Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: Ike's Bluff, by Evan Thomas (2012)

Ike's Bluff, by Evan Thomas, 2012.

President Dwight Eisenhower.
Evan Thomas’s 2012 book Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World, completely refutes the stereotype of Dwight Eisenhower as a caretaker president who only cared about his golf handicap. Thomas focuses his book exclusively on Eisenhower’s foreign policy, and he paints a portrait of an engaged leader who was extremely skilled at using psychology to get what he wanted. 

The central thesis of Thomas’s book is that Eisenhower was determined to keep the United States out of war during his Presidency. As Thomas writes in the introduction to his book, “Having done as much as any man to win World War II, Ike devoted the rest of his public service to keeping America and the world out of World War III.” (p.16) Eisenhower was successful in his goal, as he avoided confrontations with both the Russians and the Chinese during his two terms. Eisenhower disliked war, and he wrote in his diary on Memorial Day 1951: “Another Decoration Day finds us still adding to the number of graves that will be decorated in future years. Men are stupid.” (p.11)

Despite his reputation as a genial grandfatherly figure, Eisenhower was someone who played his cards very close to the vest. His son John Eisenhower told Thomas, “I don’t envy you trying to figure Dad out. I can’t figure him out.” (p.38) Thomas takes on the tricky task of parsing Eisenhower’s often garbled syntax to figure out what was really on his mind, or what his true intentions were. Eisenhower was an excellent card player, adapt at both poker and bridge. He was good enough at poker that he eventually stopped playing, because he was beating his fellow officers too often. He shared this skill at poker with his Vice President, Richard Nixon, who won a significant amount of money playing poker while in the Navy during World War II. However, I don’t think that Eisenhower and Nixon ever played cards together, since they had a relationship that was awkward at best. One of my favorite quotes from Ike’s Bluff is from the diary of Ann Whitman, Eisenhower’s White House secretary, as she wrote about Richard Nixon, “the Vice President sometimes seems like a man who is acting like a nice man rather than being one.” (p.389) 

Eisenhower was an excellent bridge player. As Thomas writes, “He was always thinking several moves ahead, trying to read his opponent and figuring out how to lead him on or trump him.” (p.41) This skill would serve him well during the gamesmanship of the Cold War. Complimenting his skills as a card player, Eisenhower didn’t like to use the telephone to conduct business. According to Thomas, “He wanted to see people face-to-face, the better to read them.” (p.42) Golf and cards, Eisenhower’s two main forms of recreation, also taught him patience, which was something that served him well throughout his Presidency. In a crisis, Eisenhower time and again was unwilling to make a rash snap decision that could have provoked war. 

Thomas does an excellent job throughout the book of articulating Eisenhower’s strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Ike was someone who trusted his subordinates; he was not a micromanager, which was both a strength and a weakness. Eisenhower was someone who was willing to share credit and take the blame alone. Because he didn’t need to always take credit to feed his ego, many people underestimated Eisenhower’s intelligence. Thomas is not uncritical of Ike, as he thinks that Eisenhower could have done more to calm the Cold War fears of the American public. 

Eisenhower’s ability to get inside the head of his opponents allowed him to analyze the leaders of the Soviet Union, and he used face-to-face summit meetings to help him figure out the contradictory Nikita Khrushchev. But Eisenhower’s trust of his subordinates made him look like a fool during the U-2 incident in 1960, when a U-2 CIA spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. This incident soured the Paris summit held shortly afterwards, as Khrushchev demanded an apology from Eisenhower and stormed out of the summit when Ike didn’t offer one. Eisenhower had always been cautious about the U-2 spy plane, even as it delivered photographic confirmation that the United States was well ahead of the Soviet Union in the race to build nuclear weapons. Richard Bissell was the CIA man in charge of the U-2 flights, and he assured Eisenhower that it would be impossible for the Russians to detect the high altitude plane. Bissell was incorrect. The Russians detected the very first flight of the U-2 in 1956. Russians planes couldn’t fly as high as the U-2, so they couldn’t shoot it down, but it was only a matter of time before they could. Unfortunately, Bissell didn’t tell Eisenhower that the plane was detected, and he instead carried on with the lie that the plane was impervious to Soviet radar. After the U-2 was shot down in 1960, the White House, thinking that the pilot of the plane was dead, put out cover stories that it was a high-altitude “weather plane” that had strayed off course. When Khrushchev revealed that the pilot was in fact alive, the White House had to change their story. Of course, Eisenhower had been assured by the CIA that there was no way a U-2 pilot could survive a crash of the plane. The U-2 incident destroyed the trust that had slowly built up between Eisenhower and Khrushchev, and it put to rest Eisenhower’s hopes of negotiating an arms limitation settlement between the United States and the Soviet Union. After the U-2 incident, Eisenhower should have demanded Bissell’s resignation, and probably that of complacent CIA director Allen Dulles as well, but true to his hands off management style, he didn’t. (Bissell and Dulles would later be forced to resign by JFK after another CIA foul-up with the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.)

