Judging by this iconic wedding day photo alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner had the perfect marriage.
But the romance between the 1940s film star and her third husband, legendary crooner Sinatra, was said to be “toxic” from day dot.
Thrice-divorced Gardner met the Fly Me to the Moon singer in 1943 while married to Mickey Rooney and still a fresh entry into Hollywood. Sinatra, meanwhile, was still with his ex-wife, Nancy.
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They met once again in 1948 and their controversial, passionate love affair thus began.
At first, their relationship began as a discreet affair. But their trysts were exposed in 1950 when a paparazzi caught them together at the London Palladium.
Soon, photos of the famous couple were splashed across the front page of newspapers around the world.
Sinatra faced the wrath of his devoted fans for being unfaithful to his wife Nancy. The reaction was particularly fierce given Gardner’s unpleasant reputation as a seductress.
The pair’s romance got off to a rocky start, perhaps a warning of what was to come.
In 1951, Nancy granted Sinatra the divorce he craved and he went on to marry Gardner just days later.
Sinatra had already cemented his reputation as a womaniser, but Gardner learned the shocking extent of her soon-to-be husband’s infidelity just one day before they tied the knot.
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The Killers actress received a letter from a sex worker, claiming to have been sleeping with the singer for months.
The handwritten note detailed her long-running affair with Sinatra. The woman’s identity was never revealed, but Gardner was said to have believed her claims.
According to reports, the actress flew into a jealous rage and confronted Sinatra about his affair.
Still, it didn’t derail their plans to get married. Only 24 hours later, on November 7, 1951, Gardner and Sinatra married in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Unsurprisingly, tying the knot did not result in a period of marital bliss for the newlyweds. Instead of flying to the moon, they came crashing back down to earth.
Their marriage was fraught with affair rumours, constant press scrutiny, fights and Sinatra’s career woes.
“Both Frank and I were high-strung people, possessive and jealous and liable to explode fast. When I lose my temper, honey, you can’t find it anyplace. I’ve just got to let off steam, and he’s the same way,” the actress wrote in her 1990 biography, Ava: My Story.
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Sinatra once said of their constant fighting: “If we didn’t kill each other during the day, we might have killed each other in bed.”
During their marriage, Gardner fell pregnant with Sinatra’s child twice but had abortions both times.
Some reports say it was due to her toxic relationship with Sinatra, while others it was over an MGM clause about their stars having babies.
Gardner also reportedly embarked on a passionate affair with famous Spanish bullfighter, Luis Miguel Dominguin.
It is said Sinatra desperately attempted to salvage the marriage by showering her with gifts, gestures and promises.
“Oh, God, Frank Sinatra could be the sweetest, most charming man in the world when he was in the mood,” Gardner said in her memoir.
But it was to no avail as in 1957, Sinatra finally granted her a divorce.
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Their six-year marriage is remembered as one of the most turbulent affairs in Hollywood.
Even 66 years on, few have matched the combined star power of music’s most eligible womaniser and the talented screen siren.
Sinatra and Gardner are said to have stayed friends for the remainder of their lives, with the actress once even describing them as “lovers forever – eternally”.
When Gardner died in 1990, the singer did not attend her funeral in fear of a media frenzy.
He did, however, send flowers with a note that read: “All my love, Francis.”
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