Ice cream with Ava Gardner

The most beautiful woman in the world is sat just across the table and she’s smiling at me. For an hour or so I have been putty in her hands as she tells me tales of Hollywood. The stars, the glamour, the gossip and of course the tantrums. She knows it all. She is part of the legend.
I lap it up with boyish enthusiasm and ask a thousand questions. Patiently she answers until my well runs dry. As we pause an impish smile breaks across her face. “Do you like ice cream,” she asks. My day keeps getting better.
We move to the freezer and with a theatrical flourish the beauty pulls open the door to reveal a treasure trove of a dozen flavours.
Two minutes later I am eating ice cream with Ava Gardner.
Ava was a Hollywood superstar, the most beautiful woman of her time, a silver screen siren. Sadly she passed away in London in 1990. But a part of her lives on. That part is Rosemary Mankiewicz. Her story is remarkable and her home is testament to an extraordinary life.
On a wall are two framed letters, both handwritten. They are thank you notes to her father from the Duke of York, later King George VI (recently given the Hollywood treatment as the stammering monarch in The King’s Speech). Rosemary’s father was the Duke’s chaplain in the navy during the First World War.
The royal connection opened doors for the young Rosemary and she was invited to parties with the Duke’s daughters, Margaret and Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth. “It was great fun,” recalls Rosemary, “They were lovely and it was just a wonderful time.”
As a teenager Rosemary dreamt of the stage and studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama. This, of course, was no ordinary school. “It was actually based inside the Royal Albert Hall,” she tells me. “Quite something really.”
But after three years she quit. “My sister married an Italian count and moved to Rome so I packed it in and went and stayed with them.”
It sounds a brave move, I say.
“I was young and it was exciting, “she explains.”And of course, it was Rome. It felt too much like fun to worry about leaving the school.
She quickly mastered Italian and soon crossed paths with the cinema. Rosemary was offered work helping Italian actors with their English for a film being shot in the country. And the star of the film? Errol Flynn. Some introduction to the movies.
However, the picture ran into financial problems and production stopped. While Rosemary was kicking her heels another offer of work came along. It would change her life. The film was the Barefoot Contessa, directed by Joseph Mankiewicz – her future husband.
Its star was Ava Gardner. Wildly unpredictable, enigmatic and above all stunningly attractive. “She was fun and we got on very well together. But she could be extremely difficult and would drive poor old Joe nuts,” said Rosemary.

Rosemary and Ava

Rosemary and Ava

“One day they were filming a scene in which Ava drives her car into the square in Portofino. But she’d gone missing again so they decided they would use me instead. I had the same curly hair and some other similarities. In those days you could get away with it.”
And so Rosemary doubled for the most beautiful woman in the world.
I wondered whether the film trailer might be on YouTube, everything else is. To her great delight we find several versions of it.
In one a booming, manly voice, accompanied by giant blood-red text, introduces Ava as the “Most Beautiful Animal in the World”.
Rosemary looks at me, smiles broadly and says,”You couldn’t get away with saying that now, could you?”
I agree, but I suspect Rosemary is amused at the idea of having been a “beautiful animal”. She doesn’t lack a sense of humour.
A little later she asks me if I’d like to see the toilet. Now, this is not normally the kind of offer to get my juices flowing but this time I’m desperately keen.
The walls are covered in photos. Rosemary features in a number, others are of her husband either working or out on the town with the Hollywood greats he wrote for and directed. There’s Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, Michael Caine, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. They are the stuff of legends and they formed the backdrop to a large part of Rosemary’s life. But she plays it down. “People get the impression that these people are constantly having dinner at your home. It’s not as glamorous as you think.”
But she did know many of them and I ask for her thoughts on Taylor and Burton.
“Elizabeth was lovely but Richard would screw anything that moved,” she tells me.
It’s five star Hollywood gossip from yesteryear and I cannot resist asking the obvious question. “Did he ever try it on with you?”
After a little reticence she says, “Yes he did but I just pushed him away. He couldn’t help himself.”