President Eisenhower’s main nuclear strategy was “massive retaliation,” which meant that the United States might use nuclear weapons during any confrontation, and that we would not hesitate to, well, massively retaliate against our enemies. The policy’s main proponent was Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, the solemn and humorless John Foster Dulles. While massive retaliation might sound insane to us today, Thomas illustrates how the strategy worked for Eisenhower during his Presidency. Because no one besides Eisenhower really knew when, or if, he would use nuclear weapons in a confrontation, our opponents backed down from escalating international crises. Thomas makes the point that Eisenhower’s personal history, and his lifelong service in the military, gave him the standing necessary to back up the policy. No one really wanted to mess with the man who had masterminded the D-Day invasion and won World War II on the Western front in Europe. Had a president with a different background attempted the policy of massive retaliation, it might have backfired disastrously. 

Throughout Ike’s Bluff, Thomas is incisive about Eisenhower’s complex personality, using excerpts from the medical diary of Howard Snyder, Eisenhower’s doctor, to shed light on Ike’s mood swings. Despite his seemingly endless patience at the bridge table, Ike had a terrible temper which he struggled to keep under control, and he once hurled a golf club at Dr. Snyder. Thomas also illuminates Ike’s health issues, as he suffered a heart attack in 1955 and a stroke in 1957. After his heart attack, Eisenhower was out of the public eye for about six weeks as he recovered. It’s difficult to imagine that a president now would be able to stay out of the public eye for so long in our over-saturated media culture and still win a resounding re-election victory the following year.

Ike’s Bluff is an excellent book that I would recommend to anyone who wants to get a better idea of what kind of President Dwight Eisenhower was. Evan Thomas is a skilled writer who creates a compelling narrative about a fascinating man and the global challenges he faced as president.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Review: Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, by Emma Straub (2012)

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, by Emma Straub, 2012.

Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont in The Dueling Cavalier. What a great screen pair!
Emma Straub’s first novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, tells the life story of a fictional female movie star from the 1940’s. Born Elsa Emerson in Wisconsin, she is eventually rechristened Laura Lamont by a studio executive. Laura goes on to marry that studio executive and win an Oscar. I was intrigued by Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures because I love old movies, and I thought the idea of a novel about a female movie star of that era would be very interesting. Unfortunately, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is a dull and rather lifeless read. 

I found it difficult to connect with any of the characters in the book. For me, the characters just seemed thinly drawn, and they never came to life. Even Laura/Elsa never seemed real to me. She doesn’t seem to have any drive or ambition of her own. She does not have the toughness that a woman would have needed at that time to be a successful film star. Laura’s studio executive husband, Irving Green, is such a perfect guy that he quickly becomes a bore.

A major plot point of the book is the suicide of Elsa’s older sister Hildy, which occurred when Elsa was nine years old. However, Straub makes the mistake of hammering this home relentlessly, as she keeps mentioning Hildy every three pages or so, as though we’ve completely forgotten who she was. Straub has severely underestimated the attention span of her readers.

