Turner in a 1942 studio publicity photo
Julia Jean Turner|
February 8, 1921
Wallace, Idaho, U.S.
June 29, 1995 (aged 74)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Education||Hollywood High School|
Artie Shaw (m. 1940; div. 1940)|
Lana Turner (;[a] born Julia Jean Turner; February 8, 1921 – June 29, 1995) was an American actress who worked in film, television, theater, and radio. Over the course of her nearly 50-year career, she achieved fame as both a pin-up model and a dramatic actress as well as for her highly publicized personal life. In the mid-1940s, she was one of the highest-paid women in the United States, and one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's (MGM) biggest stars, with her films earning the studio over $50 million during her eighteen-year contract with them. Turner was recognized among her peers as a hard-working and versatile actress, and by the public as a popular culture icon of Hollywood glamour.
Born to working-class parents in northern Idaho, Turner spent her early life there before her family relocated to San Francisco. In 1936, while still in high school, she was discovered while purchasing a soda at the Top Hat Malt Shop in Hollywood. At the age of 16, she was signed to a personal contract by Warner Bros. director Mervyn LeRoy, who took her with him when he transferred to MGM in 1938. Turner attracted attention playing a murder victim in her first film, LeRoy's They Won't Forget (1937), and she later transitioned into featured roles, often appearing as an ingénue.
During the early 1940s, Turner established herself as a leading actress and one of MGM's top performers, appearing in such films as the film noir Johnny Eager (1941); the musical Ziegfeld Girl (1941); the horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941); and the romantic war drama Somewhere I'll Find You (1942), one of several films in which she starred opposite Clark Gable. Turner's reputation as a glamorous femme fatale was enhanced by her critically acclaimed performance in the film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), a role which established her as a serious dramatic actress. Her popularity continued through the 1950s in dramas such as The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and Peyton Place (1957), the latter of which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Media controversy surrounded Turner in 1958 when her daughter Cheryl Crane stabbed Turner's lover Johnny Stompanato to death in their Beverly Hills home during a domestic struggle. Turner's next film, Imitation of Life (1959), proved to be one of the greatest financial successes of her career. Her last starring role in Madame X (1966) earned her a David di Donatello for Best Actress. Turner spent most of the 1970s and early 1980s in semi-retirement, making her final feature film appearance in 1980. In 1982, she accepted a much publicized and lucrative recurring guest role in the television series Falcon Crest, which afforded the series notably high ratings. In 1992 she was diagnosed with throat cancer, of which she died in 1995, aged 74.
Lana Turner was born Julia Jean Turner[b] on February 8, 1921 at Providence Hospital in Wallace, Idaho, a small mining community in the Idaho Panhandle region. She was the only child of John Virgil Turner, a miner from Montgomery, Alabama of Dutch descent, and Mildred Frances Cowan from Lamar, Arkansas, who had English, Scottish, and Irish ancestry. Her parents met while fourteen-year-old Mildred, the daughter of a mine inspector, was visiting Picher, Oklahoma with her father, who was inspecting local mines there. John was twenty four years-old at the time, and Mildred's father objected to the courtship. Shortly after meeting, the two eloped and moved west, settling in Idaho.
The family lived in Burke, Idaho at the time of Turner's birth, and relocated to nearby Wallace in 1925,[c] where her father opened a dry cleaning service and worked in the local silver mines. As a child, Turner was known to family and friends as "Judy". She expressed interest in performance at a young age, performing short dance routines at her father's Elks chapter in Wallace.
The family struggled financially, and relocated to San Francisco when Turner was six years old, after which her parents soon separated. On December 14, 1930, her father won some money at a traveling craps game, stuffed his winnings in his left sock, and headed for home. He was later found bludgeoned to death on the corner of Minnesota and Mariposa Streets, on the edge of San Francisco's Potrero Hill and the Dogpatch District, with his left shoe and sock missing. His robbery and homicide were never solved, and his death had a profound effect on Turner. "I know that my father's sweetness and gaiety, his warmth and his tragedy, have never been far from me," she later said. "That, and a sense of loss and of growing up too fast."
Due to poverty, Turner sometimes lived with family friends or acquaintances so that her mother could save money. They also frequently moved, for a time living in Sacramento and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Following her father's death, Turner lived for a period in Modesto with a family who physically abused her and "treated her like a servant". Her mother worked 80 hours per week as a beautician to support herself and her daughter, and Turner recalled sometimes "living on crackers and milk for half a week".
Though baptized a Protestant at birth, Turner attended mass with the Hislops, a Catholic family with whom her mother had temporarily boarded her in Stockton, California. She became "thrilled" by the ritual practices of the church, and when she was seven, her mother allowed her to formally convert to Roman Catholicism. Turner subsequently attended the Convent of the Immaculate Conception in San Francisco, hoping to become a nun. In the mid-1930s, Turner's mother developed respiratory problems and was advised by her doctor to move to a drier climate, upon which the two moved to Los Angeles in 1936.
Turner's discovery is considered a show-business legend and part of Hollywood mythology among film and popular cultural historians.[d] One version of the story erroneously has her discovery occurring at Schwab's Pharmacy, which Turner claimed was the result of a reporting error that began circulating in articles published by columnist Sidney Skolsky. By her own account, as a junior at Hollywood High School, Turner skipped a typing class and bought a Coca-Cola at the Top Hat Malt Shop located on the southeast corner of Sunset Boulevard and McCadden Place. While in the shop, she was spotted by William R. Wilkerson, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter. Wilkerson was attracted by her beauty and physique, and with the permission of her mother, referred her to the actor/comedian/talent agent Zeppo Marx. In December 1936, Turner was introduced by Marx to film director Mervyn LeRoy, who signed her to a fifty-dollar weekly contract with Warner Bros. on February 22, 1937. She soon became a protégée of LeRoy, who suggested she take the stage name Lana Turner, a name she would come to legally adopt several years later.
