Photo 1 Playing at the Geffen Playhouse April 4-May 7, 2023, AVA: The Secret Conversations (Elizabeth McGovern as Ava Gardner), Photo 2 Elizabeth and Aaron Costa Ganis, Photo 3 Elizabeth and Aaron in rehearsals at the Geffen Playhouse (Photos Courtesy of Geffen Playhouse)

  • By Caroline Lenher
  • Photos Courtesy of Geffen Playhouse

“I either write the book or sell the jewels,” Gardner told her ghostwriter and journalist, Peter Evans, “and I’m kinda sentimental about the jewels.” Together, they wrote her tell-all memoir, The Secret Conversations, a book that Gardner didn’t want to be published during her lifetime for fear it was too racy.

This April, you can decide if the Hollywood icon’s life was too shocking for the times as award-winning actress Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abby, War of the Worlds) brings her adaptation of Gardner’s biography to the Geffen Playhouse. AVA: THE SECRET CONVERSATIONS is a theatrical glimpse into the private life of Hollywood’s original femme fatale through her conversations with Evans.

The play brings audiences into the meetings between Ava (McGovern) and Evans (Aaron Costa Ganis), ultimately becoming her memoir. Their conversations divulge the secrets of her three high-profile marriages to actor Mickey Rooney, bandleader Artie Shaw and the one and only Frank Sinatra. The first two ended in divorce before Ava was 23 years old. Her third marriage to Sinatra ended, but the love, friendship, and affairs continued long after their divorce was finalized.

Beyond her marriages were equally prominent love affairs as men literally fell at her famously bare feet. Billionaire businessman, film producer, and aviator Howard Hughes was obsessed with her, and their lives intertwined for decades. Gardner’s other affairs ranged from top bullfighters to leading men like Steve McQueen, an abusive George C. Scott, Robert Mitchum, musician Mel Torme, and John F. Kennedy. She lived an exciting, glamorous, and fast-paced life as seen by the outside world, and now audiences can see the more private side of who she really was.

Behind the scenes was very different for one of the world’s most celebrated beauties. Off-screen, Gardner was described as down to earth with deep friendships. However, as her stardom rose, she struggled with insecurities around her looks and questioned her talents. Additionally, she could never find the only thing she wanted: love, happiness, and family.

McGovern uses the simplicity of a two-person on-stage cast to go beyond the book and explore the complexity that was Ava Gardner, bringing out the depth of one of the biggest stars of the Hollywood Golden Age.

AVA: THE SECRET CONVERSATIONS premiered in London’s West End last year and makes its U.S. debut at the Geffen Playhouse starting on April 4.

For tickets and information, click here.