Jan 11, 2023

Book Review--Grabtown Girl: Ava Gardner's North Carolina Childhood and Her Enduring Ties to Home


Grabtown Girl: Ava Gardner’s North Carolina Childhood and Her Enduring Ties to Home 
Doris Rollins Cannon 
Down Home Press, 2001 

When I had Ava Gardner Museum board member Lora Stocker as a guest on Watching Classic Movies podcast, she kindly sent a package of goodies from the gift shop afterwards. One of the items was Grabtown Girl: Ava Gardner’s North Carolina Childhood and Her Enduring Ties to Home. I’d read more than one book about Gardner, but I was intrigued by the idea of exploring her roots, because I think her pride in where she came from had a lot to do with her appeal. I also loved that it was a local publication, written by the chairman emeritus of the Museum. 

Based on interviews with family and friends of Gardner, it’s a bittersweet volume, because many of these people have passed since the publication of the book. It’s best looked upon as a sort of supplement to Gardner’s memoir (which is referred to here), filling in the blanks, getting to the truth of various stories, and providing a fuller perspective on a woman who was never especially impressed that she became a star. 

The first part of the book tells the story of Ava’s childhood through the eyes of those who knew her. Part two focuses on the years after she went to Hollywood through the lens of her contacts with home. There’s also a chapter devoted to the creation of the museum, in which Ava tries to visit it when it is closed and declines to get someone to open it up because she figured she’d lived it all herself. 

In essence, the book is a collection of anecdotes like that. Gardner never failed to charm, throughout her life, and there’s a lot of love for her here. Unlike many versions of her life story, she isn’t shown to be a miserable, poverty-stricken child. Of course there were lean years, but thanks to the work and care of her devoted mother and a strong family and community, she thrived as a child and didn’t lack anything she needed. I found it a heartwarming read, a brief one too at 142 pages, but there’s a lot to this slim book. Cannon was able to find a remarkable number of people to reminisce. 

When Lora asked me to record a tribute to Ava for the Museum’s celebration of her 100th birthday, a lot of what I had to say was backed up by Grabtown Girl, a tribute to a woman who found strength in her roots. 

Many thanks to Lora Stocker for providing a copy of the book for review.

Jan 4, 2023

On Blu-ray: Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman (1958)


Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman (1958) is probably most famous for its poster featuring the titular giantess stepping over a busy freeway with a car in her hand, a bit of creative marketing which doesn’t reflect the plot of the movie in any way. 

While the movie isn’t nearly as sensational as its marketing, it’s nevertheless a fun 66 minutes of sci-fi chaos. I recently revisited the film on a new Blu-ray release from Warner Archive. 

It takes most of the running time of this flick to get to the giant action. In the first part of the movie Hayes is the draw, with an over-the-top, but sympathetic performance. She plays a wealthy woman with an unfaithful husband, played with oily sleaziness by William Hudson. 

With a gigantic diamond around her neck that looks like a decoration from a chandelier and tears streaming down her cheeks, Hayes pounds the wall in frustration. She’s hooked on a toxic guy, and she knows she can’t leave him. The only one who cares for and understands her is her butler, but he is powerless to overcome her self-destructive ways. 

Hudson is openly cheating on Hayes with a bubbly blonde played with effortless immoral flair by Yvette Vickers. When Hayes meets an extraterrestrial giant in the desert one night, the alien encounter eventually supersizes her as well. It’s only a matter of time before her hubby discovers the consequences of his actions. 

Understandably, the best part of the movie is when Hayes assumes giant form and begins to take revenge on the world. Up until that moment though, the film moves at a good pace, with brisk action and lively character actors, like George Douglas in a tremendously goofy performance as the town’s sheriff. 

It was strange seeing this movie with such a clear picture after years of less pristine VHS and television viewings. I honestly liked the grittiness before, but seeing everything with such clarity was also a revelation. 

Special features on the disc include a trailer and a commentary by film historian Tom Weaver and Yvette Vickers which was one of, if not the last projects she did before she died in 2010. She does a great job reminiscing; Vickers loved the pace of making ‘B’ pictures and had a lot of happy memories to share about the production of the film. 

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review.