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Ava Gardner Supporting Roles: 4 Times Star Shined Without Being Lead Actress

By    |   Friday, 05 Jun 2015 11:40 AM

Ava Gardner spent the first few years of her career as a movie actress playing bit roles and in short films, many of them uncredited. About the time she earned her first credited role, in 1943's "Ghost on the Loose," starring the East Side Kids, producers and Hollywood casting directors began noticing her talent and beauty.

By 1946, she gained her first lead actress role in "Whistle Stop," and found herself on the top of the billing in most of the films in which she appeared.

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However, there are several films in which Gardner took on a more supporting role, and these include some films where she really shined.

Here is a look at four supporting roles in which Gardner appeared and reviewers and audiences took notice:

1. Jean Ogilvie, "The Hucksters" (1947)
"The Hucksters" featured a star-studded cast, including Clark Gable, Deborah Kerr, Sydney Greenstreet, Adolphe Menjou, Keenan Wynn, and Edward Arnold. Gardner appeared in the movie as Jean Ogilvie, who is a torch singer and the one-time lover of Gable's character, Victor Norman.

Turner Classic Movies
called Gardner's performance
"one of her first important roles" and Variety said that Gardner was "thoroughly believable as the on-the-make songstress."

2. Isabel Lorrison, "East Side, West Side" (1949)
Gardner took another supporting role in "East Side, West Side," this time playing another opportunistic woman, Isabel Lorrison, who is trying to rekindle her romance with her former lover, Brandon Bourne (portrayed by James Mason).

"East Side, West Side" also features a strong cast, which include Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Cyd Charisse, and William Conrad.

The cast earned raved reviews, with Variety saying, "Performances throughout are convincing with Ava Gardner probably grabbing top honors as the willful and attractive vixen."

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3. Sarah, "The Bible: In the Beginning …" (1966)
One of the many epic films that Hollywood was known for in the 1950s and 1960s, "The Bible: In the Beginning …" is a film that recounts many chapters of the Book of Genesis.

The film features many A-list actors and actresses, including Richard Harris, George C. Scott, Peter O'Toole, Franco Nero, and Stephen Boyd. Gardner portrays Sarah, the wife of Abraham (played by Scott) and mother of Isaac (played by Alberto Lucantoni).

Variety like Gardner's performance in the biblical epic, writing "Ava Gardner is very good as the barren Sarah who, to give her husband a male heir, urges him to conceive with her servant, Zoe Sallis."

4. Empress Elizabeth, "Mayerling" (1968)
In 1968's "Mayerling," Gardner finds herself in another strong cast, one that includes Omar Sharif, Catherine Deneuve, and James Mason. Here, she portrays Empress Elizabeth, who was the real-life wife of Emperor Franz-Joseph I, which made her Empress of Austria and the Queen of Hungary.

The New York Times film critic Howard Thompson raved about Gardner's performance, stating, "The surprise of the picture is Ava Gardner as the enigmatic Empress of Austria … with an uncertain smile and a husky voice, this beautiful lady is the most beguiling character in the movie."

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Ava Gardner spent the first few years of her career as a movie actress playing bit roles and in short films, many of them uncredited. About the time she earned her first credited role, in 1943's "Ghost on the Loose."
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