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Ava GardnerAva Gardner Festival, October 4-6

Ava Gardner loved North Carolina and came home whenever possible to visit her family in Smithfield, Raleigh and Winston-Salem. Several tourism related partners from across Johnston County are opening their doors on Friday, October 4, as part of a countywide “Mad About Ava” Cocktail Party to kick off this year's festival. The event will feature a 1960s “Mad Men” dress-up contest and patrons can enjoy specialty martinis named for Ava, craft beers, and wine cocktails, as well as food and entertainment.  At all locations patrons may enter the 60s fashion costume contest for cash prizes.

Participating locations are the Deer River Brewing Co. in Clayton, Double Barley Brewing in Wilson’s Mills, Hinnant Family Vineyards and Winery in Pine Level, Adams Vineyards, and Gregory Vineyards near McGee’s Crossroads. Other restaurants and bars along the “Cocktail Party” trail are The Little Brown Jug and Bistro on Third in Smithfield and The Flip Side in Clayton.  The new Broadslab Distillery in Benson will be offering specially blended cocktails at the Bistro on Third.

Activities at the museum on Friday night include heavy hors d' oeuvres, specialty drinks, new exhibits based on "The Night of the Iguana", and entertainment by Columbian-American guitar player Carlos Castilla. 

Three Little PigsFor the fourth year, the Chick-fil-A 3 Little Pigs Triathlon will be held in Smithfield, North Carolina. On Saturday, June 15, 2013, at 7:30am athletes will participate in a 250-yard pool swim, 14-mile bike, and 3.1 mile run.

The route for the three events will take participants around the Smithfield area, sticking mainly around the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center (SRAC) and surrounding areas. The event will begin with swimming at the SRAC at 600 Booker Dairy Road then carry on to the bike course from the SRAC into rural Johnston County on a scenic but mostly flat course. The triathlon will end with the run event which is an out-and-back course around Smithfield’s Community Park, and down and back on the new Buffalo Creek Greenway.

3 Little Pigs“We are excited about the response we’ve received about the 3 Little Pigs Triathlon,” said Martin Tetreault, a committee member for the event. “Last year, we had almost 500 participants and raised over $17,000. We expect similar numbers this year. With the help of the SRACand The Rotary Club of Central Johnston County, the event will provide an opportunity for fun and fundraising.”

Family activities will also be available including the SRAC splash pool, a jump-o-line, a misting tent, face painting and the playground at the finish line.

Chick-fil-A of Smithfield is the title sponsor for the event. Proceeds will benefit the Friends of the Park and The Rotary Club of Central Johnston County.

For online registration and more information call 919-934-1408 or visit www.fsseries.com/index.php?action=event&event_id=169.


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Ava Gardner Festival

Stop by this little museum in Downtown Smithfield, and discover the top notch exhibits dedicated to one of North Carolina's most famous daughters.  Her Cinderella-like story still captivates young and old.

One of the top attractions in North Carolina, highly rated by TripAdvisor.

Still today after the museum has been open for 30+ years, locals may question Ava Gardner's appeal since her generation is aging and today's film lovers won't know her, but the museum continues to draw fans from around the world who remain in love with Ava.  In fact, in the last few months Ava Gardner has graced the cover of Our State Magazine and the Retroback Film Festival was held in her honor in Granada, Spain. There are currently three new books on Amazon and Kindle released in 2013.  Two of which have options for movie rights and work is taking place on screenplays about Ava's life, loves, and career.

Upon arriving at the museum, visitors will be greeted with the 15-minute introduction video on Ava's life which just begins to tell her story. There are sixteen permanent exhibits that begin with her early childhood through her attending Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College in Wilson)...and each display moves you along through her discovery by MGM, her movie career, her marriages, and life in London and Spain.  There are two glass cases filled with movie costumes and personal belongings of Ava's and the Tom Banks Gallery holds a collection of portraits painted by Dutch artist, Bert Pfeffier.  He never met the beauty for whom he painted more than 40 portraits in his lifetime.  Visitors find the quirky style of these paintings most fascinating.

If you have a group of 15 or more, the museum will provide a step-on guide service for an additional $2.00 charge per person and take you along the Ava Gardner Heritage Tour.  Your group will be shown points of interest in Ava's hometown, including Ava's birthplace, the Teacherage where she grew up, the Howell Theater where Ava first went to the movies, and will end with a visit to her grave site at Sunset Memorial Park. 

The Ava Gardner Museum is located in downtown Smithfield, at 325 E. Market Street and more information may be found on the museum website, www.avagardner.org.  The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm and Sunday 2pm-5pm with admission of $10.00 adults, $9.00 seniors and groups and $6.00 children.   For more information about the museum please call 919-934-5830.              

