Lana Turner

Active - 1937 - 1994  |   Born - Feb 8, 1921 in Wallace, Idaho, United States  |   Died - Jun 29, 1995   |   Genres - Drama, Romance, Comedy

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Biography by Jason Ankeny

One of the most glamorous superstars of Hollywood's golden era, Lana Turner was born February 8, 1921, in Wallace, ID. At the age of 15, while cutting school, she was spotted by Hollywood Reporter staffer Billy Wilkinson in a Hollywood drugstore; enchanted by her beauty, he escorted her to the offices of the Zeppo Marx Agency, resulting in a bit part in 1937's A Star Is Born. Rejected by RKO, Fox, and any number of other studios, Turner next briefly showed up in They Won't Forget. Mervin LeRoy, the picture's director, offered her a personal contract at 50 dollars a week, and she subsequently appeared fleetingly in a series of films at Warner Bros.

When LeRoy moved to MGM, Turner followed, and the usual series of bit parts followed before she won her first lead role in the 1939 B-comedy These Glamour Girls. Dancing Co-Ed, a vehicle for bandleader Artie Shaw, followed that same year, and after starring in 1940's Two Girls on Broadway, she and Shaw married. Dubbed "the Sweater Girl" by the press, Turner was touted by MGM as a successor to Jean Harlow, but audiences did not take her to heart; she did, however, become a popular pin-up, especially with American soldiers fighting overseas. In 1941 she starred opposite Clark Gable in Honky Tonk, her first major hit. They again teamed in Somewhere I'll Find You the next year. Upon separating from Shaw, Turner married actor Stephen Crane, but when his earlier divorce was declared invalid, a media frenzy followed; MGM chief Louis B. Mayer was so incensed by the debacle that he kept the now-pregnant Turner off movie screens for a year.

Upon returning in 1944's Marriage Is a Private Affair, Turner's stardom slowly began to grow, culminating in her most sultry and effective turn to date as a femme fatale in 1946's The Postman Always Rings Twice. The film was a tremendous success, and it made Turner one of Hollywood's brightest stars. Both 1947's Green Dolphin Street and Cass Timberlane were hits, but a 1948 reunion with Gable in Homecoming failed to re-create their earlier sparks. After appearing in The Three Musketeers, she disappeared from screens for over a year, resurfacing in the George Cukor trifle A Life of Her Own. Turner's box-office stock was plummeting, a situation which MGM attempted to remedy by casting her in musicals; while the first, 1951's Mr. Imperium, was an unmitigated disaster, 1952's The Merry Widow was more successful. However, a string of failures followed, and after 1955's Diane, MGM opted not to renew her contract.

When Turner's next project, The Rains of Ranchipur, also failed to ignite audience interest, she again took a sabbatical from movie-making. She returned in 1957 with Peyton Place, director Mark Robson's hugely successful adaptation of Grace Metalious' infamous best-seller about the steamy passions simmering beneath the surface of small-town life. Turner's performance won an Academy Award nomination, and the following year she made international headlines when her lover, gangster Johnny Stampanato, was stabbed to death by her teenage daughter, Cheryl Crane; a high-profile court trial followed, and although Crane was eventually acquitted on the grounds of justifiable homicide, Turner's reputation took a severe beating.

The 1959 Douglas Sirk tearjerker Imitation of Life was Turner's last major hit, however, and after a string of disappointments culminating in 1966's Madame X, she did not reappear in films for three years, returning with The Big Cube. Also in 1969, she and George Hamilton co-starred in the short-lived television series The Survivors. After touring in a number of stage productions, Turner starred in the little-seen 1974 horror film Persecution, followed in 1976 by Bittersweet Love. Her final film, Witches' Brew, a semi-comic remake of the 1944 horror classic Weird Woman, was shot in 1978 but not widely released until 1985. In 1982, she published an autobiography, Lana: The Lady, the Legend, the Truth, and also began a stint as a semi-regular on the TV soap opera Falcon Crest. After spending the majority of her final decade in retirement, Lana Turner died June 29, 1995, at the age of 74.

Movie Highlights

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  • Her father, a miner and gambler, was murdered in 1930.
  • In 1937, she was discovered by the publisher of Hollywood Reporter, William Wilkerson, who introduced her to a talent agency.
  • Director Mervyn LeRoy helped create her stage name, changing it from Judy Turner to the more glamorous Lana Turner.
  • Breakthrough film role was in 1937's They Won't Forget, in which she appeared wearing a tight, eye-catching wool sweater, sealing her fame as the Sweater Girl.
  • After shaving her eyebrows for the 1938 film The Adventures of Marco Polo, they never grew back and she resorted to using false eyebrows for the rest of her life.
  • Her acclaimed performance as an ill-fated showgirl in Ziegfeld Girl (1941) led to her being chosen as Clark Gable's leading lady in 1941's Honky Tonk and again in 1942's Somewhere I'll Find You.
  • Was a popular pinup for soldiers during World War II.
  • In 1958, her paramour, underworld figure Johnny Stompanato, was stabbed to death by her teen daughter during a domestic dispute. A jury exonerated her daughter, citing justifiable homicide.
  • Died of throat cancer in 1995.