Turner made her feature film debut in LeRoy's They Won't Forget (1937), a crime drama in which she played a teenage murder victim. Though she only appeared onscreen for a few minutes, Wilkerson wrote in The Hollywood Reporter that her performance was "worthy of more than a passing note." The film earned her the nickname "the Sweater Girl" for her form-fitting attire, which accentuated her bust. Turner herself always detested the nickname, and upon seeing a sneak preview of the film, she recalled being profoundly embarrassed and "squirming lower and lower" into her seat. She stated that she had "never seen myself walking before ... [It was] the first time [I was] conscious of my body." Several years after the film's release, Modern Screen journalist Nancy Squire wrote that Turner "made a sweater look like something Cleopatra was saving for the next visiting Caesar." Shortly after completing They Won't Forget, she made an appearance in James Whale's historical comedy The Great Garrick (1937), a biographical film about British actor David Garrick, in which she had a small role portraying an actress posing as a chambermaid.
In late 1937, LeRoy was hired as an executive at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), and asked Jack L. Warner to allow Turner to relocate with him to MGM. Warner obliged, as he believed Turner would not "amount to anything." Turner left Warner Bros. and signed a contract with MGM for $100 a week. The same year, she was loaned to United Artists for a minor role as a maid in The Adventures of Marco Polo. Her first starring role for MGM was scheduled to be an adaptation of The Sea-Wolf, co-starring Clark Gable, but the project was eventually shelved. Instead, she was assigned opposite teen idol Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in the Andy Hardy film Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938). During the shoot, Turner completed her studies with an educational social worker, allowing her to graduate high school that year. The film was a box-office success, and her appearance in it as a flirtatious high school student convinced studio head Louis B. Mayer that Turner could be the next Jean Harlow, a sex symbol who had died six months before Turner's arrival at MGM. Mayer helped further Turner's career by giving her roles in several youth-oriented films in the late 1930s, such as Dramatic School (1938), in which she played a troubled drama student, and These Glamour Girls (1939), in which she was billed "the red-headed sensation who brought "it" back to the screen."
In her following film, Dancing Co-Ed (1939), Turner was given first-billing portraying Patty Marlow, a dancer's partner who becomes pregnant. The film was a commercial success, and led to Turner appearing on the cover of Look magazine. In February 1940, she garnered significant publicity when she eloped to Las Vegas with 28-year-old bandleader Artie Shaw, her co-star in Dancing Co-Ed. Though they had only briefly known each other, Turner recalled being "stirred by his eloquence," and the two spontaneously decided to get married after their first date. Their marriage only lasted four months, but was highly publicized, and led MGM executives to grow concerned over Turner's "impulsive behavior." In the spring of 1940, after the two had divorced, Turner discovered she was pregnant and had an abortion. In contemporaneous press, it was noted she had been hospitalized for "exhaustion." She would later recall that Shaw treated her "like an untutored blonde savage, and took no pains to conceal his opinion." In the midst of her marriage to Shaw, she starred in We Who Are Young, a drama in which she played a woman who marries her co-worker against their employer's policy.
In early 1940, Turner was set to star in a remake of Our Dancing Daughters, but the film was never made. Instead, she starred in Two Girls on Broadway, in which she received top-billing over established co-stars Joan Blondell and George Murphy. A remake of The Broadway Melody, the film was marketed as featuring Turner's "hottest, most daring role." The same year, she had a lead role in the musical Ziegfeld Girl, opposite James Stewart, Judy Garland, and Hedy Lamarr, in which she portrayed Sheila Regan, an alcoholic aspiring actress based on Lillian Lorraine.Ziegfeld Girl marked a personal and professional shift for Turner: She claimed it as the first role that got her "interested in acting," and the film's commercial success concurrently elevated her status at MGM, earning her a weekly salary raise to $1,500 as well as a personal makeup artist and trailer.
She then took a supporting role as an ingénue in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), a Freudian-influenced horror film, with Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman. MGM had initially cast Turner in the lead, but Tracy specifically requested Bergman for the part. The studio re-cast Turner in the smaller role, though she was still given top-billing. While the film was financially successful,Time magazine panned it, calling it "a pretentious resurrection of Robert Louis Stevenson's ghoulish classic ... As for Lana Turner, fully clad for a change, and the rest of the cast ... they are as wooden as their roles."
Turner was then cast in the Western Honky Tonk (1941), the first of four films in which she would star opposite Clark Gable. The Turner-Gable films' successes were often heightened by gossip-column rumors about a relationship between the two. In January 1942, she began shooting her second picture with Gable, titled Somewhere I'll Find You; however, the production was halted for several weeks after the death of Gable's wife, Carole Lombard, in a plane crash. Meanwhile, the press continued to fuel rumors that Turner and Gable were romantic offscreen, which Turner vehemently denied. "I adored Mr. Gable, but we were [just] friends," she later recalled. "When six o'clock came, he went his way and I went mine." Her next project was Johnny Eager (1941), a violent mobster film in which she portrayed a socialite.James Agee of Time magazine was critical of co-star Robert Taylor's performance, and noted: "Lana Turner is similarly handicapped: Metro has swathed her best assets in a toga, swears that she shall become an actress, or else. Under these adverse circumstances, stars Taylor and Turner are working under wraps."
At the advent of World War II, Turner's increasing prominence in Hollywood led to her becoming a popular pin-up girl, and her image appeared painted on the noses of U.S. fighter planes, bearing the nickname "Tempest Turner." In June 1942, she embarked on a ten-week war bond tour throughout the western United States with her co-star Gable. During the tour, she began promising kisses to the highest war bond buyers; while selling bonds at the Pioneer Courthouse in Portland, Oregon, she sold a $5,000 bond to a man for two kisses, and another to an elderly man for $50,000. Arriving to sell bonds in her hometown of Wallace, Idaho, she was greeted with a banner that read "Welcome home, Lana," followed by a large celebration during which the mayor declared a holiday in her honor. Upon completing the tour, Turner had sold $5.25 million (equivalent to $78.6 million in 2017) in war bonds. Throughout the war, Turner continued to make regular appearances at U.S. troop events and area bases, though she confided to friends that she found visiting the hospital wards of injured soldiers emotionally difficult.
