Obituary: Mearene Jordan, 92, was confidante of Hollywood star Ava Gardner

08/06/2014 6:12 PM

08/06/2014 6:14 PM

Mearene Jordan, a beautician who wrote a fascinating memoir about her life as a longtime personal assistant and close friend to legendary Hollywood movie star Ava Gardner, died July 30 of surgery complications, her family said. She was 92.

Before settling in Sacramento in 1975 and running her own beauty shop, Ms. Jordan had a supporting role in the public and private dramas of one of the most famous and beautiful women in the world. She shared her memories of adventures, travels and the deep friendship that she shared with Gardner in her book, “Living With Miss G,” published in 2012 by the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, N.C.

“She worked on that book for years,” said Jordan’s niece Ava Wilson, who was named for her aunt’s lifelong celebrity friend. “She said Ava told her, ‘If anybody tells a story about me, just make sure you give them all the gory details.’ ”

Ms. Jordan was 24 when she went to work for Gardner as a maid in 1946 – the same year that the actress, who had high-profile marriages to actor Mickey Rooney and bandleader Artie Shaw but only small roles on screen, became an overnight star in the film noir classic “The Killers.” The women, who were born the same year and raised in poverty during the Great Depression, formed a strong connection and were together as friends and confidantes for almost three decades.

“Living With Miss G” offers first-hand details about Gardner’s storied marriages, romances and relationships with Hollywood’s leading men and international celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Howard Hughes and Ernest Hemingway. The 252-page book tells stories behind the scenes from some of her biggest films, including “Mogambo” and “The Night of the Iguana.”

An African American, Ms. Jordan also recalls racism she encountered accompanying Gardner as her assistant at a time when blacks were not welcomed in many places. At a Los Angeles jazz club, a waiter preparing to eject Ms. Jordan stopped as soon as he recognized her white companion, who “was giving him a nasty glint from those green eyes.”

“She said Ava always had her back,” Wilson said.

Ms. Jordan and Gardner “had a bond of sisterhood unheard of in the upper echelons of the film industry, and rarely anywhere else,” Gardner’s biographer, Doris Rollins Cannon, wrote in the foreword of Ms. Jordan’s book.

“In an era when the ‘N’ word was used harshly, freely and frequently, and movie stars were often treated like property of the studios, the two women protected and comforted each other as sisters, had spats like sisters and were blessed to have each other to lean on as they traveled the diverse and rocky paths of their lives.”

Ms. Jordan worked and lived with Gardner in Los Angeles, Madrid and London. She returned to the United States and settled in Sacramento to be near two of her sisters. A licensed cosmetologist, she opened and ran a beauty shop on Stockton Boulevard.

“By that time, she’d had enough of that Hollywood life,” her niece said. “She was ready for a simple life. … She loved fishing.”

The daughter of a steel riveter for the American Car Foundry, Ms. Jordan was born in 1922 in St. Louis and raised in a segregated community. She left school at 16, moved to Los Angeles and found her job with Gardner through one of her sisters, who worked as a maid for the actress during her marriage to Artie Shaw.

Ms. Jordan, who never married, closed her business about 10 years ago. At 90, she traveled across the country to sign copies of her memoir for movie fans at the annual Ava Gardner Festival in North Carolina. She also visited the movie star’s nearby gravesite, where she was buried after her death in 1990.

“She stayed in touch with (Gardner’s) family for a very long time,” her niece said. “She never imagined that she’d have the life that she had. She met all these famous people and traveled all over the world.”

Ms. Jordan is survived by a sister, Flora Cunningham. A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Morgan Jones Funeral Home, 4200 Broadway, Sacramento.

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