"The thing about happiness is that it doesn't help you
to grow; only unhappiness does that. So I'm grateful that my bed of
roses was made up equally of blossoms and thorns. I've had a privileged,
creative, exciting life, and I think that the parts that were less joyous
were preparing me, testing me, strengthening me." -Lana Turner, Lana,
The Lady, The Legend, The Truth
Lana Turner was no stranger to outstanding hardship. She
was born Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner on February 8, 1921 to John
and Mildred Turner in Wallace, Idaho. Lana's uneventful birth in itself
was relief-her grandmother had died in childbirth due to Rh factor complications-and
there was a possibility the condition had been passed to Mildred. Though
her mother was spared, Lana would later discover she had inherited the
disorder. Science afforded her a daughter, Cheryl, whom doctors saved
with a total blood transfusion shortly after birth, but Lana's dreams
for a large family were dashed.
Lana fondly recalled nights, after dinner, spent dancing
and listening to records with her parents. In later years,
she attributed her love for music and dance to those evenings.
Her father, who spent his days working in the mines, was
also an excellent card player. His skills helped to support
the family through rough times. However, after a big win
at a card game one night, he was robbed and murdered. Lana
was heartbroken, and later learned he'd bragged about using
the money to buy his daughter a tricycle-a gift she'd been
begging him for.
Lana loved going to the movies. Every weekday she would
save a nickel of her lunch money to put toward the twenty-five cent
Saturday matinee. Her appreciation for the elaborate costumes of actresses
Kay Frances and Norma Shearer carried over into her own career, and
earned her a reputation for wearing some of the most beautiful costumes
in film history. In fact, if she hadn't gone into movies, Lana always
said she would have become a fashion designer.
In search of greater job opportunities, Lana and her mother
moved out to California. One school day, shortly after their
arrival, fifteen-year-old Lana went for a Coke. Despite
the legend, she wasn't at Schwab's Drugstore, but The Top
Hat Café, a shop across the street from Hollywood
High. When W.R. Wilkerson, publisher of the Hollywood Reporter,
happened to be quenching his thirst at the same time, he
caught sight of Lana. He introduced himself, gave her his
card and asked her to call newly operating talent agent
Zeppo Marx. This, in addition to a letter Wilkerson personally
wrote, helped team her with director Mervyn LeRoy.
Leroy felt her nickname, Judy, was too plain.
Julia Jean was also vetoed, so the two had a brainstorming
session. LeRoy suggested Leonore, but it didn't seem to
fit. "What about-Lana?" she suggested. She spelled it for
LeRoy and waited while he said it several times and then
finally nodded. "That's it," Leroy told her. "You're Lana
Lana could relate to the role of schoolgirl
Mary Clay in They Won't Forget, and found it easy
to play. Though the part was relatively small, when the
film was released she was immediately noticed. The Hollywood
Reporter noted, "Short on playing time is the role of
the murdered school girl. But as played by Lana Turner it
is worthy of more than passing note. This young lady has
vivid beauty, personality and charm." After the film, Lana
found herself tagged as "The Sweater Girl," thanks to a
tight blue wool sweater she wore in the film.
Despite the praise, Lana still didn't think
she would become an actress. "I made my first movie without
ever considering that my walk-on would be anything more
than a one-time job," she said. "If I could have foreseen
everything that was going to happen to me, all the headlines
my life would make, all the people who would pass through
my days, I wouldn't have believed a syllable of it!" But
LeRoy cast her in his next film, The Great Garrick,
and when it was finished he loaned her to Samuel Goldwyn
for The Adventures of Marco Polo. During the filming
of Marco Polo, Goldwyn insisted that Lana's eyebrows be
shaved off and replaced with straight, fake black ones.
They never grew back, and from then on she had to either
paste or draw her eyebrows.
When LeRoy left Warner Bros for MGM, he took Lana with
him. Her salary doubled from $50 to $100 a week. Lana was ecstatic.
The first thing she did was buy a house for she and her mother to live
in. From that point on, Lana's fame and salary continued to increase.
After a year with MGM, it rose to $250, and, by the time she was twenty,
Lana was earning $1,500 a week. She enjoyed the fresh atmosphere at
MGM, and would often spend time with other young Hollywood newcomers.