In July 1942, Turner met her second husband, actor-turned-restaurateur Joseph Stephen "Steve" Crane, at a dinner party in Los Angeles. The two eloped to Las Vegas a week after they began dating. However, Turner annulled the marriage four months later upon discovering that Crane's previous divorce had not yet been finalized. After discovering she was pregnant in November 1942, Turner remarried Crane in Tijuana in March 1943. Though she wanted multiple children, Turner had Rh-negative blood, which caused fetal anemia and made it difficult to carry a child to term. During her pregnancy, Turner was urged by doctors to undergo a therapeutic abortion to avoid potentially life-threatening complications, but she managed to carry the child to term. She gave birth to a daughter, Cheryl, on July 25, 1943. Turner's blood condition resulted in Cheryl being born with near-fatal erythroblastosis fetalis. Cheryl was Turner's only child; she would subsequently suffer three stillbirths after Cheryl was born.
Meanwhile, publicity over Turner's remarriage to Crane led MGM to play up her image as a sex symbol in her third film with Clark Gable, Slightly Dangerous (1943), in which she portrayed a woman who moves to New York City and poses as the long-lost daughter of a millionaire. Released in the midst of Turner's pregnancy, the film was financially successful but received mixed reviews, with Bosley Crowther of The New York Times writing: "No less than four Metro writers must have racked their brains for all of five minutes to think up the rags-to-riches fable ... Indeed, there is cause for suspicion that they didn't even bother to think." In August 1944, Turner divorced Crane, citing his gambling and unemployment as primary reasons. A lifelong Democrat who was involved in the Hollywood Democratic Committee, she spent the remainder of the year campaigning for Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1944 presidential election. In 1945, she co-starred with Laraine Day and Susan Peters in Keep Your Powder Dry, a war drama about three disparate women who join the Women's Army Corps. She was then cast as the female lead in Week-End at the Waldorf, a loose remake of Grand Hotel (1932) in which she portrayed a stenographer (a role originated by Joan Crawford). The film was a box-office hit.
After the war, Turner was cast in a lead role opposite John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), a film noir based on James M. Cain's debut novel of the same name. In the film, she portrays Cora, a diner proprietor who devises a plan to murder her husband with a drifter who has become her lover. The now-classic film noir marked a turning point in Turner's career as her first femme fatale role. Reviews of the film, and in particular, Turner's performance, were glowing, with Bosley Crowther of The New York Times writing it was "the role of her career."Life magazine named the film their "Movie of the Week" in April 1946, and noted that both Turner and Garfield were "aptly cast" and "take over the screen, [creating] more fireworks than the Fourth of July." Turner commented on her decision to take the role:
I finally got tired of making movies where all I did was walk across the screen and look pretty. I got a big chance to do some real acting in The Postman Always Rings Twice, and I'm not going to slip back if I can help it. I tried to persuade the studio to give me something different. But every time I went into my argument about how bad a picture was, they'd say, "well, it's making a fortune". That licked me.
The Postman Always Rings Twice became a major box office success, which prompted the studio to take more risks on Turner, casting her outside of the glamorous sex symbol roles she had come to be known for. In August 1946, it was announced Turner was set to replace Katharine Hepburn in the big-budget historical drama Green Dolphin Street (1947), a role for which she darkened her hair and lost 15 pounds. The film was produced by Carey Wilson, who insisted on casting Turner based on her performance in The Postman Always Rings Twice; in the film, Turner portrayed the daughter of a wealthy patriarch who pursues a relationship with a man in love with her sister. Turner later recalled she was surprised about replacing Hepburn, saying: "I'm about the most un-Hepburnish actress on the lot. But it was just what I wanted to do." It was her first starring role that did not center on her looks. In an interview, Turner said: "I even go running around in the jungles of New Zealand in a dress that's filthy and ragged. I don't wear any make-up and my hair's a mess." Nevertheless, she insisted she would not give up her glamorous image. In the midst of filming Green Dolphin Street, Turner began an affair with actor Tyrone Power, whom she considered to be the love of her life. She discovered she was pregnant with Power's child in the fall of 1947, but chose to have an abortion. During this time, she also had romantic affairs with Frank Sinatra and Howard Hughes, the latter of which lasted for twelve weeks in late 1946.
Turner's next film was the romantic drama Cass Timberlane, in which she played a young woman in love with an older congressman, a role for which Jennifer Jones, Vivien Leigh, and Virginia Grey had also been considered. As of early 1946, Turner was set for the role, but schedules with Green Dolphin Street almost prohibited her from taking it, and by late 1946, she was nearly recast. Production of Cass Timberlane was very exhausting for Turner, as it was shot in between retakes of Green Dolphin Street.Cass Timberlane earned Turner favorable reviews, with Variety noting: "Turner is the surprise of the picture via her top performance thespically. In a role that allows her the gamut from tomboy to the pangs of childbirth and from being another man's woman to remorseful wife, she seldom fails to acquit herself creditably."
In August 1947-- only moments after having completed filming of Cass Timberlane-- Turner agreed to appear as the female lead in the World War II-set romantic drama Homecoming (1948), in which she was again paired with Clark Gable, portraying a female army lieutenant who falls in love an American surgeon (Gable). She was the studio's first choice for the role, but they were reluctant to offer her the part, considering her overbooked schedule.Homecoming was well-received by audiences, and Turner and Gable were nicknamed "the team that generates steam." By this period, Turner was at the zenith of her film career, and was not only MGM's most popular star, but also one of the 10 highest-paid women in the United States, with annual earnings of $226,000 (equivalent to $2,300,000 in 2017).
