|Book cover of Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth, by Lana Turner, 1982.|
|The beautiful and glamorous Lana Turner at the peak of her beauty.|
|Another glamorous still of the lovely Lana.|
|Lana making her dramatic entrance in The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946. It's no wonder that John Garfield was willing to kill for her.|
Lana Turner was one of the biggest movie stars in the 1940’s and 1950’s and also one of the most beautiful and glamorous. Turner was well known for her stunning beauty, and also for her dramatic personal life. She was married 8 times to 7 different men. None of her marriages lasted longer than 5 years. Turner chronicled her extraordinary life in her 1982 autobiography Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth. The book actually started as a biography of Turner by movie critic Hollis Alpert, but once he interviewed her for the book, it slowly turned into her autobiography, which explains why Alpert’s name is listed as one of the copyright holders.
Lana the book is an interesting look at the woman behind the image. However, the book is not without its faults. The ending of the book is oddly rushed, as the last 11 years that the book covers, from 1971-1982, take up only the last 15 pages. Granted, those are not the most fascinating years of Lana Turner’s life and career, but it felt like she suddenly ran out of time and rushed the ending. And suddenly, in the last four pages of the book, Turner has a religious awakening. This seemingly life-changing moment is catalogued without much detail.
The real focus of Lana is on her husbands, and not her movies. Unfortunately for fans of old Hollywood, there’s not much behind the scenes information on any of Turner’s movies. We learn that Clark Gable, her most frequent co-star, was nice to her, but she only saw him socially once. There’s a lot that Turner doesn’t tell us, which holds back Lana from being a classic Hollywood autobiography. Who were Turner’s good girl friends who she socialized with? What leading men did she like playing opposite? We never find out because Turner simply doesn’t tell us. It’s too bad there isn’t more focus on her acting and her movies, because Lana Turner had true acting talent, and she was much more than just a pretty face.
Turner had an unfortunate penchant for marrying men who were bad for her, and the catalogue of failed marriages eventually becomes numbing. It also begs the question, why did she marry so many men who were not suited for her? Turner attempts to answer the question, but doesn’t come up with a very satisfactory answer. Turner wrote:
“With the exception of dear Fred May, who is still my good friend, all my husbands have taken, and I was always giving. Why? Well, I was always a giver, even as a little girl. If I had candy and you had none, I’d give you half of mine….But that’s an easy answer, one I’ve used all my life. Now I see that somewhere there was a pattern, something in me that made me choose takers, over and over again. Surely I should have learned that, when respect goes out the door, love flies out the window. So why did I lose respect again and again? I honestly don’t know. Once would have been enough for some people.” (Lana, p.249)
My own guess is that Turner must have had low self-confidence when it came to her relationships with men. Turner once said, “My plan was to have one husband and seven children but it turned out the other way.” She got off to a bad start at age 19 by eloping with big band-leader Artie Shaw to Las Vegas on their very first date! Shaw proved to be selfish and mean, and the marriage soon collapsed. Husband number 2 was Steve Crane, who eventually became a successful restaurant owner. Turner and Crane married twice because when they first got married Crane wasn’t divorced from his first wife. Oops! Crane fathered Turner’s only child, her daughter Cheryl Crane. Steve Crane inspired perhaps my favorite line in the book. While Turner was pregnant, he bought a tiny lion cub as a pet. Why, I don’t know. Turner writes, “With a baby coming, having a lion around the house seemed too risky to me.” (Lana, p.73) Good call Lana!
In between husbands 2 and 3 Turner had a passionate affair with matinee idol Tyrone Power, who Turner describes as her true love. But Power was in the process of getting divorced from his first wife, and when she got pregnant with his child they weren’t able to marry. Turner writes about wanting to go away and have the baby in secret and then claim she adopted it. But she dismisses it as a foolish idea, even though it’s exactly what Loretta Young did when she got pregnant with Clark Gable’s baby. Young’s career survived unblemished. Power left for a press junket in Europe, leaving the ball in Turner’s court about whether to keep the child or not, saying it wasn’t his decision to make. Power contacted Turner via shortwave radio during his trip and she told him “I found the house today,” which was their secret code that meant she decided to have an abortion. When Power returned to the United States, he had fallen in love with actress Linda Christian, who would become his second wife.
