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Gardner’s striking appearance convinced MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer to sign her up for a seven-year contract despite a failed screen test. With her thick North Carolinian drawl and general lack of refinement, MGM put her through the ringer to sculpt an actress worthy of the big screen. They trained that distinctive accent out of her, taught her how to move, dance, and pose, the whole nine yards.
But, in the process, MGM trained out the natural feistiness from her personality and neglected to develop her acting abilities. This set the stage for Gardner’s consistent struggle to find her acting niche in Hollywood and insecurities regarding her acting talent. It also snuffed out her interest in acting early in her professional career.
In Ava: My Story, Gardner explains that it wasn’t until she was loaned out to Universal Pictures for “The Killers” that she finally felt the acting spark:
“Until I played Kitty Collins, I’d never worked very hard in pictures, never took my career very seriously. I felt no burning ambition to become a real actress. I was just a girl who was lucky enough to have a job in pictures. Playing Kitty changed that, showed me what it meant to try to act, and made me feel that I might have a little talent in that area after all.”
What talent she had, though, was never nurtured by MGM. If anything, everyone except for MGM had an interest in helping the actress grow.