Lana Turner, Star of ‘Peyton Place,’ ‘Bad and the Beautiful,’ Dead at 75
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Lana Turner, the glamorous blonde whose acting career was overshadowed by her numerous marriages and the killing of a gangster boyfriend by her daughter, died Thursday. She was 75.
Turner, who disclosed in May 1992 that she had been treated for throat cancer, died at her Century City home with her daughter Cheryl Crane at her side, police Officer Sonia Monaco said.
``She was doing fine. This was a total shock,″ Crane told Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd. ``She’d completed seven weeks of radiation a short while ago, and it looked like she was fine. She just took a breath and she was gone.″
The actress remained a star from the 1940s until the mid-1960s, winning an Academy Award nomination as best actress for ``Peyton Place″ in 1957 after she left her long-time studio, MGM.
Over the years, she appeared opposite the screen’s top leading men in such films as ``Johnny Eager″ (Robert Taylor), ``Honky Tonk″ (Clark Gable), ``The Postman Always Rings Twice″ (John Garfield), ``The Bad and the Beautiful″ (Kirk Douglas), ``The Sea Chase″ (John Wayne) and ``Cass Timberlane″ (Spencer Tracy).
Her entrance into movies became part of Hollywood lore _ she was discovered at a soda fountain when she was a teen-age schoolgirl, though not, as legend had it, at Schwab’s drug store. Her early film appearances earned her the nickname ``the Sweater Girl″ and a pinup place in many a soldier’s locker.
Her love life made even more headlines than her acting career. Turner was married seven times and had many well-publicized romances with such figures as Howard Hughes, Tyrone Power and Fernando Lamas.
One of her love affairs ended in abuse and sensational headlines when hoodlum Johnny Stompanato was killed. He was hitting Turner in her Beverly Hills bedroom on April 5, 1958, when Crane, then 15 years old, rushed in and fatally stabbed him with a carving knife.
The killing was ruled a justifiable homicide on the grounds that the girl believed her mother was in danger.
Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner was born on Feb. 8, 1920, in Wallace, Idaho. Her father died when she was young, the victim of a robbery-murder.
After living for a time in San Francisco, Turner and her mother moved to Los Angeles in 1936, and the girl enrolled at Hollywood High School. One day she cut her typing class to run across the street to a malt shop, not Schwab’s drugstore. There she had the fateful meeting with William R. Wilkerson, publisher of the trade paper Hollywood Reporter.
``Would you like to be in the movies?″ Wilkerson asked.
``I don’t know, I’ll have to ask my mother,″ she replied.
The influential Wilkerson called director Mervyn LeRoy, who cast her in ``They Won’t Forget″ as a sensuous Southern girl whose murder leads to a lynching. When Lana (newly named by LeRoy) walked down the town street in a tight sweater, her fortune was made.
She was signed to a contract at MGM, where she played Mickey Rooney’s sweetheart in ``Love Finds Andy Hardy″ and other relatively minor roles. Her string of big movies began in 1941 with ``Ziegfeld Girl,″ ``Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde″ and ``Honky Tonk.″
Other MGM films include: ``Somewhere I’ll Find You,″ ``Keep Your Powder Dry,″ ``Weekend at the Waldorf,″ ``Green Dolphin Street,″ ``Homecoming,″ ``The Three Musketeers,″ ``A Life of Her Own,″ ``The Merry Widow,″ ``Latin Lovers″ and ``Diane.″
A change in regimes at MGM found her cast in costume dramas, which she disliked. She bought her way out of the contract, and one of her first freelance films was ``Peyton Place,″ which brought the Oscar nomination. She lost to Joanne Woodward in ``The Three Faces of Eve.″
She also scored box-office success with tearjerker remakes ``Imitation of Life″ and ``Madame X.″
By the mid-1960s, Turner’s career in Hollywood films had dwindled, though she appeared in lesser, foreign-made movies. In later years, the actress appeared on television in ``The Survivors″ series, 1969-70, and as a guest star on ``Falcon Crest″ in 1982-83. She overcame her fear of audiences and appeared in plays at dinner theaters throughout the country.
Turner’s romances and marriages occupied the gossip columns and news pages for decades. Her first marriage, at 19 in 1940 to bandleader Artie Shaw, lasted less than a year. In 1942, she married restaurateur Steve Crane. Following an annulment, she married Crane again and then divorced him in 1944. Their daughter Cheryl, born in 1943, was her only child.
The other Turner husbands: sportsman Henry J. ``Bob″ Topping (1948-1952); Tarzan actor Lex Barker (1953-1957); Rancher Fred May (1960-1962); producer Robert Eaton (1965-1969); and hypnotist-dietician Ronald Dante (1969-1972).
The stormy romance with Stompanato, a handsome, dark-haired henchman of the Mickey Cohen gang, proved the most disastrous.
In her 1982 autobiography, ``Lana, The Lady, The Legend, The Truth,″ she wrote: ``Call it forbidden fruit or whatever, but this attraction was very deep _ maybe something sick with me _ and my dangerous captivation went far beyond lovemaking.″
She said he beat her when she tried to leave him. The night he was killed, she recalled, Cheryl rushed in when Stompanato was slapping and punching her.
``Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cheryl make a sudden movement,″ she wrote. ``Her right arm shot out and caught John in the stomach. I thought she’d punched him.″
After her final marriage, Turner described herself as a ``chosen celibate,″ declaring, ``I used to lean on men. But whenever a crisis happened, they fell apart, and suddenly I became the strong one. I am not ashamed to say that I have no desire to marry again.″