The biggest problem I had with the book is that the world of Hollywood never came to life for me. I didn’t get the sense that Straub did much research for this book. She mentioned in an interview that one of her inspirations for the novel was when she read the obituary of the actress Jennifer Jones in 2009. Straub said that she had never heard of Jennifer Jones before she read her obituary. That’s exactly the problem with this book. Straub doesn’t know enough about the golden age of Hollywood to successfully take us there in the novel. I will admit that probably not a lot of people under the age of 50 would know who Jennifer Jones was, but if you’re a fan of the golden age of Hollywood, you should have at least heard of Jennifer Jones. Jones was a huge star in the 1940’s; she won an Oscar for 1943’s The Song of Bernadette, and was nominated for 5 Best Actress Oscars. There are numerous parallels between Jones and Laura Lamont, as their first marriages were to actors who had problems with alcohol. (Jones was married to Robert Walker, who died at age 32, and was most famous for his role in Strangers on a Train.) Jones’s second husband was movie producer David O. Selznick, mirroring Laura’s marriage to Irving Green. However, the more obvious model for Irving Green is producer Irving Thalberg, as they both died young of heart conditions. Also, both Thalberg and Green eschew screen credits. As Thalberg famously said, “Credit you give yourself is not worth having.” 

Laura completely falls apart after Irving dies, and unfortunately, those scenes take up most of the book. We know that Laura will encounter money problems because of the obvious foreshadowing as she thinks things like, “She was sure she had all the money she needed” numerous times. I don’t have a ton of sympathy for Laura. Yes, some shitty things have happened to her. That’s life, deal with it. Pick yourself up and move on, don’t just sit around moping about it. But Laura can only wallow in her misery, as Straub has not equipped her with any kind of drive or ambition. Since Laura doesn’t want to act, she just sits around the house with her children. 

None of Laura’s films ever seem real, and Straub only mentions about five or six movies that Laura made. After about 1950, Laura hardly makes any movies at all. I wonder if Straub’s lack of knowledge about Hollywood is the reason why Laura makes so few movies. Actors and actresses of the golden age usually made a ton of movies. Jennifer Jones is an anomaly because she only made 27 movies. Much more typical would be Lana Turner, who made more than 50 movies. Also, most of the supporting characters are easily spotted caricatures of famous actors. There’s Laura’s best friend Ginger, who goes on to become the star of a long-running TV show opposite her real-life husband, and who seems to be clearly modeled on Lucille Ball, and a handsome, closeted leading man named Robert Hunter, who is obviously meant to be Rock Hudson. 

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is really a novel about a woman and her family. Which is fine, but why on earth does Laura Lamont happen to be a movie star? She might as well be a lawyer, a housewife, a teacher, a nurse, or an astrophysicist for all that her job impacts the plot of the book.
My final beef with the book is Laura Lamont’s name. When the book was first published I read reviews of it and said to myself, “Doesn’t the author know that her character has almost the same name as another famous fictional movie star?” The inevitable connotation in my mind when I hear the name Laura Lamont is Lina Lamont, the ditzy silent movie actress with the terrible voice wonderfully played by Jean Hagen in Singin’ in the Rain. (“And I cayn’t stand’im.”) Why didn’t someone point this out to Straub? Why didn’t she change her character’s name to make it less similar? I shudder to think of the possibility that Straub was ignorant of Singin’ in the Rain and that by chance her character’s name just happened to be shared by another fictional movie actress. 

I was hoping that Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures would transport me back to the Hollywood’s golden age, but that didn’t happen.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Book Review: Stars and Strikes by Dan Epstein (2014)

Stars and Strikes, by Dan Epstein, 2014.

Mark "the Bird" Fidrych, 1976's biggest rookie sensation.

The 1976 World Champion Cincinnati Reds. How did anyone pitch to that lineup?

Steve Carlton throwing his slider for the Phillies in 1976. Carlton went 20-7 that year to lead the NL in winning percentage.

Reggie Jackson as an Oriole? Yup, only in 1976.
One of the best baseball books I’ve read recently was Big Hair and Plastic Grass, by Dan Epstein, which tells the story of baseball during the tumultuous decade of the 1970’s. I reviewed Big Hair and Plastic Grass here, and I was very pleased when I learned that Epstein was following up that book with this year’s Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76. Like Big Hair and Plastic Grass, Stars and Strikes is a highly entertaining read. As the title tells us, Stars and Strikes focuses on baseball in the Bicentennial year of 1976. 

