Maureen Dowd in The New York Times:
The amateur magician and the magical beauty. Their first names alone conjure a time when the words Hollywood and glamour still held hands. Ava Gardner was “essential to the Hollywood myth about itself,” as her friend Dirk Bogarde observed, and so was Orson Welles. Orson was “his own greatest production,” as the Hollywood chronicler Peter Biskind writes, and so was Ava. Two new books — “My Lunches With Orson” and “Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations” — unearth vintage conversations with the stars in their final years, when they were broke, in bad health, unable to get work and mourning their lost grandeur. But oh, what gorgeous wrecks they were, and what mesmerizing stories they told, these Sunset Boulevard Scheherazades.
…Even maudlin, Welles and Gardner are magnificent. “A lot of booze has flowed under the bridgework,” Ava says. Both hit the big time as teenagers, Boy Genius and Girl Vamp, landing Time covers in their 20s. They had in common a bawdy honesty, a desire to shock and a lust for living extravagantly. The lion and lioness in winter are poignant. The cosmopolitan man who made “Citizen Kane” could not get financing to make a movie. The green-eyed woman who dazzled in Technicolor in “The Barefoot Contessa” was drinking, smoking, coughing and listening to old Sinatra-Tommy Dorsey recordings that Sinatra sent her after her strokes. “Who’d have thought the highlight of my day is walking the dog,” dryly notes Gardner, who once danced all night and then began drinking Dom Pérignon in the studio makeup room at 5 a.m. “I miss Frank,” she says, even the fights. She knows he will outlive her: “Bastards are always the best survivors.”