Lana Turner (1920-1995)

Lana Turner
Lana Turner

Lana Turner Lana Turner was one of the most famous actresses in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950's. Her career lasted for over 40 years although her fame stemmed as much from her tempestuous private life as from her acting successes.

Her best known performances were in 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' in 1946 and 'The Bad and the Beautiful' in 1952. Other major roles were as a rebellious student in 'These Glamour Girls' in 1939 and as a shallow performer in 'Ziegfeld Girl' in 1941.

Her private life was sensationally made public in 1958 when her lover, gangster Johnny Stompanato, was stabbed to death and after a lurid court case her daughter Cheryl Crane was convicted of the crime.


Lana Turner was born Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner on February 8, 1920 in Wallace, Idaho. When she was 6 years old the family moved to San Francisco where her parents separated. In 1929, her father was murdered during a mugging and shortly thereafter her mother moved the family to Los Angeles where work was easier to find.

Lana was raised as a Catholic and as a young girl hoped to become a nun. Her second ambition was to become a dress designer. Her mother worked long hours as a beautician but the family were extremely poor.

The accepted legend is that Lana was discovered in a drugstore and offered a job in pictures. This is almost certainly a publicity department creation. As a teenager Lana was certainly a beautiful young lady but she had to do the rounds of agents and studios to get her first break, just as did the other starlets in Hollywood.

Early Movie Career

Her first movie role was was a small part in 'They Won't Forget' at age 17 years in 1937. She did not speak a word but the skin tight sweater she wore created a sensation and gave her the title "Sweater Girl". Her road to stardom had begun.

The part got her noticed and she was signed by director Mervyn Le Roy who then guided her early career. It was he who advised her to choose a catchy Christian name and when he moved from Warner Bros. to MGM he took Lana with him.

She began appearing in numerous films, including 'The Adventures of Marco Polo' and 'Love Finds Andy Hardy' in 1938, 'These Glamour Girls' and 'Calling Dr. Kildare' in 1939 and 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' in 1941. She took acting lessons and soon became a regular performer in MGM movies of the time. She co-starred successfully with top leading men such as Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Robert Taylor but, although she rose rapidly to national fame, it was because of her often lurid private life and not because of the movies she made, most of which were quite ordinary.

The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946

The highspot of Lana's career in the 1940s was the film noir, 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' in 1946 in which she starred opposite John Garfield. The film was a major critical and commercial success. It caused MGM to rethink their policy on which films to cast her in and they began to take more risks, casting her outside the glamorous sex symbol roles for which she had become well known.

In 1947 she appeared with' Spencer Tracy in 'Cass Timberlane', which was panned by the critics but which did well at the box office. 'A Life of Her Own' in 1950 paired her with Ray Milland and although the film lost money Lana herself received good reviews. She was also widely praised for her performance in the 1952 hit movie, 'The Bad and the Beautiful', co-starring with Kirk Douglas.

The remainder of the 1950s were a disappointing time for Lana with a series of poor films. The exception was the hugely successful 'Peyton Place' in 1957, for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Receipts for the movie increased dramatically with the publicity from Lana's real-life tragedy, and 1958 court case, when her lover, Johnny Stompanato was killed by her daughter.

Lana's career entered a downward path as movie offers dried up. Her last starring role was in 1966 in 'Madame X'.

Later Career

As Lana's movie career came to a halt, she started appearing on television. Her only lead role was in 1969 in 'The Survivors' series. Despite a major publicity build up, the series did not do well and was pulled after a 15-week run.

Lana admitted to regressing into alcoholism during the 1970s. She hardly ate and became notoriously unreliable. To her great credit she fought back against the disease and became a vociferous supporter of herbal remedies.

She continued to appear in several television roles, most notably on the series 'Falcon Crest' from 1982. She also appeared on 'The Love Boat' in 1985, but the majority of her final decade was spent out of the public eye.


Lana was a very beautiful woman who attracted a lot of admirers and she was no shrinking violet. She had many affairs with amongst others, Howard Hughes, Frank Sinatra, Tyrone Power, Robert Taylor, Clark Gable,and Mickey Rooney. In addition she married eight times to seven men.

The longest marriage, to Henry J. Topping, Jr. lasted four years and seven months and the shortest was to Stephen Crane which was annulled after six months and 18 days. She then married Crane for a second time 38 days later. The second time lasted all of seventeen months before it was annulled.

Her marriages were as follows:
1) 1940 Feb-September Bandleader, Artie Shaw
2) July 1942 - February 1943 and and 3) March 1943 - August 1944 Actor, Stephen Crane.
The first marriage was swiftly annulled due to a previous and still legal marriage of Crane. After Crane's divorce was finalized, he and Lana remarried and had a daughter, Cheryl Christina Crane, in 1943.
4) 1948 - 1952 Millionaire socialite, Henry J. "Bob" Topping Jr.
5) 1953 - 1957 Actor, Lex Barker. Lana's daughter, Cheryl claims in her memoir that Barker raped her and was forced out of the family home at gunpoint by Lana.
6) 1960 - 1962 Rancher, Frederick May
7) 1965 - 1969 Movie producer, Robert P. Eaton
8) 1969 - 1972 Nightclub hypnotist Ronald Pellar (also known as Ronald Dante).
Pellar disappeared five months after the wedding. Lana later accused him of stealing $135,000 from her. He later served three and a half years in prison for trying to arrange the murder of a rival hypnotist.

Lana wrote an autobiography in 1982 called "Lana: The Lady, the Legend, the Truth," in which she described her eight marriages, one attempted suicide, two abortions, three stillbirths, her alcoholism and her return to Roman Catholicism in 1980.

Scandal 1958
Lana seemed incapable of forming lasting relationships and this led directly to a tragedy involving her daughter, which would dominate her entire career.

When her marriage to Lex Barker ended in 1957, she started a relationship with a notorious gangster called Johnny Stompanato.He was a violent man and the relationship was abusive. Things came to a head on the evening of April 4, 1958, when Lana's daughter, Cheryl, stabbed Stompanato to death. At the coroner's inquest, she claimed that he was attacking her mother and would have killed her. The inquest returned a verdict of justifiable homicide.

Lana had been a heavy smoker all her life and in May 1992 she was diagnosed with throat cancer. She underwent radiation therapy, but after a period in remission the cancer returned. Lana Turner died at her home in Century City, Los Angeles on June 29, 1995. She was 74 years old.

Lana Turner Academy Awards

No Wins:
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Actress ... Peyton Place (1958)

Lana Turner Filmography

They Won't Forget
Topper (uncredited)
The Great Garrick
The Adventures of Marco Polo
Love Finds Andy Hardy
The Chaser (scenes deleted)
Four's a Crowd (uncredited)
Rich Man, Poor Girl
Dramatic School
Calling Dr. Kildare
These Glamour Girls
Every Other Inch a Lady
Choose Your Partner
We Who Are Young
Ziegfeld Girl
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Honky Tonk
Johnny Eager
Somewhere I'll Find You
The Youngest Profession
Slightly Dangerous
Du Barry Was a Lady (uncredited)
Marriage Is a Private Affair
Keep Your Powder Dry
Week-End at the Waldorf
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Green Dolphin Street
Cass Timberlane
The Three Musketeers
A Life of Her Own
You Belong to My Heart
Singin' In The Rain (uncredited)
The Merry Widow
The Bad and the Beautiful
Latin Lovers
Flame and the Flesh
The Prodigal
The Sea Chase
The Rains of Ranchipur
Peyton Place
The Lady Takes a Flyer
Another Time, Another Place
Imitation of Life