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New exhibit highlights Ava Gardner's life in London

The Smithfield Herald

Smithfield’s Ava Gardner Museum on Saturday will unveil a new exhibit dedicated to the Hollywood starlet’s life in London.

Gardner was born just a few miles east of Smithfield and called Johnston County home as she traveled the world. She’s buried in Smithfield, and the town is also home to the museum that showcases her career. But Gardner also found a home in London later in life. She said many times that England reminded her of North Carolina, said Deanna Brandenberger, the museum’s executive director.

The new exhibit, called “Ava Living in London,” will open Dec. 10. It will highlight her life in London, from the movies she filmed there to her time as a permanent resident from 1968 to her death in 1990.

The museum changes its displays annually, Brandenberger said, so visitors can always see new things from the museum’s vast collection of mementos from Gardner’s life, including clothes, film costumes, photos, art, letters, jewelry and props.

The unveiling of the new exhibit will include a traditional English tea at 10 a.m. served by the folks at Smithfield’s Grapes & Grounds.

In Ava’s own words, traveling and living abroad had a profound effect on her life for the better. “ ‘Pandora’ [the film] got me outside these United States for the first time,” she said. “One trip abroad, honey, and I almost never looked back.”

The exhibit will feature photos from Gardner’s time in London, video from films she appeared in there and tableaus recreating iconic scenes from her life across the pond.

It will be an exhibit unlike anything the museum has had before, Brandenberger said.

The new exhibit coincides with recent events to honor the actress in London.

“In conjunction with receiving the honor of the Blue Plaque in London, we have decided to uniquely portray Ava’s life in London where she lived 32 years,” Brandenberger said.

Earlier this month and in October, the English Heritage Foundation and the British Film Institute honored Gardner. On Nov. 4, the Heritage Foundation installed a Blue Plaque on Gardner’s apartment building at 34 Ennismore Gardens, which the actress called her “little London retreat.”

On Oct. 4, the British Film Institute honored Gardner and actor Kirk Douglas as part of the Institute’s Southbank Program. Gardner played a supporting role alongside Douglas in the film “Seven Days in May.”

The Blue Plaque is the latest in the collection of historical markers, which date back to the 1800s. In all, more than 900 plaques create a trail of fame across England. Among the honorees: Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Richard Burton, Jimi Hendrix and Mozart.

The Blue Plaque is “the oldest and most prestigious historical marker system in the world,” said Brandenberger, who began pushing for the honor for Gardner two years ago.

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Clotherworkers’ Centre now houses 12 of Gardner’s couture fashions donated by Gardner and her family.

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