In late 1947, Turner was cast as Lady de Winter in The Three Musketeers, her first Technicolor film. Around this time, she began dating Henry J. "Bob" Topping Jr., a millionaire socialite and brother of New York Yankees owner Dan Topping and a grandson of tin-plate magnate Daniel G. Reid. Topping proposed to her at the 21 Club in New York City by dropping a diamond ring into her martini, and they married shortly after in April 1948 at the Topping family mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. Turner's wedding celebrations interfered with her filming schedule of The Three Musketeers, and she arrived to the set three days late. Studio head Louis B. Mayer threatened to suspend her contract, but Turner managed to leverage her box-office draw with MGM to negotiate an expansion of her role in the film, as well as a salary increase amounting to $5,000 per week.The Three Musketeers went on to become a box office success, earning $4.5 million at the box office, but Turner's contract was put on temporary suspension by Mayer after production finished.
In 1949, Turner was to star in A Life of Her Own (1950), a George Cukor-directed drama about a woman who aspires to be a model in New York City. The project was shelved for several months, and Turner told journalists in December 1949: "Everybody agrees that the script is still a pile of junk. I'm anxious to get started. By the time this one comes out, it will be almost three years since I was last on the screen, in The Three Musketeers. I don't think it's healthy to stay off the screen that long." Though she was unenthusiastic about the screenplay, Turner agreed to appear in the film after executives promised her suspension would lifted upon doing so.A Life of Her Own was one of the least successful of Cukor's films, receiving unfavorable reviews and low box-office sales. On May 24, 1950, Turner left her hand and footprints in front of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Meanwhile, in response to the poor reception of A Life of Her Own, MGM attempted to rebrand Turner by casting her in musicals. The first, Mr. Imperium, released in March 1951, was a box office flop, and had Turner starring as an American woman who is wooed by a European prince. "The script was stupid," she recalled. "I fought against doing the picture, but I lost." It earned her unfavorable reviews, with one critic from the St. Petersburg Times writing: "Without Lana Turner, Mr. Imperium ... would be a better picture."
During this period, Turner's personal finances were in disarray, and she was facing bankruptcy. Suffering from chronic depression over her career and financial problems, she attempted suicide in September 1951 by slitting her wrists in a locked bathroom. She was saved by her business manager, Benton Cole, who broke down the bathroom door and called emergency medical services. The following year, she began filming her second musical, The Merry Widow. During the shoot, Turner began an affair with her co-star Fernando Lamas, which ended after Lamas physically assaulted her; the incident also resulted in him losing his contract with MGM upon the production's completion.The Merry Widow proved more commercially successful than Turner's previous musical, Mr. Imperium, despite receiving unfavorable critical reviews. In June 1952, she appeared in advertisements for Lustre Creme Shampoo, who extolled her selection by Modern Screen as having the "most beautiful hair in the world."
Her next project was opposite Kirk Douglas in Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), a drama focusing on the rise and fall of a Hollywood film mogul, in which Turner portrayed an alcoholic movie star.The Bad and the Beautiful was both a critical and commercial success, and earned her favorable reviews. A little over a week before its release in December 1952, Turner divorced her third husband, Topping. She later claimed Topping's drinking problem and excessive gambling as her impetus for the divorce. At this time, she had begun filming Latin Lovers, a romantic musical in which Lamas had originally been cast; however, he was replaced by Ricardo Montalbán upon being dismissed by MGM.
In the spring of 1953, Turner relocated to Europe for 18 months to make two films under a tax credit for American productions shot abroad. The films were Flame and the Flesh, in which she portrayed a manipulative woman who takes advantage of a musician, and Betrayed, an espionage thriller set in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands; the latter marked Turner's fourth and final film appearance opposite Clark Gable. In The New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote of Betrayed: "By the time this picture gets around to figuring out whether the betrayer is Miss Turner or Mr. Mature, it has taken the audience through such a lengthy and tedious amount of detail that it has not only frayed all possible tension but it has aggravated patience as well." Upon returning to the United States in September 1953, Turner married actor Lex Barker, whom she had been dating since their first meeting at a party held by Marion Davies in the summer of 1952.
In 1955, MGM's new studio head Dore Schary had Turner star as a pagan temptress in the Biblical epic The Prodigal (1955), her first CinemaScope feature. She was reluctant to appear in the film due to the character's scanty, "atrocious" costumes and "stupid" lines, and during the shoot struggled to get along with co-star Edmund Purdom, who she later described as "a young man with a remarkably high opinion of himself." Upon the film's release, Variety deemed it "a big-scale spectacle ...End result of all this flamboyant polish, however, is only fair entertainment." Turner was subsequently cast in John Farrow's The Sea Chase (1955), an adventure film starring John Wayne in which she portrayed a femme fatale spy aboard a ship. The film, released one month after The Prodigal, was a commercial success.
MGM subsequently gave Turner the titular role of Diane de Poitiers in the period drama Diane (1956), which had originally been optioned by the studio in the 1930s for Greta Garbo.Roger Moore, her co-star, praised Turner's acting technique and remembered her as "a wonderful actress and feisty lady," recalling an incident on the set in which she told the film's producer Edwin Knopf to "fuck off" over an apparently trivial disagreement. When Moore later inquired about the disagreement, Turner responded: "Sweetheart, when I first came on this lot, all the producers fucked me. So now I'm fucking them."
After completing Diane, she was loaned to 20th Century Fox to headline The Rains of Ranchipur (1955), a remake of The Rains Came (1939), playing the wife of an aristocrat in the British Raj opposite Richard Burton. The production was rushed to accommodate a Christmas release and was completed in only three months, but it received unfavorable reviews from critics. Meanwhile, Diane was given a test screening in late December 1955, and was met with poor response from audiences. Though an elaborate marketing campaign was crafted to promote the film, it was a box office flop, and after its release MGM opted not to renew Turner's contract. Upon being formally released from her contract in February 1956, Turner gleefully told a reporter that she was "walking around in a daze. I've been sprung. After eighteen years at MGM, I'm a free agent ...I used to go on a bended knee to the front office and say, please give me a decent story. I'll work for nothing, just give me a good story. So what happened? The last time I begged for a good story they gave me The Prodigal." At the time of her contract termination, Turner's films had earned the studio over $50 million (equivalent to $450,061,200 in 2017).
