1941. Ava Gardner and friends at a Hallowe’en party. This is Ava’s (front left) first year in Hollywood and it will be another six until she makes her breakthrough as Kitty Collins in The Killers.
She’s being clasped by Mickey Rooney, MGM’s top box office attraction and a notorious womaniser. As Ava was wryly to observe with the benefit of hindsight:
I still didn’t know that he was the biggest wolf on the lot. He was catnip to the ladies — he knew it, too.
Ava had been introduced to him 24 hours after arriving in Hollywood as she was being hauled around the MGM lot by a publicist. Mickey was wearing a bowl of fruit on his head for his role in Babes On Broadway. She wanted to ask for his autograph, but was too shy to do so. The pair will marry next year and Ava will later describe Mickey as:
“The smallest husband I ever had, and the biggest mistake”.
Next to her is Ann Rutherford, whom contemporary audiences recognise as Polly Benedict, the girl who lives next door to Andy Hardy, Mickey Rooney’s character in a string of excruciatingly-cheesy movies that epitomize American family values. A couple of years earlier, Ann played Careen, one of Scarlett O’Hara’s sisters in Gone With The Wind. In an interview for the New York Times she will reminisce about how “I went to the studio every day like kids today go to Disneyland. To me those years were never-never land…and all I wanted was for it not to end until I was ready to have it end.”
Virginia Hill (front right) has moved to Hollywood the previous year. She’s a real-life gangster’s moll and a seriously bad good-time girl. It’s reported that beginning at age 11, she rarely says no to any boy who asks for sex. According to Wikipedia, one contemporary commentator characterises her as:
…more than just another set of curves. She had…a good memory, a considerable flair for hole-in-the-corner diplomacy to allay the suspicions of trigger-happy killers and a dual personality, closelipped about essentials and able to chatter freely and apparently foolishly about inconsequential.
Virginia has had a string of affairs and she’s currently the mistress of the notorious mobster, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. In 1947, she will take an unscheduled flight to Paris – five days before Bugsy is assassinated at her home. The first shot will hit him in the head, blowing his eye 15 feet from his body. Four more bullets, fired from a .30-06, will crash into his body, breaking his ribs and tearing up his lungs. It’s like something out of The Godfather. Anyway, the story is dramatised in the movie, Bugsy.
Holding the cigar and pretending to be Groucho Marx is Alan Gordon, a press agent for, among others, Lana Turner, Linda Darnell and… Virginia Hill. He’s busy putting it about that she’s a southern heiress who throws star-studded parties – one of them at a bordello on Washington Boulevard – and who once gave her mink coat to a check girl at the Mocambo as a tip.
In truth, most of the stories emanating from his office are phoney. Witty sayings are attributed to his client Arthur Murray, who never says a funny thing in his life. Twosomes made up of people who aren’t even acquainted are reported at client restaurants and nightclubs. Completely fictitious dramatic stories about clients make the lead in the gossip columns. He’s brilliant at his job and very successful, and will go on to set up Alan Gordon Enterprises, a motion picture equipment specialist that continues to this day.
But the caption on the back of the photo gives no hint of all of this:
It’s costume party time in Talkie Town with all the actors and actresses playing make-believe after the studios close. Mickey Rooney and his pal, Alan (Groucho Marx) Gordon are the guys. The gals are Ava Gardner, Mickey’s current sweetie, Ann Rutherford, and Virginia Hill.
So, who’s throwing the party and where? An article on page 8 of the 15 November 1941 edition of the Boston Globe may have the answer:
The wealth of this 24-year-old Virginia Hill is squandered with Arabian Nights’ abandon. Halloween she took over the most expensive night club in town. She is just as apt to descend unheralded upon some out-of-the-way night spot with a huge party and buy out the place. She never gives less than $20 tips.