Turner’s film career began — so the story goes — when she was discovered sipping soda at the fountain in Schwab’s Drug Store. She was dubbed “The Sweater Girl” after an on screen appearance walking down the street in a tight skirt and sweater in the appropriately titled 1937 film, “They Won’t Forget.” A favorite pin-up girl during World War II, Turner embodied the beautiful blonde, passionate and troubled, with a shadowy past.
In real life, there were many shadows in Turner’s world. Her father was murdered, reputedly for gambling debts, when she was a child. She struggled with alcoholism all her life and had many famous and a few notorious boyfriends, including billionaire Howard Hughes, pretty-boy actor Tyrone Power, and Tarzan star Lex Barker. Turner eventually married seven times.
In 1958 Turner’s only child, Cheryl Crane, stabbed and killed Johnny Stompanato with a kitchen knife. Turner was trying to break off the relationship. The judge ruled justifiable homicide after hearing evidence of the violence and threats made by Stompanato. Despite the unstable environment of the Turner household, Cheryl was reunited with her mother.
Turner’s scandalous personal life played havoc with her professional advancement in the studio-driven image-conscious world of Hollywood. Her glamour girl reputation overshadowed her talent as an actress. Although directors were aware of her ability, the “women’s roles” Turner was so often type-cast in, prevented her from achieving the greatness many thought her capable of.
Turner’s most notable screen successes were as the “Ziegfeld Girl” (1941), gorgeous in feathers and a fan, as the steamy double-dealing housewife in “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946), and later in the noir classic, “Madame X” (1966). She was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress for “Peyton Place” in 1957. My most favorite role of Lana’s was in 1959’s, Ironically titled “Imitation of Life”
Even after her original film glamour faded, Turner continued to act. She had a recurring role in the nighttime TV Soap Opera, “Falcon Crest” from 1981 to 1990. Until illness stopped her, she performed at dinner theaters around the country.
Her daughter, who grew up to write a book about her traumatic childhood and successful adulthood in partnership with her lesbian lover, was close to her mother in the final years. Cheryl was at her mother’s bedside when Lana Turner died.