I would have never been inside Ava Gardner’s shoe closet in Madrid, Spain except for the fact that I was married to Major H. H. Macurdy at the time. Being married to an Air Force pilot has its advantages. My path first crossed with Ava Gardner’s in a military chapel, not while I was in her closet admiring her shoes. In the “bare as a barracks” chapel on Torrejón AFB near Madrid, Ava and I both attended the wedding of a fighter pilot from my husband’s squadron. Ava was dating one of the Squadron Officers, Captain Kip Elsey. Due to the shortage of relatives in a foreign country, all squadron members, spouses, and girlfriends were invited to the wedding just to fill the chapel. I sat across the aisle from Ava, and I can confirm that she cried. She said that was what she did at weddings, whether she knew the bride and groom or not.
One night in 1962, after an event at the Officers Club, Ava’s friend, Kip, was in the car with my husband, Mac, and me. We must have been driving him home for some reason. Kip said Ava was out of town and he needed to check on her apartment. He suggested we go with him and, in spite of the late hour, we accepted his invitation.
The apartment was elegant and did not have that “lived in” look. In the bedroom, a large round bed was centered on a slightly larger, round raised dais similar to a throne. An easel holding a lovely oil painting, a landscape, stood on the lower level where it could be easily viewed from the bed. There was no dirty underwear, unmade bed, or robe casually tossed across a chair. I wondered if the bed had ever been slept in.
I remember very little about the kitchen or the living room, because Ava’s shoe closet commanded most of my attention. Colorful pairs of shoes hanging by their heels were lined up in rows, on racks covering all the walls. Red shoes were arranged by hue, from the darkest red to the palest blush, much like a color chart. The same was true of other colors, but it was the array of red shoes that captured my interest. No pairs of any color seemed to be missing from the display. There were no signs of scuffs or wear and tear. All were high heels and all looked brand new and pricey. The arrangement was complete and perfect. I wondered if any of these shoes had ever been worn.
Prominently on display in the bathroom were luxurious white bath towels monogrammed in gold. I remember the monogrammed letters as “ASL” with the central “S” large and predominant. I am not positive about the third letter, but am absolutely sure about the “A” and “S”. “ASL” could have stood for Ava Lavinia Sinatra or Ava Lavinia Shaw, since Ava’s middle name was Lavinia and she had been married to both Frank Sinatra and Artie Shaw. Her first marriage was with Mickey Rooney, but I don’t remember an “M” or an “R” in the monogram. Let’s say it was “L” for Lavinia.
Ava Lavinia Gardner was born December 24, 1922 in a place affectionately known by the locals as “Grabtown”, NC. Ava grew up barefoot, much like me, and is said to have developed the vocabulary of a sailor. In any case, neither her towels nor her bathroom, looked used.
Ava’s posh apartment was in the same building as Juan Peron’s, deposed President of Argentina. Generalissimo Peron began living in exile in Madrid in 1960, the same year our Macurdy family arrived in Spain. Peron, though in exile, was still leading the powerful Peronista movement in Argentina. Peron was newly married to his third wife, an Argentine dancer named Isabel, who later helped him regain political power in Argentina. But, loyalty to Eva (Evita), Peron’s beloved but deceased second wife, was still strong among Argentinians and Evita’s admirers resented Isabel.
The mental image of Ava’s elegant apartment, the constant news buzz about her neighbor Juan Peron, Ava’s exalted royal bed, her elegant white and gold towels, and her colorful array of shoes, lives on forever etched in my memory. Ava was often quoted as saying the Spanish merchants in Madrid had three price ranges: One for the local Spaniards, one for Americans, and one for Ava Gardner. After visiting her apartment and seeing her expensive taste in decor, it is easy to believe this much quoted comment was true.
I was thirty-two at the time of this sneak-peek visit and not exactly “fresh off the farm”. But I admit to a heady rush of excitement due to my close brush with these two world famous celebrities – one a glamourous movie star and one a notorious world leader. It was one of many eye-opening experiences for this Tennessee country girl. The life of a military wife can take you to some unexpected places.