July 11, 2020

The real Ava Gardner maid | Culture


Carmen López, photographed at Ava Gardner's house in Madrid. Courtesy of Carmen López's family

"Perón, Perón, queer!" Ava Gardner He looks out the window and shouts at the former president of Argentina, his neighbor below, while he rehearses speeches on the air. The actress, free and without prejudice, lived 13 years in love with a country suffocated by Franco, in a continuous party. Most of the Spanish adventure of the movie star happened in a luxury flat in the most privileged area of ​​the capital, a few kilometers from Pardo, after first buying a house in La Moraleja. Gardner yells at Perón and next to her is Carmen López, his maid. The actress in that Madrid is a myth that emerges from the harsh reality to illuminate a country taken prisoner by the military. And Carmen embodies the real Spain of the sixties. But it is also a character that audiovisual fiction has created without having news of its existence.

Anna Rodríguez Costa, screenwriter with Paco León of the series Arde Madrid (Movistar +), He did not know anything about Carmen until he received the call from EL PAÍS last Wednesday, when the series had already been released with critical success. And yet, he has written a fictional character (Pilar, played by Anna Castillo) that existed, with phrases he said, with trips he made. They even look alike. "That coincides with reality excites me a lot, I want to know your family," he explains, as he finishes the script for the second season of the latest success of Spanish fiction.

Rodriguez has documented the details of the series for five years. He had already researched the Female Section of Pilar Primo de Rivera for a play that premiered a decade ago at the Teatro Lara, in Madrid, The manual of the perfect wife. In Arde Madrid interviewed witnesses who met the actress, read biographies and Marcos Ordóñez's book -Being a life: Ava Gardner in Spain (Aguilar) -. He corresponded with Carmen Vargas (the second maid who worked with the diva), the first international telephone operator who passed the calls of Frank Sinatra, the pianist Paco Miranda …

But I did not know Carmen López. This arrived from Fuengirola to Madrid at the end of 1960 in search of work. The 27-year-old Andalusian girl had survived the Civil War. To the left of Franco, although without political concerns. He had no studies and found it difficult to read fluently. I was looking for an opportunity to survive. He believes he can do it by taking care of the privacy of the houses or hotel rooms. And find a hole in an apartment in the Avenue of Doctor Arce, number 11. Lopez entered as an intern to meet the needs of the Hollywood star in 1961. He was with her one year, when he decided he had had enough.

On the way to New York

Airplane ticket from Ava Gardner and Carmen López for a flight to New York.
Airplane ticket from Ava Gardner and Carmen López for a flight to New York.

One year, which in this case is equivalent to saying a whole life. "For Carmen. Happy first trip to America. All right. Coming". And the signature: "Ava Gardner". It is a flight card that serves the TWA -perhaps only the first passengers-, with which Ava and Carmen fly to New York on August 29, 1961. The crew has stamped their autograph on the document, which one of the pages includes a Polaroid of Lopez in his seat, before taking off. The flight, says the credential, will last eight and a half hours, cover the distance at an average speed of 550 kilometers per hour and the paper that accredits it will be a memory forever. Even when she is not there or her memory has disappeared.

Carmen López is today in a residence on the outskirts of Madrid, erased by Alzheimer's. Like a castaway, Juan Carlos has been collecting the remains of his mother's life, which are floating adrift. He is the youngest of the three children Carmen had with Juan José. You have not seen the series. His brothers either. None of them dares, for fear of the pain of recognizing their mother among the characters. And the truth is that they would find it. There are dialogues that his mother kept with Ava that are filmed. Reality making a cameo in fiction, or vice versa. Who knows.

The children are proud to know that their mother could be one of the characters of Arde Madrid. "We are like my mother … living an adventure," says Juan Carlos, sitting in a cafeteria in Madrid. He would have liked her to have helped to recreate those moments, but her memory is no longer with her. Now her children have her and a part fits in that folder that she has under her arm.

He opens it and begins to get posters of jazz rooms and luxury restaurant cards in New York. Also a triptych of the fashionable jazz venue, Birdland – opened in 1949 with that name in tribute to saxophonist Charlie Bird Parker- In it, photos of Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie or singer Joe Williams appear. He signs her a dedication on paper. He also has a postcard from a cocktail bar, Ship's Haven, with "atractive rooms for private parties" Another image portrays a villa in Maine and the advertising of a restaurant where they serve "tasty" ribs: Rib Room. In addition, a letter from the Plaza Hotel in New York, which features a performance by the British singer Shirley Bassey, famous for having sung themes from the James Bond saga. Two shows per night and three dollars per ticket. From there they fly to Boston.

The same size

Lopez had never been on a plane before. I would never leave Spain again. He kept his anecdotes for family gatherings. She was modest, she was afraid that they would meet and the press of the heart would end up knocking on her door. "She is a very discreet woman. Ava was very affectionate with her, not looking over her shoulder. He gave her a lot of clothes. They used the same size and that my mother, who was very flirtatious, liked to remember it. But we put everything in a box and do not know where it is, "says the son. What he has not lost is the baseball signed by the New York Giants players. Not even some sunglasses that the actress gave her.

A few months after that, Lopez said goodbye to return to the beginning, to Fuengirola, to work in a hotel where he met the carpenter with whom he married and had three children. They will return to Madrid, to the neighborhood of Hortaleza, to settle in buildings that receive the rural alluvium, to fulfill the life that their mother never wanted to renounce. That one that began with the parenthesis that Ava Gardner gave him and that the fiction imagined many years later for a successful television series.

The Spanish "nuns"

In a sequence, the maid Ana Mari (Inma Cuesta) enters Ava's room and finds a diaphragm. He does not know what it is. He picks it up and Gardner (Debi Mazar) tells him it's used. The two end up talking about sex, from two antagonistic points: the one that flies and enjoys facing the repressed. Carmen lived it five decades before. "All Spaniards are nuns," Gardner told him the day he discovered that one of the military commanders who visited his home had been "infatuated" with Carmen. Ava encouraged him to give himself to him, but the Andalusian did not want to know anything about it. There was a lot of military in that house. But also more intimate visits: "Many mornings my mother was Carlos Larrañaga at home, young and attractive, and asked for breakfast."

Ava wants to match Carmen as she is. She takes her wedding to the nightclub De Torres, in Madrid. Link Cañibano-Arrontes. On the cover of the menu, another trace of this anonymous story, which belongs to the history of Spain: "I hope that you find a boyfriend this year. Same you. " And his signature: "Ava Gardner".

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