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Tribute To Lana Turner

The name on her birth certificate, as she stated in her autobiography, was Julia Jean Turner, not Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner as many sources claim. In any case, she was called "Judy" as a child and became Lana Turner when she became an actress. She was born in Wallace, Idaho. Her father was John Virgil Turner, who was born and raised in Hohenwald, Tennessee. John Virgil Turner was a clerk and a gambler who was murdered when she was a child. Her mother was Mildred Frances Cowan, who was about 15 when she married John Virgil Turner.

Unlike the old rumor that floated around Hollywood for years afterward, Turner was never discovered sitting on a stool at Shwaabs drugstore. Turner's legendary discovery was at the age of 15 in 1936 at the Top Hat Café, which was across the street from Hollywood High School, where she was a student. Her boyfriend when she attended Hollywood High was Joseph Wapner, who would go on much later in life to be the judge of the People's Court. William R. Wilkerson, the publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, noticed her there and introduced her to actor/comedian/talent agent Zeppo Marx. It was Marx who took her to MGM, where she was soon put under contract.

Turner earned the nickname the "Sweater Girl" due to a scene in her debut movie They Won't Forget (1937), in which her bosom was apprently prominentyl featured.. She reached the height of her fame in the 1940s and 1950s. During World War II, Turner became a popular pin-up girl due to her popularity in such films such as Ziegfeld Girl, Johnny Eager, and two films with MGM's king of the lot: Clark Gable.

It was during these times where Lana began to understand the craft of acting. Where she watched and learned. Being beautiful wasn’t as easy for her as her public was lead to believe. Being told most of her life as a child that she was “fat” and “funny looking”, her love affair with the camera was strained at best in the beginning. She had this in common with her early classmates on the MGM lot: both Elizabethh Taylor and Judy Garland.

Tuner idolized Judy. She watched her rehearse, she waited for her to recite her lines and she stood on the side lines and tried to pick up Garland’s masterful art of listening,. This was a skill she would eventually aquire and make her own in many movies following those years.

After the war, Turner's career hit a new high with the classic 1946 film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice, co-starring John Garfield. This was Tunrer in her hey dey. Glamorous, brilliantly seductive, and taught. The scene in which she and Garfield do the actual plotting of the murder is Lana at her zenith. Always poised and eager to rely pon her sexual prowsness she is also in a battle with her own mortal soul. Tortured and pained, she is completely at odds with the actual scene she’s playing. It’s a magnificent performance.

During the 1950s, Turner's films started to flop at the box-office, until she starred in Vincente Minnelli's masterpiece The Bad and the Beautiful and later the big screen adaptation of Grace Metalious's best-selling novel Peyton Place in which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.

“You’re a potentially great actress, but you don’t work hard enough. You have to understand what it’s like to BE there. Really, really BE there.”
-Otto Preminger to Lana Turner

Turner took that advice to heart, and gave a performance in “That Bad and the Beautiful” that had even her harshest crtics cowering. Her mad scene in the car as she spins utterly and violently out of control is a masterpiece. She begged Minnelli to leave her alone, to let her find the angst, but Vincent, against his nature, tortured her mercilessly in front of the crew, the cast, and even random passersy by. Treating her as if she were a child, chastizing her. Turner used this. She also remembered what Preminger had said. She locked herself in her house for 3 days before that scene was to be filmed and studied her text. She went back over the script, found out who this girl was, why she she felt the way she felt, how she got there. The day of the filming, Lana showed up, and said nothing to Minnelli. Niether of them spoke. She got into the the car, they lit the scene, and Turner nailed it in one take. That’s the take in the movie. It’s riveting.

Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life also proved a big commercial success. Critics and audiences couldn't help noticing that both Peyton and Imitation borrowed from Turner's private life -- a single mother coping with a troubled teenage daughter.

There are a handful of performances that are ultimately identified with a certain actor. In “Imitation of Life”, Turner creates such a niche for herself. There is a over blown, enigmatic sudsey-ness in her portrayal, and that’s exactkly right. To be able to do that, and be believable, and be understood, and still react and listen to what’s also going on around you, is a lost art. Lana Turner not only peerfected this, she invented it. There would not have been a Joan Crawford without a Lana Turner.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Turner appeared in several television roles, most notably one season (1982-83) on the series Falcon Crest, but the majority of her final decade was spent out of the public eye.