"We had youth, we had beauty, we had money, we had doors open to us,"
she recalled. If someone recognized her while they were out, she would
laugh and say, "Oh, no, no. I've been told I look like her."
When the United States entered WWII, Lana spent time traveling
with railroad tours that sold war bonds. She wrote her own speeches
and promised "a sweet kiss" to any man who purchased a bond worth $50,000
or more. "And I kept that promise-hundreds of times," she said. "I'm
told I increased the defense budget by several million dollars."
New contract negotiations with MGM in 1945
netted Lana $4,000 a week. In addition, the studio finally
obtained a censor-approved script for The
Postman Always Rings Twice. She was ecstatic. "Finally
the part I had been hoping for did come my way." Lana obtained
the part, and Postman's author, James M. Cain, was
delighted that she would be playing Cora. It was a perfect
fit. Even today, some of her scenes as the adulterous femme
fatale are considered among the most seductive and sensuous
In 1948 Lana filmed The
Three Musketeers, her first Technicolor picture.
Cast as Lady de Winter, she especially enjoyed the test
of playing opposite Vincent Price's Cardinal Richelieu.
"I studied him, and it challenged me, and I began to try
things I never knew I could do," she said. "I found my own
little touches-a certain sly look, the flap of a glove,
a tilt of the head." She was allowed to improvise and create
moments that weren't originally in the script. The artistic
freedom and exquisite costumes made it one of her favorite
performances. "Turner was covered with jewels and costumed
exquisitely," recalled on review. "The drama of her first
appearance on screen is heightened by the effect of having
her sit in a darkened carriage... When Turner finally does
lean slowly forward into the light-and the Technicolor-audiences
are not jerked out of their mood and back to earth. She
is unreal. A proper goddess."
Lana's already celebrated career was furthered when she
co-starred with Kirk Douglas in The
Bad and The Beautiful. The film went on to win 5 Academy Awards,
including best screenplay and best costumes. "It is superb theater,
one of the greatest moments of despair shown in cinematic terms, and
a prime example of the coordination of actress, director and cameraman
which can create a perfect visual moment of dramatic poetry on the screen."
Unfortunately, it was also during this time that she began receiving
telephone calls and flowers from a man named John Steele.
Steele's romantic gifts and surprises eventually swept
Lana off her feet. When she found out he was actually dangerous mob
associate Johnny Stompanato, the two had dated for several months. Lana
fought to end the relationship and regain a normal life, but Stompanato
became abusive, vowing she would never leave him and live. During one
such violent argument, daughter Cheryl walked in and feared Stompanato
would kill her mother. In an effort to protect Lana, she attacked and
fatally stabbed him with a kitchen knife. The death was ruled a justifiable
homicide, and Cheryl was not incarcerated.
Despite her recent Oscar nomination for Best Actress in
Place, Lana was aware that "the happening," as she would later
refer to it, could very well cripple her career. She fought back, dealt
with reporter's head on and accepted the lead role of Lora Meredith
of Life. Lana gambled both her career and finances the film.
She accepted a meager salary and instead agreed to work for half the
profits. Lana's innate and learned acting ability, combined with pent
up emotions from the tumultuous year, resulted in one of the finest
performances of her career. Movie theaters reported that, during the
closing scene, "even strong men are crying."
When Lana turned fifty she tackled yet another challenge-the
theater. Though apprehensive, Lana couldn't pass up the role of Ann
Stanley, a glamorous forty-year-old divorcee, in Forty Carats.
As usual, the show and Lana, were a hit. Forty Carats played
in numerous cities, including Philadelphia, Chicago and Baltimore. "Ironically,"
she said, "live theater, the medium I had so dreaded, became the new
backbone of my working life."
On October 25, 1981 the National Film Society presented
Lana with an Artistry in Cinema award. Also busy with a reoccurring
role as Jacqueline Perrault on TV's Falcon's Crest, she found
herself immersed in almost all entertainment facets.
Lana's active lifestyle continued until 1995.
On June 29th, with Cheryl by her side, Lana Turner yielded
to throat cancer. Her remains were cremated and given to
For more information on cancer, please visit the National