"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
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 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
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 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
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.