In July of 1957, Turner filed for divorce from Barker after her daughter Cheryl alleged that he had regularly molested and raped her over the course of their marriage. According to Cheryl, Turner confronted Barker before forcing him out of their home at gunpoint. Weeks after her divorce, she began filming 20th Century Fox's Peyton Place, in which she was cast in the lead role of Constance MacKenzie, a New England mother struggling to maintain a relationship with her teenage daughter. The film, directed by Mark Robson, was adapted from Grace Metalious's best-selling novel of the same name. Released in December 1957, Peyton Place ended up being a major blockbuster hit, and its box-office success worked in Turner's favor as she had agreed to take a percentage of its overall earnings as opposed to a salary. She also received critical acclaim, with Variety noting that "Turner looks elegant" and "registers strongly." For her performance in the film, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Though grateful for the nomination, Turner would later state that she felt it was not "one of my better roles."
In January 1958, Paramount Pictures released The Lady Takes a Flyer, a romantic comedy in which Turner portrayed a female pilot. While shooting the film the previous spring, she had begun receiving phone calls and flowers on the set from mobster Johnny Stompanato, using the name "John Steele." Stompanato had close ties to the Los Angeles underworld and gangster Mickey Cohen, which he feared would dissuade her from dating him. Turner claimed she was unsure of how he obtained her phone number, but that she learned in later press that he allegedly collected the phone numbers of various Hollywood actresses, including June Allyson, Anita Ekberg, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. He pursued Turner aggressively, sending her various gifts such as vinyl records, an engraved gold watch, and a portrait of her he had commissioned by a local artist. Turner was "thoroughly intrigued" and began casually dating him. After a friend informed her of who he actually was, she confronted him and tried to break off the affair. Stompanato was not easily deterred, and over the course of the following year, they carried on a relationship filled with violent arguments, physical abuse, and repeated reconciliations. Turner would also claim that on one occasion he drugged her and took nude photographs of her while unconscious, potentially to use as blackmail.
In September 1957, Stompanato visited Turner in London, where she was filming Another Time, Another Place, co-starring Sean Connery. Their meeting was initially happy, but they soon began fighting. Stompanato became suspicious when Turner would not allow him to visit the set and, during one fight, he violently choked her. To avoid further confrontation, Turner and her makeup artist, Del Armstrong, called Scotland Yard in order to have Stompanato deported. Stompanato got wind of the plan and showed up on the set with a gun, threatening her and Connery, whom he warned to keep away from Turner. Connery answered by grabbing the gun out of Stompanato's hand and twisting his wrist, causing him to run off the set sheepishly. Turner and Armstrong later returned with two Scotland Yard detectives to the rented house where she and Stompanato were staying. The detectives advised Stompanato to leave and escorted him out of the house and also to the airport, where he boarded a plane back to the United States.
On the evening of March 26, 1958, Turner attended the Academy Awards to observe her nomination for Peyton Place and present the award for Best Supporting Actor. Stompanato, angered that he did not attend with her, awaited her return home that evening, whereupon he physically assaulted her. Around 8 p.m. on Friday, April 4, Stompanato arrived at Turner's rented home at 730 North Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills, which she had just begun leasing a week prior. The two began arguing heatedly in the bedroom, during which Stompanato threatened to kill Turner, her daughter, and her mother. Fearing that her mother's life was in danger, Cheryl, who had been watching television in an adjacent room, grabbed a kitchen knife and ran to Turner's defense.
According to testimony provided by Turner, Cheryl, who had been listening to the couple's fight behind the closed door, stabbed Stompanato in the stomach when Turner attempted to usher him out of the bedroom. Turner testified that she initially believed Cheryl had punched him, but realized he had been stabbed when he collapsed and she saw blood on his shirt. She immediately called a doctor, who arrived at the house shortly after, and he attempted to revive Stompanato with an adrenaline injection and an artificial respirator. Unable to obtain a pulse, the doctor called for emergency services, and Stompanato was pronounced dead at the scene. Later that night, Cheryl was surrendered at the Beverly Hills Police Department, where she was booked on a holding charge. An autopsy revealed Stompanato's cause of death as a single knife wound that penetrated his liver, portal vein, and aorta.
Due to Turner's high profile and the fact that the killing involved her teenage daughter, the case quickly became a media sensation. Over one hundred reporters and journalists attended the April 12, 1958 inquest, described by attendees as "near-riotous." After four hours of testimony and approximately 25 minutes of deliberation, the jury deemed the killing a justifiable homicide. Cheryl remained a temporary ward of the court until April 24, when a juvenile court hearing was held, during which the judge expressed concerns over her receiving "proper parental supervision." She was ultimately released to the care of her grandmother, and was ordered to regularly visit a psychiatrist alongside her parents.
Though Turner and her daughter were exonerated of any wrongdoing, public opinion on the event was varied, with numerous publications intimating that Turner's testimony at the inquest was a performance; Life magazine published a photo of Turner testifying in court with stills of her in court room scenes from three films she had starred in. The scandal also coincided with the release of Another Time, Another Place, and the film was met with poor box-office receipts and a lackluster critical response. Stompanato's family in Illinois sought a wrongful death suit of $750,000 (equivalent to $6,400,000 in 2017) in damages against both Turner and her ex-husband, Steve Crane. The suit was settled out of court for a reported $20,000 in May 1962.
In the trail of negative publicity related to Stompanato's death, Turner accepted the lead role in Ross Hunter's remake of Imitation of Life (1959) under the direction of Douglas Sirk. In the film, she portrayed Lora Meredith, a struggling stage actress who makes personal sacrifices to further her career. The production was difficult for Turner given the recent events of her personal life, and she suffered a panic attack on the first day of filming. Her co-star Juanita Moore recalled that Turner cried for three days after filming a scene in which Moore's character dies. When she returned to the set, "her face was so swollen, she couldn't work," Moore said.