Rosemary isn't giving up even one of the Oscars

Rosemary isn’t giving up even one of the Oscars

Many stories later we depart the loo and head to a sitting room. There are original movies posters and other pieces of wonderful film paraphernalia. Above the fire-place is a mantelpiece. Upon it is the jaw-dropping sight of four Oscars.

I pick one up. It is very heavy. I am briefly lost in a fantasy where I’m clutching the award and delivering my acceptance speech before an admiring movie industry.
Rosemary can read me like a book. “I’ll count them before you leave,” she says. I suspect she’s joking but Rosemary can certainly act. She appeared on stage and the silver screen in her own right.
She shows me a black and white photo of herself in her role as a mermaid. But she didn’t really pursue it. Any regrets, I ask her. None, she tells me. “The first reviews weren’t great. And then I married Joe. Life was wonderful.”

Categories: New York, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

Fighting, Football and Intercourse – USA

Harrisburg had been a five-star surprise. Fascinating and enjoyable. The question now was how to finish a perfect day? It was late afternoon but time was still on my side.
Gettysburg was nearby but mostly closed due to the government shutdown.
However, there was another option and the more I thought about it the more it got my blood pumping. Intercourse!
I decided to give it a go and 90 minutes later I’d made an important discovery. Intercourse is best done in the daylight
We’re all consenting adults here, so hang around and in a moment I’ll give you Arthur’s Guide To Intercourse.


The Senate Chamber

But first I’m sure you’d appreciate a little history, architecture and culture.
I’d driven two hours from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s state capital. The Capitol building is one of the finest in America. It’s home to the state Supreme Court and government. President Theodore Roosevelt, the man for whom the teddy bear is named, called it “the handsomest building I ever saw.”
The giant dome is visible for miles. Inside it is equally impressive and testament to its designer’s ambition to be a Palace of Art.

The entrance rotunda leads to a sweeping marble staircase based on the Paris Opera House. The roof is inspired by Michelangelo’s design for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. European style is everywhere, as is opulence. The rooms are full of stained glass, gold leaf and crystal chandeliers. There’s marble from Ireland and wood from Belize.
Violet Oakley was commissioned to paint some murals, the first woman in the US ever to be so honoured. She got the taste for it. In all she painted 43 murals in the Capitol, a project that took up around two decades of her life.
After a morning of art and architecture it was time for some popular American culture.
Sunday afternoon is gridiron football time. I found a sports restaurant and bar, ordered lunch and took in a game. Actually I took in several. From my seat I could see 13 televisions and two giant screens. I counted ten more TVs which I could only see from behind. It was like dining in an electrical superstore.
The Americans take their sport seriously…..and noisily. Each mouthful of my food was accompanied by mouthfuls of whooping and hollering from the sports fans. The word ‘sucks’ was the most frequently used. It was, I have to admit, a lot of fun. People-watching was way more exciting than ball watching and people don’t take ad breaks.

After lunch it was back to Harrisburg’s more sombre side and a visit to the National Civil War Museum. The war ran from 1861 to 1865 and was pivotal in preserving the union. There are a fair few museums that deal with the war and its causes.
This one is highly informative, pretty well-balanced and has many interesting displays. Two hours are recommended for a visit – I took three.
By now the sun was on its downwards descent. Time to get moving and do something memorable. Time for Intercourse.
Pay attention now, I have some pearls of wisdom for you:


1) You need to take it slowly. Guys, this one is mostly aimed at you. Intercourse can be over in a few unfulfilling moments if you rush it.
2) Intercourse is best done in the daylight. You really need to see what you’re doing.
3) Taking photos in Intercourse can be a highly sensitive matter. Pictures of bodies are acceptable but showing faces is definitely bad form.
4) In the middle of Intercourse you might want to go all the way and reach Paradise. If so here’s what you need to do. Move a little left, then right, left again and then really hard right. Bingo. You’ve arrived.

