The Ava Gardner Museum is home to an extensive collection of Ava Gardner memorabilia. Each object in the museum was either owned by Ava Gardner or her family, used in her films or had a special meaning or relationship to Ava.
On exhibit are costumes, movie posters and awards that represent Ava’s 50-year career as a leading Hollywood actress. The Museum also houses a collection of personal items of china, jewelry, clothing and fine art, including 40 portraits by Bert Pfeiffer, an artist whose collection was donated to the museum in 2001.
The museum houses over 20,000 pieces of Ava Gardner memorabilia. However, there are a few pieces that visitors are especially excited to see:
Bert Pfeiffer collection
Any movie buff can easily appreciate the enchanting beauty of Ava Gardner, but artist Bert Pfeiffer made Ava his lifelong passion.
After first seeing Ava in the 1948 film "One Touch of Venus," Pfeiffer was hooked. In the film, Ava first appears as a statue of Venus, the Goddess of Love, and is brought to life with a kiss from a window dresser. The movie left quite an impression on the young Dutchman, who was only 18 and enrolled in The Hague's Academy of Arts at the time.
Soon Pfeiffer began painting portraits of Ava, using photographs to memorize her facial features. The artist would spend the rest of his life creating his own interpretations of Ava's likeness. He also collected a wealth of memorabilia featuring the late actress. Pfeiffer's work is now a part of the Ava Gardner Museum collection.
Following his death in 2001, Pfeiffer's family and friends followed his wishes by donating his collection to the Ava Gardner Museum. The museum's Tom Banks Library displays a large selection of the paintings, and three portraits hanging in the Theatre were personally selected by Ava to hang in her home in London. Many of the portraits include quirky features such as Ava's name spelled out with playing cards, a mouse on her sleeve, the artist's face in a locket, and neon colored lipstick, to name a few. Visitors spend extra time looking for these unique touches.
Frank Sinatra Watch
This handsome watch was given to Frank Sinatra by Ava. The back of the watch is engraved with the sentiment "To Frank and desert nights - Ava," and could be a reference to Sinatra's private getaway in Palm Desert, California (near Palm Springs). Following their divorce in 1957, they remained friends until her death in 1990.
Made by Lucien Piccard in the 1960s, it incorporates a 17-jewel Swiss manual wind movement. The case is 14K solid yellow gold with a silver front dial signed by the maker.
Cape and Shoes from "The Barefoot Contessa" (1954)
This stunning silk satin cape, embroidered with gold thread and brass sequins, was worn by Ava in publicity shots for "The Barefoot Contessa." However, since the costume does not appear in the movie it may have been included in scenes that were deleted in the final cut.
Ava's wardrobe for Contessa included 23 pairs of shoes. Cast in a role that most critics agree paralleled her private life, Ava played the character of Maria Vargas. As the film's title implies, both Ava and Maria preferred to forego shoes whenever possible. Two pairs of shoes on display with the cape are creations of the Fontana Sisters of Rome.
Dress from the film, "The Great Sinner" (1949)
Within the Main Case of the Museum Gallery is a visitor favorite: the black dress Ava wore in "The Great Sinner". Visitors often remark on the diminutive size of the dress and exclaim over her waist size – 18 inches. Placed on display recently are sketches of this dress and several others by Virginia Fisher, who worked for MGM designer Irene Lentz.
Pistol presented to Ava prior to filming of "The Night of the Iguana"
As a gimmick to diffuse tension between Richard Burton and Liz Taylor while shooting "The Night of the Iguana" in 1963, director John Huston presented Taylor (non-cast member, present merely to keep an eye on Burton), Burton, co-stars Ava Gardner, Sue Lyon, Deborah Kerr, and producer Ray Stark each with a gold-plated derringer just before filming started. Five gold bullets (with powder removed) each were engraved with the name of a co-recipient. The gimmick worked, and it also gained a great deal of publicity for the movie, considered one of Ava's best roles.
The museum acquired Ava's pistol in 2011 from a Gardner relative and now proudly displays it in its original case, along with bullets bearing the names of Taylor, Burton, Lyon, Kerr, and Stark.