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Constant Gardner

FACING BEAUTY of that kind is not a completely pleasant experience. She gave you this ache in your gut because she was so appealing. And because she was not yours. You know? You felt a kind of vertigo being near her. She was so desirable you felt a little sick from it.” So goes an idolatrous quote in Lee Server’s new biography about Ava Gardner from one of her numerous lovers. It is one of the many such, emphasizing that Ava was perhaps the most gorgeous movie star ever. “On a very good day, maybe Elizabeth Taylor was as beautiful,” is how another admirer puts it. The book, subtitled “Love Is Nothing,” is the most complete and engrossing biography yet of this exotic Southern girl who was just as insecure, perhaps even more unhappy, than that mythically “tragic’ figure — Marilyn Monroe. Unlike Monroe, however, Ava managed to brilliantly handle onscreen middle age. She worked steadily — usually as a world-weary woman of mystery or debauched queen of antiquity — until a stroke disabled her at the age of 60. (She died, perhaps by her own hand, in 1990.) Off-screen, alcohol was her demon, spiked by her feelings of never being worthy — of her fame, of the myth of her beauty (which was not a myth) and of the men she truly loved. Frank Sinatra above all. Mickey Rooney and Artie Shaw were her other less loveable husbands. Server never loses sight of Gardner’s intrinsic qualities; her intelligence, her need to be needed, her lack of self-pity, her lust for life. It is not all sex and sangria in this book. There is a tremendous appreciation of Ava’s work, so often underrated. For all her confident flash, in films this goddess often died for love. And even when she didn’t, one sensed her vulnerability.

TAKE A LOOK at the red-hot author’s photo on Linda Fairstein’s latest, titled “Death Dance.” She shows off some seriously great legs. Her secret? Linda says it was the hours of ballet she did as a child. And that passion sent her backstage on Broadway and at Lincoln Center for the mise en scenes of her latest crackling Alex Cooper crime novel. … In real life, you’ll recall Linda was a district attorney handling sex crimes under Robert Morgenthau and “Law & Order: SVU” came about because of Linda. The disappearance of a young woman in front of 4,000 people at the Metropolitan Opera back during Linda’s tenure gave her the basis for the sexual suspense in this new novel. Linda’s hubby, Justin, had this reaction on seeing the book jacket. Said he, “Could someone introduce me, please?” … The late novelist Rona Jaffe has left the Literacy Partners organization $1 million from her estate. This enables some of the 1 million New Yorkers who can’t read or write at the fifth-grade level to change their lives. So, hooray for Rona and here’s to her hit book of the late ’50s — “The Best of Everything.” That novel helped make all of this possible. We literacy nuts hope more writers and more people in general remember us in their wills. … Scarlett Johansson is beyond furious at the designer-turned-cabaret performer/turned “E!” red carpet interviewer Isaac Mizrahi. His handling of her bosom at the Golden Globes pre-show shocked the star. She said to friends, “If he hadn’t been gay, I would have slapped him.” Isaac was feisty with other female stars as well and many feel he deserved to be slapped regardless of his personal orientation. …

BIJOU PHILLIPS, singer/actress daughter of ’60s pop icons John Phillips and Genevieve Waite, has a guest spot tonight on CBS’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” She plays a hard-partying pop singer named Lil’ Cherry. Having such a good time with this character, she turned to the producer and said, “Can I come back and play a singer who gets married in Vegas, but it’s a deadly mistake, because when she wakes up in the morning the guy’s dead?!” You know, sometimes actors just have to take their careers into their own hands. And sometimes, it works! … The other hot “CSI” guest star is Faye Dunaway, playing a former Vegas showgirl with a shady past. Anita Gillette is also on hand, making her second appearance as “CSI” star Marg Helgenberger’s mother.

BARBARA COOK and Elaine Stritch join for one night only Feb. 27 at the Lincoln Center Theater. They’ll do the voodoo that they do so well, raising money for the theater’s arts and education programs. Call (212) 501-3251 for what will surely be an historic event. … Julianne Moore will headline the Feb. 6 “Reach Out and Read” event benefiting Bellevue Hospital’s child-care facilities. Sandra Bernhard, Billy Crudup, Marcia Gay Harden, Paul Rudd, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, et al, will read from children’s books. Call (212) 562-4130 and be at the Great Hall of Cooper Union, 7 East 7th St. … Broadway actress Paula Laurence — who also wrote, and performed in cabaret — was admitting to 90 when she died Oct. 29. Her credits included “Dr. Faustus,” “One Touch of Venus” and “Something for the Boys.” … The conservative National Review says: “So Jon Stewart’s hosting the Oscars? Why don’t they skip the middlemen and go straight to Howard Dean?” Then Newsweek chimes in, noting that a “fake news host picked as Oscar host. Makes sense in a fake box-office year.”

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