Ava Gardner

Born on a tobacco farm in Brogden, N.C., Ava Gardner (Dec. 24, 1922 - Jan. 25, 1990) was a country girl at heart, and it wasn't until directors tapped into that earthiness that her true potential came through in films such as 1953's Mogambo (with Clark Gable).

Gardner was just 18 when her photo caught the eye of MGM execs, landing her a contract and a string of bit parts. Known more for her beauty than her acting, Gardner had already married (and divorced) Mickey Rooney and Artie Shaw by the time she made her first splash as a leading lady, opposite Burt Lancaster in 1946's The Killers.

After notable performances in films such as Show Boat and The Barefoot Contessa -- and a failed marriage to Frank Sinatra -- Gardner moved to Europe, where she would spend the rest of her life. Two of her finest roles came in George Cukor's Bhowani Junction (1956) and The Night of the Iguana (1964).