew where you were."

Peter learned that was true on New Year's Eve, 1946. He and Ava spent a romantic evening at a friend's party, kissed and embraced at midnight, then went back to Ava's place where they made love. As Peter was preparing to leave at 3 a.m., there was a knock at the door. It was the young crooner Mel Torme coming to pick Ava up. Stunned, Peter watched them get into Torme's car for a drive up the coast.

That was the end of Peter and Ava, but the relationship came back to haunt him. Seven years later, Ava had married and divorced Frank Sinatra, one of Peter's closest friends. He and Milt Ebbins sat and talked with her for about an hour, and that was that. But a gossip columnist ran an item the next day suggesting the Peter and Ava were rekindling their romance. That night, at 2 a.m., Frank called Peter, threatening to break both his legs then kill him if he ever spent time with Ava again, then slammed the phone down. He did not speak to Peter for the next five years. What caused the thaw? It looked like Peter's brother-in-law Jack Kennedy might be elected president, and Frank wanted nothing else more than to bask in the glow of being a friend of the president of the United States.

That would come to pass, but it was Bobby Kennedy who caused Frank to fly into a rage and ostracize Peter from his Rat Pack circle for the rest of his life.

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