Lana Turner

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Lana Turner Pencil Portrait
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Last update : 13/11/15

Known as “The Sweater Girl” because of the tight cardigans that hugged her physique, Lana Turner would become a major star and a beloved pin-up in the 1940’s. She had a B-17 Flying Fortress named after her in World War II, but it was not until 1946, with The Postman Always Rings Twice,’ that she she would be recognised as a real major talent.

Beautiful and ‘dangerous by association,’ her career was waning by the mid 50’s, but before her reinvention as a mature actress in Peyton Place*’ and ‘*Imitation of life, her lifelong penchant for unsavoury male partners would bring trouble galore for at least one of her leading men.

By early 1958, 27 year old Sean Connery had acted opposite Turner in Another Time, Another Place,’ been threatened at gun point by her insanely jealous lover, and was now paying the price for disarming and ‘laying him out cold.’ Filming for Disney in Burbank, he was holed up in the San Fernando Valley with a contract allegedly out on his life. Johnny Stompanato, his adversary on that english film set, was by now dead – stabbed to death by Turner’s protective daughter Cheryl – but his mob boss Mickey Cohen, another former lover of the Hollywood actress, remained unconvinced, and was reportedly holding others accountable. One phone call from an associate of Turner’s advising the young scotsman to ‘get outta town,’ had been sound enough advice. Dallying with ‘Hollywood incarnate’ the year before – the pair had become close enough for rumours of an affair to surface – now seemed pure folly. As Connery would realise, some women are truly best left alone.

Recommended viewing

The Postman always rings twice (1946)

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Imitation of life (1959)

Recommended reading

Lana Turner The Memories, the Myths, the Movies (Cheryl Crane) 2008

The ultimate Turner coffee table book, faithfully recounting the glamorous life of a true ‘movie star,’ as only a daughter can tell. Those expecting another “Mommie Dearest” should forget it, for as Crane readily admits, her mother was never around long enough to wreck domestic havoc upon her offspring.

Featuring hundreds of never-before-seen photos from her private family collection, ‘Lana: The Memories, the Myths, the Movies,’ chronicles her life and 50-year career, starting with the Cinderella story of a girl discovered at a soda shop at age fifteen and made a star overnight. From blonde bombshell to box-office queen of the ’40s, Lana led a whirlwind life marked by seven marriages to eight men, numerous affairs with fellow actors, and a murder trial that would seal her infamy.

While Lana’s private adventures inspired the press, her talent and provocative presence shone on the silver screen. Her films The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Imitation of Life are extensively covered as part of a complete filmography, whilst female readers will delight in Turner’s recorded makeup tips, and the book’s intimate look at the actress both at work and play.

Turner’s zest for life shines throughout, and if rumours persist that she, in fact, murdered Stompanato, her daughter refutes such allegations, insisting to this day that he ran into her knife. “Do you think that I, as an adult, with my mother and father gone, would continue to perpetrate a lie if I didn’t do it?” she asked “Midnight Palace” host Gary Sweeney in 2008, during promotional duties for her book.

The Bad and the Beautiful - A chronicle of Hollywood in the fifties (Sam Kashner & Jennifer Macnair) 2002

The 1950s are often dismissed as a peaceful interval between the war-ravaged ’40s and the socially stormy ’60s. Not so, according to journalists Kashner and MacNair, who offer a juicy, gossip-gorged expos of ’50s Hollywood. Beginning with the story of Confidential magazine, a publication that outed gays and revealed interracial romances, prison records and extramarital affairs, the authors eventually turn their attention to Lana Turner – the sweater girl – in chapters 12 & 13. These accounts, often dipped in acid, will keep readers flipping pages and highlight Kashner and MacNair’s intention to offer up a recollection of Tinseltown more prismatic than any meteorological phenomenon.

The book’s highly episodic structure does nothing to distract from the fact that most of its anecdotes are shopworn. Lana Turner’s bad taste in boyfriends (including one who had the bad taste to be stabbed by her daughter), the rivalry between Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, Kim Novak’s scandalous romance with Sammy Davis, Jr., the fact that Edward G. Robinson had to sell his fabulous art collection to pay his legal bills during a bitter divorce and a three-year battle with the House Committee on Un-American Activities — this is a good place to catch up on these stories if you’ve never heard them before.

Turner would never initiate legal proceedings against her fourth husband – the actor Lex ‘Tarzan’ Barker – despite allegations from her daughter Cheryl years later, that she had been habitually raped by her stepfather from the age of ten onwards. Crane is the child of Turner’s brief second marriage to restaurateur Stephen Crane. By the time Cheryl was 10, Turner was on her fourth husband, Barker, who one day lured Cheryl into the sauna, told her it was up to every little girl’s father to teach her about men, and exposed himself. Barker then began visiting Cheryl’s room at night, raping her so violently that a doctor would later confirm that she should have had stitches. Finally, when Cheryl grew older and once attempted to fight back, Barker tried to suffocate her with a pillow. Cheryl told her maternal grandmother, who called Turner. Crane chillingly relates how Turner said she held a gun to Barker’s head while he slept, then thought, “Is this bastard worth the rest of my life in prison? The end of my career? Everyone’s life ruined?” When Barker awoke in the morning, Turner ordered him out of the house. They were divorced, but to avoid a scandal, Cheryl says, no criminal action was taken against Barker. Okay, according to the book, the molestation first occured when Crane was elevenish, recurred fairly often — every time her mother was out of town — and included actual (and increasingly violent) penetration, as well as fondling and threats to keep her quiet. Crane alleges that the molestation continued over the whole course of Barker’s marriage to her mother (several years) and ended when she told her grandmother. The grandmother told Lana, who rallied to her daughter’s defense — sort of. Anyway, she kicked Barker out and divorced him. However, the police weren’t notified out of fear of a scandal. The whole story never saw the light of day until Crane wrote the book after Barker’s death. The actor had children of his own, and they subsequently denied Crane’s allegations after the book came out. A tribute site to the largely forgotten, multi-lingual Baxter can be located at

Unsurprisingly, his family, friends and surviving professional colleagues remain disbelieving of such allegations, and I am unprepared to speculate further. No great shakes at the marriage game – he wed five times – Baxter’s untimely demise at the age of 53 from a heart attack, would deny him the opportunity of defending his reputation. Yet, more than sixty years on, these allegations remain inextricably connected with his legacy and all too readily visible on the worldwide web. Whatever the truth behind this story, we can remain confident that Turner did indeed elect to protect her public image above all else. Maintaining her child’s anonymity would backfire spectacularly the following year with the Stompanoto killing; the shit hitting the fan with sufficient force to suggest Turner’s career faced permanent derailment. How wrong we would all be…………….

Some factual inaccuracies creep into the book, but it remains a rollicking read. I obtained my copy for 95p so allow me, if you will, to keep minor literary gripes under control.