By Lynne Brandon
SMITHFIELD, NC-The Ava Gardner museum has been likened to Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” for the long winding path that led to its final destination, and current home in Smithfield, North Carolina.
The museum is firmly established in the town’s bustling downtown but it was years in the making. The tribute to North Carolina’s beautiful movie star began more than 20 years ago with a private collection donated by the family of Dr. Tom Banks. Today after several locations, the museum’s final resting spot showcases a collection that begs to be seen: extraordinary costumes, movie posters and awards recalling Ava’s 50-year career as a Hollywood legend.
2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield. “We are always amazed at the far reaching appeal of the Ava Gardner Museum,” said Donna Bailey-Taylor, Executive Director, Johnston County Visitors Bureau, “and its ability to attract visitors from around the world, as Ava Gardner remains an international icon from the Golden Age of Hollywood.”
Ava Gardner’s legacy has brought new life into Smithfield’s downtown and officials from the city recognized the museum as a North Carolina 2010 Main Street Champion. Visitors and tourism officials are also on the bandwagon with kudos. Liviability.com rated the museum in its “Top 10 Fun and Unusual Museums.” The tourism website identifies the top 200 most livable cities in the U.S. and included the Smithfield on its list, in part due to the town’s cultural amenities and Ava’s star power represented by the crown jewel museum attraction.
Livability.com states that its pick for fun and unusual museums are the ones that “pay homage to a single subject, honor a special interest and celebrate the strange. They may draw smaller crowds, but their founders and visitors definitely don’t lack for enthusiasm.”
An outgrowth from the museum is the annual Ava Gardner Independent Film Festival, attended by over 250 filmmakers in 2010. The festival was recognized by the North Carolina Main Street Organization, and received honorable mention as Best Downtown Special Event. The festival features workshops, independent films, documentaries, narratives, short films and features. Films were shown in various venues in downtown Smithfield, including the historic Hastings House and the Neuse Little Theatre. The festival hosted a number of special events including a kick-off party, opening art exhibit, Filmmaker’s Lounge, and a breakfast with the filmmakers.
During the zenith of her Hollywood career, Ava Gardner had few peers in the world of celebrity and glamour. Men adored her. Some saw beyond her physical beauty and Southern charm, recognizing an actress with enormous talent. One admirer was her friend Ernest Hemingway who insisted on her being cast in starring roles in “The Sun Also Rises” and “The Snows of Kilmanjaro.” Ms. Gardner appeared in over 49 motion pictures, several television mini-series.