Lana Turner

"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 Turner."

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 ever made.

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 Peyton 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 in Imitation 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 her daughter.

Bio Courtesy The Official Lana Turner Web Site