Released in the spring of 1959, Imitation of Life was one of the biggest hits of the year, and the biggest of Turner's career: she owned 50% of the earnings of the picture, which, according to Hunter, made over $50 million in box office receipts. Reviews were mixed, though Variety praised her performance, writing: "Turner plays a character of changing moods, and her changes are remarkably effective, as she blends love and understanding, sincerity and ambition. The growth of maturity is reflected neatly in her distinguished portrayal." Critics and audiences could not help noticing that the plots of Peyton Place and Imitation of Life each seemed to mirror certain parts of Turner's private life, resulting in comparisons she found "painful." Specifically, both films depicted the troubled, complicated relationship between a single mother and her teenaged daughter. During this time, Turner's daughter Cheryl privately came out as a lesbian to her mother and father, who were both supportive of her. Cheryl's rebelliousness, however, was documented in the press, and she ran away from home on multiple occasions. Worried she was still suffering from the trauma of Stompanato's death, Turner sent Cheryl to the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut.
Shortly before the release of Imitation of Life in the spring of 1959, Turner was cast in a lead role in Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder, but walked off the set over a wardrobe disagreement, effectively dropping out of the production; she was replaced by Lee Remick. Instead, she took a lead role as a disturbed socialite in the film noir Portrait in Black (1960) opposite Anthony Quinn and Sandra Dee, which was a box-office success despite "horrendous" reviews. Ray Duncan of the Independent Star-News wrote that Turner "suffers prettily through it all, like a fashion model with a tight-fitting shoe."
In November 1960, Turner married her fifth husband, Frederick "Fred" May, a rancher and member of the May department-store family whom she had met at a beach party in Malibu shortly after filming Imitation of Life. Turner moved in with him on his ranch in Chino, California, where the two took care of horses and other animals. The following year, she made her final film at MGM with Bob Hope in Bachelor in Paradise (1961), a romantic comedy about an investigative writer (Hope) working on a book about the wives of a lavish California community; the film received mostly positive critical reception. Upon completing filming, Turner collected the remaining $92,000 from her pension fund with MGM. The same year, she starred in By Love Possessed (1961), based on James Gould Cozzens' novel, playing a woman who has an affair with a lawyer. On July 19, 1961, the film became the first in-flight movie to be shown on a regular basis on a scheduled airline flight, by Trans World Airlines (TWA) to its first-class passengers.
Turner and May separated in September 1962, divorcing shortly after in October. They remained friends throughout her later life, and she spoke positively both him and his subsequent wife. In 1965, she met Hollywood producer and businessman Robert Eaton, who was ten years her junior, through business associates. The two married in June of that year at his family's home in Arlington, Virginia.
In 1966, Turner had her last major starring role in the courtroom drama film Madame X, based on the 1904 play by Alexandre Bisson, in which Turner portrayed a lower-class woman who marries into a wealthy family. A review in the Chicago Tribune praised her performance, noting: "when she takes the stand in the final (with Keir Dullea) courtroom scene, her face resembling a dust bowl victory garden, it's the most devastating denouement since Barbara Fritchie poked her head out the window." Kaspar Monahan of the Pittsburgh Press lauded her performance, writing: "Her performance, I think, is far and away her very best, even rating Oscar consideration in next year's Academy Award race, unless the culture snobs gang up against her." The role earned Turner a David di Donatello Award for Best Actress that year. In late 1968, she began filming the low-budget thriller The Big Cube, in which she portrayed a glamorous heiress being dosed with LSD by her stepdaughter in hopes of driving her insane and receiving the family estate. One critic deemed Turner's acting in the film "strained and amateurish," and declared it "one of her poorest performances." In April 1969, Turner filed for divorce from Eaton after four years of marriage upon discovering he had been unfaithful to her. Weeks later, on May 9, 1969, she married Ronald Pellar, a nightclub hypnotist she had met at a Los Angeles disco. According to Turner, Pellar (also known as Ronald Dante or Dr. Dante) falsely claimed to have been raised in Singapore and have a Ph.D. in psychology.
With few film offers coming in, Turner signed on to appear in the television series Harold Robbins' The Survivors. Premiering in September 1969, the series was given a major national marketing campaign, with billboards featuring life-sized images of Turner. Despite ABC's extensive publicity campaign and the presence of other big-name stars, the program fared badly, and it was cancelled halfway into the season after a 15-week run in 1970. Meanwhile, after six months of marriage, Turner discovered Pellar had stolen $35,000 she had given him for an investment. In addition, she later accused him of stealing $100,000 worth of jewelry from her. Pellar denied the accusations and no charges were ever filed against him. She filed for divorce in January 1970, after which she claimed to be celibate for the remainder of her life. Turner married a total of eight times to seven different husbands, and later famously said: "My goal was to have one husband and seven children, but it turned out to be the other way around."
Turner returned to feature films with a lead role in the 1974 British horror film Persecution, in which she played a disturbed wealthy woman tormenting her son.Variety noted of her performance: "Under the circumstances, Turner's performance as Carrie, the perverted dame of the English manor, has reasonable poise." In April 1975, Turner spoke at a retrospective gala in New York City examining her career, which was attended by Andy Warhol, Sylvia Miles, Rex Reed, and numerous fans. Her next film was Bittersweet Love (1976), a romantic comedy in which she portrayed the mother of a woman who unwittingly marries her half-brother.Lawrence Van Gelder of The New York Times wrote that the film served "as a reminder that Miss Turner was never one of our subtler actresses."
In the early 1970s, Turner made a transition to theater, beginning with a production of Forty Carats, which toured to various cities on the east coast in 1971. A review in The Philadelphia Inquirer noted: "Miss Turner always could wear clothes well, and her Forty Carats is a fashion show in the guise of a frothy, little comedy. It wasn't much of a play even when Julie Harris was doing it, and it all but disappears under the old-time Hollywood glamor of Miss Turner's star presence." In 1975, she gave a single performance as Jessica Poole in The Pleasure of His Company opposite Louis Jourdan at the Arlington Park Theater in Chicago. From 1976 to 1978, she starred in a touring production of Bell, Book and Candle, playing Gillian Holroyd. Critic Elaine Matas noted of a 1977 performance that Turner was "brilliant" and "the bright spot in an otherwise mediocre play." In the fall of 1978, she appeared in a Chicago production of Divorce Me, Darling, an original play in which she portrayed a San Francisco divorce attorney. During rehearsals, a stagehand who worked with her on the production told reporters that she was "the hardest working broad I've known."Richard Christiansen of the Chicago Tribune praised her performance, writing that, "though she is still a very nervous and inexpert actress, she is giving by far her most winning performance."
