Lake Norman & Mooresville

Ava Gardner Museum

325 E. Market St., Smithfield. 919-934-5830; www.avagardner.org.

Days: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 2-5 p.m. Sunday.

Activities: You may have seen legendary Hollywood siren Ava Gardner in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" or on the small screen in "Knots Landing." Nowadays, you can see all things Ava in her hometown of Smithfield, southeast of Raleigh, where she ultimately returned.

Gardner - her real name - was born into poverty in Grabtown, on the outskirts of Smithfield, in 1922; her family moved to Newport News, Va., and then to Wilson (a little northeast of Smithfield) in search of a better life when she was in her teens.

Success first came in New York, when a portrait of her in her brother-in-law's photo studio drew the attention of a talent scout. Hollywood loved the 19-year-old's exotic features (she was part Tuscarora) but not her Tarheel accent. She studied speech and acting - and began sizzling on the screen. By the late 1940s she began co-starring with the likes of Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable.

She married actor Mickey Rooney, musician Artie Shaw and - lastly - Frank Sinatra, considered the love of her life.

Gardner died in London in 1990 and is buried in Smithfield's Sunset Memorial Park with her parents and other Gardners.

The Gardner Museum has assembled a substantial collection of Ava items - movie posters, photos, her jewelry, clothes, scrapbooks and more - and sponsors an annual Gardner festival that includes movie screenings and the debut of displays.

It's Oct. 7-9 this year, and the focus is on her and Sinatra. Some of the biggest movies they individually made will be screened at the Smithfield Cinema 10; the museum will unveil its new "Frank & Ava: Their Lives, Love and Friendship" exhibit. The weekend also includes an independent film festival in Smithfield (details: 919-934-0887) and, on Oct. 8, heritage tours to places she lived and frequented as a child.

Museum admission: $7; $6 for 65 and older and ages 13-17; $5 for ages 6-12. During the festival, admission will be $7 for all ages.

Festival events admission: Varies. Contact the museum for specifics.

Target audience: Film lovers and photography buffs .

Directions: Interstate 85 North to the Durham area; follow I-40 southeast to U.S. 70 (Smithfield exit); follow signs to downtown.

Travel time from Charlotte: 3 1/2 hours.

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