The Time When Jailhouse Johnny Threw Up on Ava Gardner
The Time When Jailhouse Johnny Threw Up on Ava Gardner

Lonesome Bob's True Adventures

The Time When Jailhouse Johnny Threw Up on Ava Gardner

I was Johnny McGuire's bartender during his most animated phase, during his legendary swaggering big as the black sun days when he roamed The Biggest Little City in the World like some kind of mastodon. Let me tell you, Bub: I got an earful of Johnny McGuire stories back then. He was the King of Reno long before he became the personified zeitgeist for Big Medicine Head, and every night you could catch his sordid act at my bar. Lots of stories. Like, I'll never forget the time Johnny threw up all over Ava Gardner's lap.

See, Johnny was the silent member of the Rat Pack. Never showed up for no photo shoots or nothin' like that, but he was one of 'em. He used to run around with those guys all the time, real chummy-like, and his path of devastation was even wider than Frank Sinatra's. Ava was a nutty broad, crazy as all get out, and she was wild for Johnny. Long before her tryst with Frank, baby.

Everybody liked to kid around in those days, but you didn't want to cross Johnny. Joey Bishop said somethin' once about Johnny's new haircut, and Johnny made him pay. Worked him up one side and down the other - had Joey walkin' sideways for a week. Joey said later he'd rather get violated by Turkish sailors than mess with Johnny again.

Anyhow, Johnny was at the bar one night, just sittin' there on his favorite barstool, knockin' back gin and handicapping the ponies, when Ava Gardner walks in. She's decked out in sequins and taffeta and she's got one of those Carmen Miranda fruit bowl hats on her head. Never one to make an inauspicious entrance, she's does some kind of solo line dance over to the bar (which must have been difficult, because she was righteously drunk and carrying a large Coming Ware bowl filled with casserole) and plops down on the stool next to Johnny.

Ava starts chatting up Johnny. He says to her, "What's in the bowl," (which she has placed on her lap) and she says, "My special beefy cheese casserole. I made it for Frankie, but you can have some if you want."

Johnny says to her "Pass."

"Fine", says Ava, "Me and Frankie will just go up to his hotel room and have a late snack."

"Whatever," says Johnny.

About this time I walk over and ask Ava if she wants a drink. She says, "Yeah, somethin' that sticks to my ribs," so I mix her up a Bloody Mary, real spicy, but I use tomato paste instead of tomato juice, so she has to really work to get it through the straw.

The dope on Ava Gardner, and everyone who used to run around those days can tell you this, is that she and Johnny had a thing long before she did monkey-time with Frank Sinatra. They were wild, and they had ways of expressing their love publicly that embarrassed all of us - but that's another story. The point is, Frankie knew they had a past.

About twelve-thirty Frankie walks in carrying flowers for Ava and he sees her sittin’ there with Johnny McGuire. Now, everybody knew how Frankie was; he was jealous of everything when it came to Ava. He was jealous of her end table, for Christsakes. And it's obvious that he's behind a few whiskey and waters, so the sight of Johnny and Ava sittin' there at the bar lights him up like a Roman candle.Now during this time Johnny's knocked back a few cocktails too, so when Frank comes over to ring his doorbell Johnny was too cross-eyed to see it comin'.
Frankie thought he was some kind of karate guy or somethin' (he had been running around with Key Luke back then) and he tries to do a roundhouse kick on Johnny. Only problem is, Frankie had stepped on a wad of gum that Ava had spit out on the floor, so instead of his foot leaving the ground the rest of his body does. Frankie flopped backward onto the floor like a drunken carp. Johnny's oblivious to the whole event.

About this time everybody rushes over to see if Frank's okay, and Ava's lookin' over her shoulder at Frankie on the floor, so no one notices Johnny's lunch is about to come up. He's got that panic stricken pre-vomit look on his face, and his cheeks are fillin' up 'cause he's tryin' to keep it in. Since everyone's lookin' at Frank flailing on the floor, no one sees Johnny spew allover Ava's lap.

Now I know this seems like a big problem, but it's really okay, see, 'cause Ava had the casserole on her lap, and Johnny's masterpiece got lost in all the macaroni, cheese, and ground beef. Later Frankie and Ava ate like royalty in Frankie's hotel room and no one was the wiser.

If I've said it before I'll say it again: that Johnny McGuire is a lucky guy.






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