Turner later admitted that she was on a "downhill slide" for much of the 1970s, drinking heavily, not eating, missing performances, and weighing only 95 pounds. "I was a sipper but I never got high or drunk," Turner said in a 1982 interview. "It was much more insidious. It was starting to affect my liver and my health ... I was very sick." She decided to stop drinking, and began eating all organic food; she would credit herbalism as helping her overcome her alcoholism. Around this time, she also had what she referred to as a "religious awakening," and began practicing her Catholic faith.
Between 1979 and 1980, she returned to theater appearing in Murder Among Friends, a murder-mystery play which showed in various U.S. cities. In 1980, Turner made her final feature film appearance in the comedy horror film Witches' Brew, an adaptation of Fritz Leiber's 1943 book Conjure Wife co-starring Teri Garr. On October 25, 1981, the National Film Society presented Turner with an Artistry in Cinema award. In December 1981, it was announced Turner would appear as the mysterious Jacqueline Perrault in an episode of Falcon Crest, marking her first television role in twelve years. Her appearance was a ratings success, and her character returned for an additional five episodes.
In January 1982, she reprised her role in Murder Among Friends, which toured throughout the U.S. that year; paired with Bob Fosse's Dancin', the play earned a combined gross of $400,000 during one week at Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall in June 1982. In September, Turner released an autobiography entitled Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth. She subsequently guest-starred on an episode of The Love Boat in 1985, which marked her final on-screen appearance.
Turner was a regular drinker and heavy cigarette smoker for much of her life. During her contract with MGM, photographs taken of her holding cigarettes had to be airbrushed at the studio's request in an effort to conceal her smoking. In her early sixties, in an effort to preserve her health, Turner stopped drinking, but was unable to quit smoking. In the spring of 1992, she visited her doctor complaining of a sore throat, and was subsequently diagnosed with throat cancer. In a press release, she stated that the cancer had been detected early and had not impacted her vocal cords or larynx. On May 13, 1992, she underwent exploratory surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to remove the cancer. In June 1992, it was reported that the cancer had metastasized to her jaw and lungs. At the urging of her daughter, Turner underwent radiation therapy, and in February 1993, announced that she was in full remission. Despite treatment, the cancer returned in July 1994.
In September 1994, Turner made her final public appearance at the San Sebastián International Film Festival in Spain to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award, and was confined to a wheelchair for much of the event. She died nine months later at the age of 74 on June 29, 1995, of complications from the cancer at her home in Century City, Los Angeles, with her daughter Cheryl by her side. According to Cheryl, Turner's death was a "total shock" as she had appeared to be in better health, and had recently completed seven weeks of radiation therapy. Her friend, comedian Milton Berle, made a public tribute, saying: "Lana was a very good, good and fine actress, besides being a glamor girl. She was fun ... I for one, with many many millions, are really going to miss her." Turner's remains were cremated and scattered in Oahu, Hawaii.
Cheryl Crane, Turner's only child, and Crane's life partner Joyce LeRoy, whom she said she accepted "as a second daughter," inherited some of Turner's personal effects and $50,000 in Turner's will (her estate was estimated in court documents to be worth $1.7 million [$3.0 million in 2017 dollars]) with the majority of her estate being left to Carmen Lopez Cruz, her maid and companion for 45 years and her caregiver during her final illness. Crane challenged the will and Lopez claimed that the majority of the estate was consumed by probate costs, legal fees, and medical expenses.
In her early career, MGM executive Mervyn LeRoy envisioned Turner as a replacement for the recently-deceased Jean Harlow, and began developing her image as a sex symbol. In her early films, such as They Won't Forget (1937) and Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), she embodied an "innocent sexuality" portraying ingénues. Film historian Jeanine Basinger notes that she "represented the girl who'd rather sit on the diving board to show off her figure than get wet in the water ... the girl who'd rather kiss than kibbitz."
After Turner's first marriage in 1940, columnist Louella Parsons wrote: "If Lana Turner will behave herself and not go completely berserk she is headed for a top spot in motion pictures. She is the most glamorous actress since Jean Harlow." She also likened her to Clara Bow, adding: "Both of them, trusting and lovable, use their hearts instead of their heads. Lana ... has always acted hastily and been guided more by her own ideas than by any advance any studio gave her." By the mid-1940s, Turner had been married and divorced three times, given birth to her daughter Cheryl, and had numerous publicized affairs. Subsequently, her image in 1946's The Postman Always Rings Twice marked a departure from her strictly-sex symbol screen persona to that of a full-fledged femme fatale.
By the 1950s, both critics and audiences noted that Turner's rocky personal life (particularly surrounding her daughter's 1958 killing of Stompanato) had begun paralleling the roles she played. The likeness was most evident in Peyton Place and Imitation of Life, both films in which Turner portrayed single mothers struggling to maintain relationships with their teenaged daughters. Film scholar Richard Dyer cites Turner as an example of one of Hollywood's earliest stars whose publicized private life perceptibly inflected their careers: "Her career is marked by an unusually, even spectacularly, high degree of interpenetration between her publicly available private life and her films ... not only do her vehicles furnish characters and situations in accord with her off-screen image, but frequently incidents in them echo incidents in her life so that by the end of her career films like Peyton Place, Imitation of Life, Madame X and Love Has Many Faces seem in parts like mere illustrations of her life."