Why was 1976 such a pivotal year for baseball? Well, one reason was that in 1976 the reserve clause was finally struck down. The reserve clause had kept players tied to one team for as long as the team wanted that player. Once the reserve clause ended, players could become free agents and sell their services to the highest bidder. This led to a dramatic explosion in player salaries, which has continued unabated to this day. To give just one example of how baseball salaries changed with free agency, reliever Bill Campbell went from making $22,000 in 1976 with the Twins to making $250,000 in 1977 with the Red Sox. Unsurprisingly, baseball owners were less than thrilled by the prospect of having to shell out more money to their players, so, for the second time in five years, they locked the players out of spring training. The owners had also locked out the players in 1972, which lead to the season being slightly shortened. The owners were hoping that the players would agree to a new basic labor agreement that forfeited the right to free agency that they had just won. That didn’t happen, so the owners were forced to go along with the new rules of free agency.

The 1976 baseball season saw the emergence of several unlikely stars. Randy “The Junkman” Jones, a starting pitcher for the San Diego Padres known for his off-speed pitches, got off to an extremely good start in 1976. Jones had fashioned a 16-3 record in the first half of the season, giving him an outside chance at winning 30 games. But Jones slowed down in the second half of the season, going just 6-11. However, that still gave him a league-leading 22 wins, and the National League Cy Young Award. 

The 1976 American League counterpart to Jones was the Detroit Tigers’ Mark “the Bird” Fidrych, who became a nationwide sensation thanks to his excellent pitching and amusing antics while toeing the rubber. Fidrych was brought up from the minor leagues in late April and made his first start on May 15th, pitching a complete game and holding the Cleveland Indians to just two hits. Fidrych got a lot of press for his unorthodox behavior on the mound, as he talked to baseballs, shook his teammates’ hands when they made a good defensive play, and smoothed the mound with his hands. For the record, Fidrych always said that he was never talking to the baseball-he was talking to himself, which helped him stay focused. None of Fidrych’s behavior was an act, and he brought a genuine child-like enthusiasm to baseball. Fidrych’s engaging spirit touched a nerve in 1976 America, which quickly embraced him as a kind of folk hero. In interviews promoting the book, Dan Epstein has made the point that the media has changed so much in the nearly forty years since Fidrych became a sensation that it’s tough to imagine the same thing happening again. I definitely agree, as now we know so much about every player from the moment they play in their first game. Now, you can watch every single at-bat of Yasiel Puig or Jose Abreu. Back in 1976, unless you lived in Detroit, your only opportunity to see Fidrych was to catch him on NBC’s Game of the Week. Fidrych finished the season with a 19-9 record, and a league-leading 2.34 ERA. His 24 complete games also lead the league, and Fidrych was the runaway choice for American League Rookie of the Year. Sadly, Fidrych suffered through an array of injuries beginning in 1977, and won just 10 more games over the next four years in the big leagues. 

1976 saw the resurgence of the New York Yankees, as they finally awoke from a decade-long slumber and returned to the World Series for the first time since 1964. The Kansas City Royals ended the Oakland A’s AL West dynasty, snapping the A’s streak of AL West championships at 5 in a row. The Royals started a dynasty of their own, making 7 playoff appearances from 1976 until 1985, when they won the World Series. Unfortunately for Royals fans, the team hasn’t made it back to the playoffs since 1985. 

In the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies won 101 games to make the playoffs for the first time since 1950. The Phillies were a well-rounded team, featuring power hitters like Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski, smooth fielders like Larry Bowa and Garry Maddox, great starting pitching from Steve Carlton, Jim Kaat, and Jim Lonborg, and excellent relief pitching from Ron Reed, Gene Garber, and Tug McGraw. The Phillies would make 6 playoff appearances from 1976 until 1983, winning the World Series in 1980. The Cincinnati Reds would stake a serious claim to the title of “Greatest Baseball Team Ever” in 1976, as they won 102 games and then swept the Phillies in the NLCS and the Yankees in the World Series. The Reds’ lineup was stacked from top to bottom, as their usual starting lineup in 1976 was Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Pete Rose, George Foster, Cesar Geronimo, and Ken Griffey. Wow. 

Throughout Stars and Strikes Epstein does an excellent job of weaving what was happening in the larger world in 1976 into the baseball season. He knows his stuff, and it shows. Epstein also does a good job of making some of the larger than life personalities like Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner, Charlie Finley, Ted Turner and Bill Veeck come alive. If you’re a fan of 1970’s baseball, or of Big Hair and Plastic Grass, you definitely need to read Stars and Strikes.

Movie Review: Lana Turner in Peyton Place (1957)

Lana Turner and Lee Philips in Peyton Place, 1957.