Husband number 3 was millionaire Bob Topping, who had a drinking problem and spent too much money. When Topping proposed to her, Turner told him “You know I don’t love you.” (Lana, p.109) Which is a good sign that you shouldn’t marry someone. But she eventually said yes. Turner makes it sound as though she wanted someone who would take care of her monetary needs, but did she really want to quit making movies and become a lady of leisure? She never answers definitively. Depressed and despondent over the failure of her marriage to Topping, Turner attempted suicide in late 1951, taking an overdose of sleeping pills and slashing her wrist. Her manager Ben Cole saved her by breaking down her bathroom door. The incident was covered up, and the official story was that Turner had slipped in the bathroom and broken the glass of her shower door, thus injuring her wrist. Husband number 4 was actor Lex Barker, most famous for playing Tarzan. According to Turner’s daughter Cheryl Crane, Barker sexually abused Crane, and once she told her mother about the abuse, she promptly left Barker. Turner doesn’t mention this in her autobiography.
In between husbands 4 and 5 was the most notorious relationship of Turner’s life, her year-long affair with minor mobster Johnny Stompanato, a former bodyguard for gangster Mickey Cohen. He introduced himself to her as “John Steele,” and had no inkling of his ties to gangsters until much later in their relationship. Stompanato was relentless in his pursuit of Turner, obsessively sending her flowers and trying to get her to go out on a date with him. Turner had a queasy feeling from the beginning about him, but unfortunately she finally went out with him. He quickly proved to be abusive and controlling. Once Turner learned of his connections to the underworld, she feared the bad publicity that would result if it became known that she was dating him. Ironically, Turner’s nightmares of bad publicity would come true, but not in any way she could have imagined. Turner wanted to end her relationship with Stompanato, but she proved unable to get rid of him. In the midst of this crisis, Turner was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Peyton Place. After the Oscar ceremony on March 26, 1958, when Turner came home to Stompanato that night, he went into a violent rage and brutally beat her, slapping her and punching her repeatedly. Turner wrote, “There were welts all over my face and neck, and the beginnings of what would be terrible bruises.” (Lana, p.194) Just a week later, on April 4th, Turner and Stompanato had another loud argument and he was threatening her again. Turner’s daughter Cheryl was listening to their argument, and entered the room. Holding a kitchen knife, she stabbed Stompanato in the stomach, killing him. The incident was a huge Hollywood scandal, and Turner saw her private life splashed all over the front pages. Cheryl’s stabbing of Stompanato was ruled a justifiable homicide, and she was spared having to go to jail. Luckily for Turner, the scandal didn’t ruin her movie career, as Peyton Place’s box office totals were probably helped by all of the press coverage.
Husband number 5 was Fred May, who sounds like he was a really nice guy. He’s the only one of Turner’s ex-husbands that she remained close friends with, and Turner admits in the book that maybe she shouldn’t have divorced him. Husband number 6 was Robert Eaton, who misused lot of Turner’s money and threw extravagant parties when she was out of the country. Her final husband was nightclub hypnotist Ronald Pellar, also known as Ronald Dante. He allegedly stole a lot of money and jewelry from Turner. Turner declared herself finished with men at that point and never married again. I guess she knew that once she had basically married Gob Bluth, Will Arnett’s character from “Arrested Development,” she probably shouldn’t get married again.
To her credit, Lana Turner was a survivor. She made it through 7 failed marriages, 2 abortions, 3 stillbirths, and she still kept going. That takes guts, and you have to respect someone who has been through all that.