Basinger echoes similar sentiments, noting that Turner was often "cast only in roles that were symbolic of what the public knew--or thought they knew--of her life from headlines she made as a person, not as a movie character ... Her person became her persona." In addition, Basinger credits Turner as the first mainstream female star to "take the male prerogative openly for herself," publicly indulging in romances and affairs that in turn fueled the publicity surrounding her. Film scholar Jessica Hope Jordan considers Turner an "implosion" of both a "real-life image and star image" and suggests that she utilized one to mask the other, thus rendering her representative of the "ultimate femme fatale." Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen took note of the intersections between Turner's life and screen persona early in her career, writing in 1946:
Lana Turner is a super-star for many reasons but chiefly because she is the same off-screen as she is on. Some of the stars are magnetic dazzlers on celluloid and ordinary, practical, polo-coated little things in private life. Not so Lana. No one who adored her in movies would be disappointed to meet her in the flesh. The flesh is the same. The biography is as colorful as any plot she has ever romped through on screen. The clothes she wears are just like the clothes you pay to see her in on Saturday night at the Bijou. The physical allure is just as heavy when she looks at a headwaiter as when she looks at a hero.
Though her publicized personal life was marked by scandal, Turner cultivated a poised and elegant persona over the course of her career, and has been cited by historians as one of the most glamorous film stars of all time. In 1951, the Academy of Contemporary Arts named her the "most glamorous woman in the history of international art." Commenting on her image, she once told a journalist: "Forsaking glamour is like forsaking my identity. It's an image I've worked too hard to obtain and preserve."Michael Gordon, who directed Turner in Portrait in Black, remembered her as "a very talented actress whose chief reliability was what I regarded as impoverished taste ... Lana was not a dummy, and she would give me wonderful rationalizations why she should wear pendant earrings. They had nothing to do with the role, but they had to do with her particular self-image."
Film historians Joe Morella and Edward Epstein noted that, unlike many female stars, Turner "wasn't resented by female fans," and that women made up a large part of her fanbase in later years. Turner maintained her glamorous image into her late career; a 1966 film review characterized her as "the glitter and glamour of Hollywood." In the mid-1970s, it was noted that Turner had also amassed a significant fanbase of gay men. While she consistently embraced her glamorous persona, she was also vocal about her dedication to acting and attained a reputation as a versatile, hard-working actress.
Turner has also been noted by historians as a sex symbol, a popular culture icon, and "a symbol of the American Dream fulfilled ... Because of her, being discovered at a soda fountain has become almost as cherished an ideal as being born in a log cabin." Though Turner has been noted as a cultural icon, little scholarly study has been undertaken on her career, and opinion of her legacy as an actress has divided critics: Upon Turner's death, John Updike wrote in The New Yorker that she "was a faded period piece, an old-fashioned glamour queen whose fifty-four films, over four decades didn't amount, retrospectively to much ... As a performer, she was purely a studio-made product."
Defenders of Turner's acting ability, such as Jessica Hope Jordan and James Robert Parish, cite her performance in The Postman Always Rings Twice as an argument for the value of her work. Her role in the film has also resulted in her being frequently associated with film noir and the femme fatale archetype in critical circles. In a 1973 Films in Review retrospective on her career, Turner was referred to as "a master of the motion picture technique and a hardworking craftsman." Jeanine Basinger has similarly championed Turner's acting, writing of her performance in The Bad and the Beautiful: "None of the sex symbols who have been touted as actresses-not Hayworth or Gardner or Taylor or Monroe-have ever given such a fine performance."
Turner has been depicted and referenced in numerous works across literature, film, music, and art. In literature, she is the subject of the poem "Lana Turner has collapsed" by the poet Frank O'Hara, and she and Stompanato appear as minor characters in James Ellroy's novel L.A. Confidential (1990). Portrayals of Turner have also appeared in film: Brenda Bakke portrayed her in a scene of the 1995 film adaptation of Ellroy's novel. In popular music, Turner appears mentioned on the rap section of Madonna's "Vogue" next to stars from the Golden Age era of Hollywood such as Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, and Marilyn Monroe. She is also mentioned in Nina Simone's "My Baby Just Cares for Me," and "Nancy (with the Laughing Face)," a song popularly recorded by Frank Sinatra. American singer-songwriter Elizabeth Grant, better known as Lana Del Rey, devised her stage name inspired by Turner and the Ford Del Rey sedan. In 2002, artist Eloy Torrez included Turner in an outdoor mural, Portrait of Hollywood, painted on the auditorium of Hollywood High School, her alma mater. Turner has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6241 Hollywood Boulevard.
|June 2, 1941||Lux Radio Theatre||They Drive by Night||Lana Carlsen||Guest-starring with Lucille Ball|||
|January 19, 1942||Philip Morris Playhouse||The Devil and Miss Jones||Mary Jones||Co-starring with Lionel Barrymore|||
|July 5, 1944||The Orson Welles Almanac||The Mercury Wonder Show||Herself||Guest-starring with Susan Hayward|||
|June 19, 1944||The Orson Welles Almanac||Fifth War Loan Drive|||
|May 3, 1945||Suspense||Fear Paints a Picture||Julia|||
|April 11, 1946||Lux Radio Theatre||Honky Tonk||Elizabeth Cotton||Co-starring with John Hodiak|||
|June 17, 1946||Screen Guild Theater||Marriage Is a Private Affair||Theo Scofield West||Co-starring with John Hodiak|||
|August 14, 1946||Academy Award Theater||Vivacious Lady||Francey|||
|April 13, 1948||The Bob Hope Show||Herself||Skit performed with Bob Hope|||
|September 19, 1949||Lux Radio Theatre||Green Dolphin Street||Marianne Patourel|||
|1971||Forty Carats||Ann Stanley||Touring performance|||
|1975||The Pleasure of His Company||Jessica Anne Poole||Single performance; Arlington Park Theater, Chicago|||
|1978||Divorce Me, Darling||Amelia Conway||Performances at Drury Lane Theatre, Chicago|||
|1976-78||Bell, Book and Candle||Gillian Holroyd||Touring performance; co-starring with Patrick Horgan|||
|1980-82||Murder Among Friends||Angela Forrester||Touring performance|||