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Ava Gardner Festival returns to Smithfield

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SMITHFIELD — The Ava Gardner Museum will host the Ava Gardner Festival the weekend of May 31-June 1 at the museum and in Gardner’s hometown of Smithfield.

Organizers said the museum is dedicated to sharing the story of “the real Ava” — movie star, wife, friend and advocate for civil rights.

“The Ava Gardner Museum is very excited to bring this new and relevant side of Ava to fans and visitors with a brand new, dynamic, and modern exhibit.,” said museum director Lynn Seabold. “What a better way to debut this new exhibit then with the return of the Ava Gardner Festival; an annual and much-beloved event last held in 2014? We are excited to announce it will be making a comeback.”

The new “Ava: My Real Story” exhibit will use a new photo/video essay-style design to show visitors who Ava Gardner was as a person, not just a movie star. Gardner was involved in many causes in Hollywood, including her work to promote war bonds in 1942 as a young bride traveling the country with husband Mickey Rooney.

Later as she traveled with Artie Shaw’s band, she would rebel against clubs that refused to let her friend Lena Horne or her personal assistant Rene Jordan enter. These stories and more will be shared in the new exhibit, which opens Friday, May 31.The museum will host an opening night themed cocktail party from 7-9:30 p.m. to unveil the exhibit.

On Saturday, June 1, the museum will hold a free screening of “The Barefoot Contessa,” the movie many critics say most closely aligns with Gardner’s own rags-to-riches life story.

In addition, the museum will offer a heritage tour to sites related to Gardner’s hometown, including her birthplace, the teacherage where her mother Mollie was the caretaker for the Johnston County school system, Holt Lake where she attended dances, the Little Brown Jug, which her brother Jack built, and Sunset Memorial Gardens, where Gardner’s gravesite is located.

Regular museum admission will be honored all weekend, with special ticket prices for the opening night reception and heritage tours to be announced.

For more information about the festival, call the museum at 919-934-5830. or visit its website at

Throughout the year, the Ava Gardner Museum at 325 E. Market St. is open from 9:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 2-5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and members of tour groups, $6 for children ages 6-12 and free for children under 6.