Strangers in the Night: A Novel of Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner by Heather Webb #NetGalley #ARCReview #Hollywood

In the golden age of Hollywood, two of the brightest stars would define–and defy–an era…

She was the small-town southern beauty transformed into a Hollywood love goddess. He was the legendary crooner whose voice transfixed the world. They were Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra. Separately they were irresistible; together they were an explosive combination.

Ava’s star is rising just as Frank’s career–and public image as a family man–is taking a hit. Gone are the days of the screaming bobbysoxers and chart-topping hits. Ava, however, finds herself gracing the front page of every tabloid in America. Jealousy and cheating abound, and when the two succumb to their temperaments and their vices, their happiness is threatened at every turn.

As the pair ride the rollercoaster of success and failure, passion and anger, they both wonder if the next turn will be the end of their careers, and most devastating of all–the end of all they’ve shared.

Strangers in the Night (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) ( (AbeBooks)

I’ve always loved old Hollywood and watching old movies and listening to old music. When I was first married, I picked up the autobiography of Ava Gardner and was surprised at how candid the biography was about her love life. I mean, it was written forty years ago, and tell-all books didn’t tell all that much after all. Of course, I knew Sinatra’s music, but interestingly enough, my mother and father weren’t big fans of him because of his alleged ties to the mob. I had no such qualms and in my 20’s spent a lot of time watching Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra and listening to him on CDs.

Strangers in the Night follows the tempestuous and passionate love affair of one of MGM’s biggest stars, and one of music’s biggest singers when he was on a downward spiral. Frank Sinatra was a singer and an actor in MGM musicals. Ava Gardner was a contract player for MGM, being loaned out to other studios for films and marrying MGM’s biggest star at the time, Mickey Rooney. That marriage didn’t last, and neither did the one to jazz great and all-around jerk Artie Shaw. Sinatra had been happily married to his hometown sweetheart, Nancy, but that didn’t stop him from stepping out with other women like MGM starlet Lana Turner.

Ava was full of self-doubt, never comfortable with the fact that MGM only seemed to care about her looks. She took hours and hours of comportment classes and acting classes to improve herself, and finally started getting better roles and meatier parts, but they were for other studios. Once she became the darling of the big screen, MGM began to take her more seriously and offer her better parts. Gardner never felt comfortable acting and usually lubricated herself with vodka before performing.

Frank had been at the top of his game, first with the Harry James Orchestra, and then with Tommy Dorsey’s jazz band. But around the time he got involved with Ava, his record sales were slumping, he was damaging his voice by performing so much, and when he was appearing in clubs, they were half-filled. His movies weren’t doing much box office, either. The media said he was finished in the business, washed up, a has-been.

Frank’s star was in decline, and Ava’s was on the ascent, and a proud Italian American like Sinatra didn’t take that too well. He was tough via his associations with the mob, yet he was so emotional and unstable at times that one wonders if he didn’t have Bipolar Disorder. He half-heartedly attempted suicide several times while circling in Ava’s orbit, yet somehow never managed to do much harm to himself.

Sinatra and Gardner’s love story is a tempestuous one, full of hot steamy sex (although those scenes are PG-13 at most), loud arguments where plates get smashed, and plenty of alcohol. It’s not fun to read about the alcohol-fueled relationship and all of its ups and downs, and how self-destructive both Ava and Frank were, but I’ve read biographies and watched documentaries on both and it is an accurate description. It’s always interesting to see how much real life bleeds into historical fiction and there’s enough fact to make me satisfied that the author’s attempt at telling their love story was real enough.

I liked the fact that Webb continued the story following Gardner and Sinatra’s divorce, because all accounts say that they were still in close contact up until Ava’s death. They were each other’s love of their lives, yet they were so much alike they couldn’t live together. Sinatra ended up marrying two more times, and I can’t help but wonder how his last wife, Barbara, felt about Frank’s continuing relationship with Ava. There’s rumors that he often sent her money and other gifts up until her death.

Later this week I’m reviewing the first volume in a dual biography of Frank Sinatra that I listened to in anticipation of getting this book. I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book from NetGalley and Harper Collins in exchange for an honest review.

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