BACKSTORY: Edited from the official Lana Turner website: Born Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner on February 8, 1921 in Wallace, Idaho. 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 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, so the two had a brainstorming session. "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 Turner." After the film "They Won't Forget," Lana found herself tagged as "The Sweater Girl," thanks to a tight blue wool sweater she wore in the film. LeRoy left Warner Bros for MGM and took Lana with him. Her salary doubled from $50 to $100 a week. The first thing she did was buy a house for she and her mother to live in. 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 U.S. 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."
MGM 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 ever made.
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.
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 was also during this time that she began receiving telephone calls and flowers from a man named John Steele. 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 "Peyton 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 with 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." Lana also had a reoccurring role as Jacqueline Perrault on TV's "Falcon's Crest." Lana's active lifestyle continued until 1995. On June 29th, with Cheryl by her side, Lana Turner yielded to throat cancer.
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