Psychologist obsessed with Hollywood actress dies in museum

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Ava Gardner glamour shot in the 1940's

Smithfield, North Carolina, Aug. 15, 1989: Clinical psychologist Dr. Tom Banks, 62, suffered a stroke here Monday afternoon and fell to the floor he was sweeping inside the unusual museum he spent a lifetime creating, still clutching his broom. In death, he was surrounded by movie posters and paraphernalia of his nearly 50 year obsession with Hollywood actress and superstar of the 1940’s and 50’s, Ava Gardner. His museum is simply called “Ava.”

Dr. Banks left this area in 1945 to attend college, then, to serve in the Navy and, finally, to practice psychology for 38 years in Pompano Beach, Florida. He married, was successful, and—by all accounts—lived a happy life.

Throughout his career, Dr. Banks would often return to the area, maintaining ties to friends and relatives and adding memorabilia to his obsession—to include the purchase Ava’s childhood home which was her mother’s rundown boarding house. Dr. Banks developed probably the largest single collection of memorabilia of any Hollywood celebrity in history. Of course, the question so often asked is: Why was the psychologist obsessed with the actress?

Ava Gardner

A young Ava, the way she looked in secretarial school, before Hollywood transformation last marriage to Frank Sinatra was the most meaningful to her. She always says Sinatra is the “love of my life.” When they divorced in 1954, the sharecropper’s daughter left America to live in Spain and later in London, England, where she resides today. She never remarried. Dr. Banks and his wife have met with Ava many times over the years. Ava was flattered by the museum, but, self-effacing, saying she felt a “simple movie star” didn’t deserve a museum. To emphasize how self-effacing this major star is, she often tells friends, “Deep down inside, I’m pretty superficial.”

His wife of 35 years, Lorraine, explained Dr. Banks’ obsession this way: “When he was 12 years old in 1939, he and his friends would hang out at a bus stop where girls would catch the bus at a local secretarial school.  The boys pestered them daily.  One day, one of the girls—the most attractive of the 18 year olds—had had enough. She chased Tom, tackled him, and planted a big lipstick kiss on his 12 year old cheek. Well, that definitely stopped the boys from aggravating them anymore.

Two years later, in 1941, Tom saw a picture of the girl who had kissed him that fateful day in the local newspaper.  Ava Gardner-who was born a tobacco sharecropper’s daughter in a shanty outside the city limits called “Grabtown” –  had signed a big movie contract with MGM and was headed for Hollywood. Well, that was it. Tom never stopped collecting everything pertaining to Ava.”

Of course, the incredibly beautiful and talented Ava Gardner went on to become one of the most popular movie actresses of all time, appearing in 61 movies. Ava married multiple times, but her

Dr. Banks retired to the Smithfield area just weeks prior to his death on Monday. He is survived by his wife, Lorraine. They had no children. He will be cremated.


A portion of Dr. Banks’ ashes were scattered on the front lawn of Ava’s childhood home which he owned. Lorraine, Dr. Banks’ wife, donated the “Ava” Museum to the City of Smithfield a few months after his death. A half-million dollars has now been spent renovating it. Thousands of visitors still go through it each year.

Ava Gardner died in London on January 25, 1990, about the time the museum was donated to the city of Smithfield. A surprise to many, Frank Sinatra paid all of Ava’s medical bills the last two years of her life and paid for her funeral. Ava’s life came full circle; after all the glitz and glamour life had to offer, she was buried in tiny Smithfield on the old family plot next to her mom and dad. Lorraine herself died a year later in 1991.

Obviously, Hollywood too can create its own brand of Southern Memories.

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