Lana Turner Biography
Lana Turner was born Julia Jean Mildred Francis on February 8, 1921 in Wallace, Idaho. Her father, John Virgil Turner, was a miner from Tennesse and her mother, Mildred Francis Cohan was a sixteen year old from Alabama. Before there was Lana there was Judy, as she was commonly called in those days. When Judy was six, the Turners relocated to San Francisco in search of a more stable lifestyle.
On December 14, 1931 John Turner won some money from a cards game and after boasting of a bicycle he would get for his daughter, he stuffed his winnings in his left sock and headed home. He never made it though. John was found dead on the corner of Minnesota and Mariposa Street with his left sock missing. The murder and robbery was never solved. Soon after Lana, ten at the time, moved with her mother to Los Angeles.
Flashforward six years. Lana Turner is a sixteen year old student at Hollywood High who’s decided to ditch class for a Coke at the Top Hat Cafe. William R Wilkerson (publisher of the Hollywood Reporter) then comes strolling in with his wife and what does he do? He notices one very seductive and shapely young lady sipping on a soda and instantly sees a future star.
A Sweater Girl Is Born
After being referred to Zeppo Marx’s agency by Wilkerson, Turner was cast in the 1937 film They Won’t Forget. And forget they didn’t. The form-fitting sweaters Turner wore in this film earned her “Sweater Girl” status and catalyzed her screen career. That year she also appeared in a brief (best not blink) boxing scene in A Star Is Born.
The 1940’s and 50’s were all about Lana Turner. Alongside Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable, Turner was a popular pin-up girl during World War 2.
Her biggest box office hit came after the war in 1946’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Classic film noir that paired her along side John Garfield.
The 1950’s was more or less a flip-flop, hit-or-miss era for Turner. While she was widely praised for performances such as The Bad and The Beautiful, musicals such as Mr. Imperium and epics like The Prodigal did little for her fans and less for film critics.
And The Academy Award Goes To . . . .
Almost Lana Turner! Turner turned things around with Peyton’s Place and her performance earned her a Best Actress Academy Award Nomination in 1958. 1959 didn’t bring an Oscar but Turner’s role in a remake of Imitation of Life earned her great reviews and even greater revenue. Turner chose to be paid a percentage of the box office receipts instead of a salary and came out with her biggest bucks to date!
Turner, Teen, and Trial
Turner met Johnny Stompanato during the summer of 1957. After discovering his gangster ties Lana tried to break up with him but Stompanato wasn’t willing to give up so easily. The two carried on a tumultous and violent relationship for the next several months. At one point in the relationship Stompanato even took a gun and stormed onto Turner’s filmset Another Time, Another Place fearing Turner was having an affair with co-star Sean Connery. The future Bond took one swipe at his jaw and recouped the gun, with Stompanato being deported to Scotland Yards shortly thereafter.
On April 14, 1958 Stompanato began to get violent as usual only this time Connery wasn’t there to punch him. Instead he was stabbed and killed by Turner’s 14 year old daughter Cheryl Crane. The incident spurred a media fiasco and landed Lana in what some have declared the greatest performance of her life: testifying for the life of her daughter. Cheryl was tried for murder but acquitted on the grounds of justifiable homicide.
1970 and beyond was spent largely out of the public’s eye for Turner. She did however have several television appearances in the 70’s through 80’s, including a season on Falcon’s Crest from 1982-1983, as well as theatrical performances in The Pleasure of His Company and Forty Carats.
Her autobiography Lana, the Lady, the Legend, and the Truth debut in 1982 to lukewarm reviews. The Los Angeles Times at the time declared it a “self-serving piece of fiction masquerading as an autobiography,” opting instead for the biography written by her former personal manager Taylor Pero who penned Always Lana.
Years of heavy smoking soon caught up with Turner and in 1992 she was diagnosed with throat cancer. Lana Turner died on June 29, 1995 at the age of 74 in Culver City, Los Angeles. At Lana’s request there was no funeral service and her body was creamated and ashes scattered across the sea. The majority of her estate was passed to Carmen Lopez Cruz, Turner’s maid of 44 years.
From Sweater Girl to Screen Siren and Survivor, Lana Turner’s legacy lives on in the films she made and hearts she touched over a life time.