David Nelson and Hope Lange looking cute in Peyton Place, 1957.

Hope Lange, looking very beautiful around the time of Peyton Place.
When Grace Metalious’s novel Peyton Place was published in 1956, it became an instant best-seller. The novel shocked America with its portrayal of the dark secrets beneath the seemingly normal surface of a small town in New Hampshire. Hollywood came calling and Peyton Place was filmed the following year and released in December, 1957. The movie was just as successful as the book, becoming one of the biggest box-office hits of the year. IMDB says that Peyton Place grossed $25 million, while Wikipedia says it made $16 million. Either way, it was a big hit, and a fantastic return on a budget of $2.2 million. Metalious wrote a sequel, Return to Peyton Place, published in 1959 and made into a movie in 1961, although none of the cast from the original Peyton Place returned for the second movie. Peyton Place also became a TV show, running from 1964 until 1969. 

The movie of Peyton Place stars Lana Turner as Constance MacKenzie, a widow and the mother of Allison MacKenzie, (Diane Varsi) the narrator and main character. The movie opens in 1941, as Allison is finishing up her senior year of high school. Allison’s best friend is Selena Cross (the lovely Hope Lange) whose mother Nellie (Betty Field) is the MacKenzie’s housekeeper. Selena’s step-father is Lucas Cross (the always excellent Arthur Kennedy) an alcoholic janitor who is abusive to Selena. Selena’s boyfriend is Ted Carter, played by David Nelson, who acted in the film during his summer break from “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” Ted Carter is a really nice guy, just like the version of himself that Nelson played on “Ozzie and Harriet.” Allison is also friends with Norman Page, (Russ Tamblyn) an overly sensitive boy with a domineering mother. Another student at the high school is Betty Anderson (Terry Moore, who I just saw in Come Back, Little Sheba) the “fast” girl whom Constance disapproves of. 

Peyton Place deals with the issues of these teenagers as they prepare to graduate from high school and either go on to college or go to work. There is a new principal at the school, Michael Rossi (Lee Philips) and he is interested in Constance, but she acts coolly towards him. One of Rossi’s best friends in town is Dr. Swain, (Lloyd Nolan) an upstanding citizen who is the conscience of the town. 

All of the performances in Peyton Place are excellent, with Turner in particular turning in very good work. It might have seemed a stretch for the glamorous Turner to play a woman who owned a dress shop and had a teenaged daughter, but she was very believable as a strong single parent, which she was in real life as well. It also might have seemed like a stretch to have a sex symbol like Turner play a woman like Constance, who is uninterested in men. I thought that Constance’s relationship with Michael Rossi was convincingly portrayed. She is reluctant to date or start a relationship, even though they clearly have feelings for each other. I liked Rossi’s lines about love, as he tells Constance that he doesn’t just want to have sex with her, he’s making a commitment to her because he cares about her. Which might sound like a line, but Rossi means it. Constance always wants to be in control, and she never wants anyone to see any of her weaknesses, which means that she doesn’t want to fall in love. But eventually she and Rossi begin a relationship. Lee Philips does a good job playing Michael Rossi. Philips was a veteran of television dramas, but Peyton Place was his first movie. Philips would go on to become a successful TV director, and ironically, he would later direct 7 episodes of the TV show Peyton Place. Philips doesn’t have the magnetism of a movie star, but the part doesn’t need a star in it. It’s such an ensemble movie that casting a bigger star in the part might not have worked well. 

The most shocking plot development of Peyton Place is when Selena Cross is raped by her step-father Lucas. It’s an uncomfortable scene to watch, and even though we don’t see the rape itself, the film makes it perfectly clear what happens. It’s a very good example of a film that was made under the censorship of the Hays Code still being able to show controversial content. Selena becomes pregnant, and she begs Dr. Swain to help her end her pregnancy. He says he cannot do that. Selena miscarries when she falls down a hill after being chased by Lucas. Dr. Swain falsifies the medical records to show that he performed an appendectomy on Selena, thus protecting her privacy and shielding her from the gossip of the town. Swain also makes Lucas confess what he has done and runs him out of town. When Lucas reappears a year and a half later, he has joined the Navy and tries to assault Selena again; she fights him off with a club and kills him. She buries his body and doesn’t tell anyone for six months. When Navy officers come looking for Lucas, Selena tells them she hasn’t seen him, but she breaks down and tells Constance what really happened. Constance phones the police and Selena stands trial. Selena pleads that she only killed Lucas in self-defense, but she refuses to tell anyone that Lucas had raped her, as she doesn’t want everyone in town to know her secret. Even at the trial she refuses to tell the whole story. But then Dr. Swain takes the stand and saves the day, as he produces the paper Lucas signed admitting that he impregnated Selena. The jury finds Selena not guilty, and as she leaves the courtroom with her boyfriend Ted and Dr. Swain the townspeople offer her words of support. 

