The Song Sinatra Wrote for Ava Gardner

Frank Sinatra recorded thousands of songs throughout his career, making true classics. But he was not a composer. He is credited with writing the lyrics for only four songs: This Love of Mine, in 1941; Mr. Success in 1958, Mistletoe and Holly in 1958 and…. I’m a Fool to Want You, in 1951. No one doubts who inspired him to one of the most painful love songs in the singer’s repertoire: Ava Gardner.

I’m a Fool To Want You has been covered by 212 artists, including Billie Holliday, and it is her voice, not Sinatra’s, that the song is famous for. She speaks of the suffering of a person in love with another who has a free spirit, who does not know fidelity, and who only brings suffering. A song that immortalized the dramatic union of the couple, one of the most legendary in Hollywood.

Ava Gardner, who today, January 25, 2022, completes 32 years of death (her centenary is in December), was one of the most beautiful actresses in world cinema and one of the most authentic too. She was discovered at age 19 and became famous when she starred alongside Burt Lancaster in the classic The Killers. In times of theatrical cinema, she was considered a good actress and was even nominated for an Oscar for the film Mogambo. She starred in films such as The Barefoot Countess, Show Boat, The Snow of Kilimanjaro, and The Night of the Iguana, among others. She was outspoken, independent, and daring. She drank and smoked a lot, enjoyed late nights, and openly lived her novels without caring about public opinion.

Her honesty set her apart from other stars, when writing her autobiography (delicious, I recommend it!), in the 1980s, she explained: “I either write the book or I sell the jewelry, but I am attached to the jewelry”. Other fantastic pearls are credited to her: “When I lose my temper, no one can find it” or “The truth is, I loved my life. I had a lot of fun”.

Ava’s personal – and troubled – life was one that was immortalized by three marriages (Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Sinatra), romances with Toreadors, and friendships with stars like Grace Kelly and Lana Turner. Her courtship and friendship with Howard Hughes were so significant that it was portrayed in the film The Aviator. But it was Sinatra’s crazed passion for her that became one of cinema’s great love stories. And one of the most intense too.

Frank Sinatra, as a Catholic, did not consider divorcing his first wife, Nancy, even though he openly cheated on her with all the movie stars. Until he met Ava. For her, he did literally everything. He tried to kill himself, humiliated himself, and almost lost his career. Part of this passion was also immortalized in The Godfather trilogy with the legend that the mafia interfered so that he could get a role in From Here to Eternity, for which he won an Oscar. Ava says in the book that she was the one who helped him. Anyway, the marriage only lasted 5 years.

In March 1951, months before his wedding to Ava, Frank Sinatra recorded I’m A Fool to Want You. There are those who try to say that it is not about the actress, but their relationship has always been volatile and the lyrics perfectly reflect how he felt: a fool in love with a fickle woman. Nelson Riddle, who was the singer’s favorite arranger, said “It was from Ava that Sinatra learned to sing with feeling. She was the great love of his life and he lost her.” The song’s co-writer, Joel Herron, says he had to credit Sinatra as the lyricist because Sinatra, who was anguished over his divorce and his obsession with Ava, altered the words to reveal his personal pain in a way he never had before (or since). “He made it clear what he was feeling and we decided that he should be part of the authorship”, he explained.

Originally, I’m A Fool To Want You was written to be in a Katharine Hepburn and Robert Taylor film, Undercurrent, but problems with the rights caused Joel to rewrite it, but the second version was superior to the first. Sinatra’s friend Joel showed him the song that went straight to the singer’s heart, and he started tinkering with the lyrics immediately. His rendition brought the musicians to tears. The record was made in a single take, so much emotion

Billie Holiday was one of the biggest fans of I’m A Fool To Want You and chose her for her latest album. According to accounts, he cried when he heard and sang it, and today his version is the most praised of all.

Sinatra covered the song in 1957 (my favorite arrangement, although the original is more painful), but he never sang it live. By the way, he died without ever saying anything about his personal life, but it is impossible – for someone who knows all the nuances of their union – not to think of Ava Gardner when listening to I’m a Fool to Want You.

In time, even after the divorce, Ava and Frank remained friends (and occasional lovers, according to her. “In bed we never disagreed”, she declared). And their love story is one of the most famous in cinema.


I’m a fool to want you
I’m a fool to want you
To want a love that can’t be true
A love that’s there for others too

I’m a fool to hold you
Such a fool to hold you
To seek a kiss not mine alone
To share a kiss that Devil has known

Time and time again I said I’d leave you
Time and time again I went away
But then would come the time when I would need you
And once again these words I had to say

Take me back, I love you
…I need you
I know it’s wrong, it must be wrong
But right or wrong I can’t get along
Without you

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