That’s basically it. If you do get to visit the Amish town of Intercourse you will now be well informed.
I have no idea what the Amish think about living in a town with such an ‘unusual’ name. How the settlement got its name is a little uncertain. There are a couple of versions, neither of them smutty.
Whatever the reason, Intercourse is one of the major centres of the Amish community. When I arrived in the small town the light was fading. However, there were many horses and traps about. Some of the Amish were working in the fields others were walking along the road.
The Amish believe in the literal word of the Bible. Life is about devotion to God, family and community. Anything that distracts from these is frowned upon.
They live a life of simplicity and eschew most modern technology. Cars, electricity, TV are off-limits. The Amish mostly wear black and white. Fashionable clothes are banned, they’re thought to lead to pride and vanity.
I had the impression the Amish lived together in remote areas, contact with outsiders a rarity. However, that’s not how it is. Many live next door to non-Amish. The sloth, envy, and temptations of modern society are all around them. To put it another way, they’re constantly seeing and hearing modern day Intercourse.

Categories: Phildelphia, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Welcome to America – sorry we’re closed

Washington DC, October 16th. 24 hours to default

The Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves. Lincoln is probably shaking his head with an awful sense of deja vu.
America is in a mess.
Earlier this year the country marked the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of Gettysburg. The Civil War battle was the biggest ever fought on American soil. It was the awful embodiment of a country at war with itself.
Lincoln had famously warned politicians, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. All these years later his words must echo hauntingly around Washington DC’s Capitol building.
The federal government is in shutdown. Division is again the order of the day. Politics and politicians ideologically at odds with each other. In the most powerful country in the world non-essential government employees have been temporarily laid off, furloughed as they say here. Institutions, museums, parks, landmarks, all shut; medical laboratories unable to get their work approved. The list goes on and on.

The Lincoln Memorial - the man himself is off-limits

The Lincoln Memorial – the man himself is off-limits

The Lincoln Memorial is one of the finest monuments in the world. A triumphant tribute to a great American. To describe the memorial to you is beyond me. Actually, to be more precise, it’s beyond a fence. On it is a sign: “Because of the federal government shutdown all national parks are closed.”
That sign, or at least a variation of it, has been keeping me company down the North East coast of America. In New York the Statute of Liberty was closed. Next, Philadelphia’s Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell were off-limits to me. Now I’m in Washington. The national monuments and the Smithsonian museums are all closed. Visitors from all over the world gawk at the landmarks from behind the barricades.

Everywhere I’ve been the angriest tourists are the Americans themselves, embarrassed and unhappy at the farce.
At the World War Two memorial veterans and families today brushed aside the fences. They’re in no mood to be told they can’t pay their respects to those who died while wearing the uniform of the United States.
Putting the politics aside, what upsets many people is the absurdity that closes some facilities. Tim tells me of a dog park in the middle of Philadelphia which is closed down. “It’s really tiny. Get a couple of dogs in there and it’s full. No rangers ever go there but because it’s federal property the gate is locked and entry is impossible.”

Philadelphia's Liberty Bell - picture shot through a window

Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell – picture shot through a window

Wealthy private citizens have stepped in to fund veterans groups who provide crucial services. Mount Rushmore is reopening courtesy of money from corporations. Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was assassinated, is about to reopen thanks to a private donor. The Grand Canyon will be temporarily funded by the state government to try to bring the tourists back.

Meanwhile, here in Washington, we sit and wait. To be honest, life for most people is continuing as normal. As a tourist there’s plenty to see and do. But the reality is that America might, just might, be about to tip itself over the edge.
Foreign governments and financial institutions warn that shutdown could become financial meltdown if the debt ceiling is not raised on Thursday. America’s credit rating is in danger and it will start to default on its worldwide debts.
If you or I default on our mortgages our home can be repossessed. I wonder if that will happen to the USA. Perhaps it will be divvied up between China, its biggest creditor, and Britain its former owner/occupier. The “shutdown” signs at the Lincoln Memorial are bad enough. Imagine if they have to be rewritten in the language of the new owners, “由于联邦政府关闭所有国家公园被关闭”
Absurd I know. But no more ridiculous than the world’s only superpower laying off its own public servants because it can’t agree a budget.

Categories: Uncategorized, USA, Washington DC | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

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