Exhibit explores Ava Gardner’s Hemingway connection

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


SMITHFIELD — The Ava Gardner Museum will open the “Hemingway’s Heroine” exhibit, showcasing Gardner’s close friendship with novelist Ernest Hemingway, this Friday.

This exhibit will feature, for the first time, a movie costume reproduction. Danielle Wiggins, a fashion designer from Raleigh who has been inspired by Gardner’s fashions, will recreate the iconic black satin, single-shoulder strapped dress Gardner wore in “The Killers.”

Born in rural Johnston County, Gardner graduated from Rock Ridge High School in Wilson County and attended Atlantic Christian College, now Barton College. In May 2017, the Wilson County Historical Society installed a historical marker at the Rock Ridge teacherage where Gardner lived from 1938-39. The iconic actress is buried in Smithfield’s Sunset Memorial Park.

Guests for the exhibit’s opening event are invited to a “Little Black Dress” party at 6:30 p.m., There will be hors d’ oeuvres, beverages and a cash prize to be awarded at 8 p.m. for the top fashionista of the evening. Cost per person is $35 or $60 per couple with tickets available online or by calling the museum.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, the museum will show “The Killers” which, in 2008 was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

MGM loaned Gardner to Universal Studios to play femme fatale Kitty Collins with newcomer Burt Lancaster, and critics and movie audiences alike took notice of Gardner’s performance. Her success in “The Killers” led to two more roles as Hemingway heroines, including Cynthia Street in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and Lady Brett Ashley in “The Sun Also Rises.”

Gardner would meet Hemingway through famed bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguin, and they remained close friends for the next decade. Gardner called him Papa, he called her Daughter, and after starring in her second adaptation from one of Hemingway’s works, he would remark, “Ava, the only two good things in it (‘Snows of Kilimanjaro’) were you and the hyena.”

“Fans of the film noir genre and Hemingway will enjoy the events planned for this new exhibit and the unique way the museum is recreating this iconic costume,” museum director Lynell Seabold said in a release. “We strive to keep new and innovative exhibits rotating in the museum for visitors to return again and again to Smithfield and to continue to tell Ava’s story.”

The Ava Gardner Museum is located at 325 E. Market St. in downtown Smithfield and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 2-5 p.m. Sundays.

To purchase advance tickets, call the museum at 919-934-5830 or visit https://ava-gardner-museum.myshopify.com.