All of the supporting performers in Peyton Place turn in superb performances. Hope Lange does an excellent job in the difficult role of Selena. Lange is stunningly beautiful, and she instantly wins the affection of the audience as the kind-hearted Selena. Diane Varsi, a newcomer to films at the time, provides an excellent center for the movie. Russ Tamblyn brings complex shading to the character of Norman Page, and Arthur Kennedy makes you hate Lucas Cross, which means that he did a good job as an actor. Lange and Varsi were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscars, and Tamblyn and Kennedy were both nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscars. Arthur Kennedy was riding a decade-long hot streak, as he was nominated for 5 Oscars from 1949 to 1958. Four of his nominations were for Best Supporting Actor, and one was for Best Actor. Kennedy never won an Oscar, but he delivered some fantastic performances. 

Lana Turner was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, which was her first and only Academy Award nomination. Unbeknownst to the general public, Turner was going through a very difficult time in her personal life. In 1957, Turner divorced her fourth husband, actor Lex Barker, most famous for playing Tarzan in several movies in the early 1950’s. Soon after her divorce, Turner began dating a man named John Steele, who bought her a lot of gifts and was rather obsessive in his pursuit of her. Turner eventually fell in love with Steele, but some of her friends told her that he might be a criminal. Turner found out that John Steele’s real name was Johnny Stompanato, and that he had been a bodyguard for the gangster Mickey Cohen. Fearing a scandal if the news leaked that she was dating a criminal, Turner tried to keep the relationship under wraps as much as possible. Turner tried numerous times to break off the relationship, but Stompanato was jealous, violent, and abusive, threatening both Turner and her teenage daughter Cheryl Crane. 

The 1958 Oscars were held on March 26, 1958. Lana Turner attended with her daughter, rather than with Stompanato. Turner presented the award for Best Supporting Actor, and she recounts the night in her autobiography: 

“As I read the names off the teleprompter in front of me-Sessue Hayakawa for The Bridge on the River Kwai, Red Buttons for Sayonara, and three others, I was almost delirious with excitement. Slowly I opened the envelope-I had been secretly rooting for Red Buttons-and when I saw his name I gasped, then broke into a wide smile. What a pleasure it was to announce his name.” (Lana, by Lana Turner, p.189-90) 

Lana was so delirious with excitement that she neglects to mention that two of the nominees she doesn’t name in her book were her Peyton Place co-stars Russ Tamblyn and Arthur Kennedy! And to add insult to injury, she was rooting against them! It’s an odd anecdote.

Turner did not win the Oscar, losing out to Joanne Woodward, who won for The Three Faces of Eve. When Turner came home to Stompanato that night after the Oscars, he went into a violent rage and brutally beat her, slapping her and punching her repeatedly. Turner wrote in her autobiography, “There were welts all over my face and neck, and the beginnings of what would be terrible bruises.” (Turner, p.194) Just a week later, on April 4th, Turner and Stompanato had another loud argument and he was threatening her again. Cheryl was listening to their argument, and entered the room. Holding a kitchen knife, she stabbed Stompanato in the stomach, killing him. 

Cheryl was arrested, and Turner had to suffer through the indignities of a very public coroner’s inquest at which she provided dramatic testimony, just as Constance MacKenzie had in Selena Cross’s trial in Peyton Place. There are other similarities to the movie, as in both the movie and real life a teenage girl killed an abusive older man in self-defense. And just like Selena Cross, it was ruled that Cheryl Crane had acted in self-defense. Turner worried that the scandal would ruin her career, but it didn’t, as people still flocked to see her in Peyton Place

Peyton Place is an excellent movie, and it’s well worth seeing as a movie that went about as far as you could go under the Hays Code in 1957. The performances are all very good, and they’ve aged well.