Ava GardnerAva Lavinia Gardner was born on Christmas Eve, 1922, in Grabtown, a rural community seven miles east of Smithfield, NC.  She was the youngest of seven children of Jonas and Mary Elizabeth (Molly) Gardner.  When fire consumed the family’s barn and cotton gin in 1924, the Gardners, along with two-year-old Ava moved to the “teacherage”---a boarding house for young lady teachers at the local Brogden school.  Jonas Gardner labored as the caretaker and Molly Gardner served as the cook for the residents of the house.
Ava Gardner’s rise to an international film legend was a true modern day fairy tale.  Ava’s sister, “Bappie” Gardner had moved to New York and married Larry Tarr, a professional photographer.  While Ava was visiting her sister in New York in the summer of 1939, Tarr produced a series of photos of young Ava.  One image displayed in the window of his Fifth Avenue shop caught the attention of Barney Duhan, a young man who was working in the legal department of Lowe’s Theatres.  Attempting to acquire Ava’s phone number for a date, Duhan posed as a talent scout for MGM with connections “straight through to the right people.”  Hearing of the incident and recognizing an opportunity, Larry Tarr worked through the night to print more photos of Ava and delivered them the next day to MGM’s New York office.  Ava soon got the call young girls dreamed of.  She was asked to appear for a screen test, and in 1941 at the age of 18, Ava signed a seven-year movie contract with MGM for fifty dollars a week.
Shortly after arriving in Hollywood, Ava met and married film star Mickey Rooney.  The marriage lasted one year.  Her second short-lived marriage was to bandleader Artie Shaw, one of the “swing era” greats.  Ava’s third and last husband, and great love of her life, was singer Frank Sinatra. They were married in 1951 and divorced in 1957, unable to survive the pressures of their careers and their fits of jealousy.  People magazine classified Frank and Ava’s marriage as one of the “Romances of the Century.”
Ava had small walk-on roles in 15 MGM movies before her career began to soar.  In 1946, MGM loaned her out to Universal to play femme fatale Kitty Collins in the classic film noir "The Killers".  Critics and movie audiences took notice.  With a hot property on his hands, Louis B. Mayer wasted no time casting Ava opposite the King of Hollywood – Clark Gable in "The Hucksters".  Other studio directors started also taking notice, and Ava soon landed the title role in Universal’s "One Touch of Venus" and was well on her way to becoming a Hollywood legend.   In 1950, MGM chose Ava over several screen legends to portray the role of Julie Laverne in "Show Boat", one of the greatest musicals of all time.  Ava teamed up with with Gable again in 1953 to shoot "Mogambo", a remake of Gable’s 1932 film "Red Dust".  Ava received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role as Honey Bear Kelly in the film.  In 1964, Ava received a Golden Globe nomination for her role in the film version of Tennessee Williams’ "Night of the Iguana", which starred Richard Burton.
At age 33, Ava moved to Madrid, Spain, where she resided for more than 10 years.  Then, in 1968 she moved to London, England, where she lived the rest of her life.  During her years abroad, she returned to America often to continue her film career and to visit her family in Smithfield, NC.  Ava’s last public appearance in North Carolina was in 1978 at the Rock Ridge High School reunion, with North Carolina’s Governor James B. Hunt (also a Rock Ridge High School graduate).  Her last visit in Smithfield was in May of 1985.  In 1986 she suffered a stroke, and died of pneumonia on January 25, 1990.  She is buried in Sunset Memorial Park, US Highway 70, in Smithfield.

Ava's Closet ExhibitAva Gardner Festival Premiere of "Ava's Closet" Exhibit

Fans from around the world celebrated the museum's anniversary with the opening of the new "Ava's Closet" exhibit this past October.  For the first time, the large exhibit case holds sixteen items of Ava's personal clothing, with many items never seen before.  Evening clothes both in color and classic black, casual wear, and robes for lounging are on display.  This exhibit will stay up for the next twelve months before being rotated out for another themed exhibit for the 2015 Ava Gardner Film Festival.  For complete details, visit the museum's website at www.avagardner.org

Ava Gardner Museum

Ava Gardner MuseumThe Ava Gardner Museum is home to an incredible collection including original scripts, photos, costumes, and personal effects of screen legend Ava Gardner—a true Hollywood “Cinderella” story.

Experience her rise from a local country girl to one of Hollywood’s film goddesses. Born near Smithfield, Ava’s husbands included Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, and co-stars Clark Gable and Gregory Peck. Her grave site is located in nearby Sunset Memorial Gardens, approximately two miles from the museum. Merchandise is available for purchase at the museum and online.

Wheelchair accessible, public restrooms. Free parking along street and rear lots. Admission: $10 adults; $9 seniors, military, groups of 10 or more, teens; $6 children ages 3-12.

Hours: Monday- Saturday 9am- 5pm, Sunday 2pm- 5pm

325 E. Market St.
Smithfield, NC 27577

For more information visit the museum website, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.


235-A East Market Street
Smithfield, North Carolina 27577

tel 919.989.8687  |  fax 919.989.6295
toll free 1.800.441.7829


Check out what other travelers say about Johnston County, North Carolina on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor
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