She died rather suddenly at the age of 74 in 1995 of complications from the throat cancer which was diagnosed in 1992, and which she had been battling ever since, at her home in Century City, California.

She was survived by her only child, her daughter, Cheryl Crane, and Cheryl's female life partner, whom she said she accepted "as a second daughter". They inherited some of Lana's sizeable estate, built through shrewd real estate holdings and investments.


-Her eyebrows were shaved off for the bit part of a harem girl early in her screen career. They never grew back.

-In her autobiography, she stated that her true birthdate is February 8, 1921. She stated that "I am one year younger than the records show."

-Billy Wilkerson of The Hollywood Reporter found her sipping a Coke in a drugstore and was so taken by her he blurted out that standard Hollywood line, "How'd you like to be in pictures?". Her first role, sure enough, had her in a tight skirt and even tighter sweater sitting at a drugstore counter.

-She was set to appear in Anatomy of a Murder with James Stewart until she objected to the off-the-rack wardrobe that director Otto Preminger had selected for her. Lee Remick took over the role.

-Her daughter, Cheryl Crane, wrote a book about her life with her mother, her mother's 7 husbands and numerous boyfriends and living in Hollywood. It was entitled "Detour: A Hollywood Story" and was published in 1988.

-Once when she was being interviewed by Hedda Hopper, Lex Barker, Lana's future husband, was in the same room. There was a large vase of flowers blocking her view of Lex, so Lana got up, walked across the room and removed them, remarking, "He's brand new and I want to look at him!"

-Her auburn hair was bleached for Idiot's Delight. She was withdrawn from the film, but the fact that she had become a blonde not only changed her screen image but gave her such an outgoing, swinging personality that Hollywood called her the Nightclub Queen.

-She was called the Sweater Girl. Interestingly, Lana, translated into Spanish means "wool."

-In the movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman she was originally supposed to play the part of Ivy, the tart, and Bergman was supposed to play the innocent girl engaged to Tracy but Bergman wanted Turner's part and so the roles were switched.

-Once she was forced to evacuate her apartment building when a fire broke out. Having only minutes to collect what she needed, Lana grabbed her lipstick, her eyebrow pencil and her hairdryer.

-She was a true American hybrid, with a mixture of Scotch, Irish, Dutch and English ancestry.

-Is one of the many movie stars mentioned in Madonna's song "Vogue"

-Is portrayed by Brenda Bakke in L.A. Confidential

-Once said that her turn as Cora Smith in The Postman Always Rings Twice was "the role I liked best".


"A successful man is one who makes more money than a wife can spend. A successful woman is one who can find such a man."

"I find men terribly exciting, and any girl who says she doesn't is an anemic old maid, a streetwalker, or a saint."

[On Hollywood] "It was all beauty and it was all talent, and if you had it they protected you."

"I planned on having one husband and seven children, but it turned out the other way around."

"Humor has been the balm of my life, but it's been reserved for those close to me, not part of the public Lana."

"I've always loved a challenge."

"Trash is something you get rid of - or disease. I'm not something you get rid of."
"I liked the boys and the boys liked me."

"The thing about happiness is that it doesn't help you to grow; only unhappiness does that. So I'm grateful that my bed of roses was made up equally of blossoms and thorns. I've had a privileged, creative, exciting life, and I think that the parts that were less joyous were preparing me, testing me, strengthening me."

In tribute to the Lanation going on around the Net, here's Sheila O'Malley's breath taking post. There are hundreds of Lana sites. Lose yourself. Blissfully.

Lana Turner was a product of her time. She was unpredictable and enigmatic and was an American Icon. Her personal life became just as famous she did. Think Anglelina Jolie times twenty. She was one of the few women of that era to understand you had to live a life in order to portray it. You don’t just show up on a movie set, pretend to go through something, and end up with what Turner was able to produce for the years she was famous. It simply doesn’t happen. She was an actress with skills that were sometimes utilized and sometimes not. But when they were, she sparkled, sizzled, and laid her soul bare. Turner was one of a kind. A magnificent artist with a gift for bravery.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 30th, 2006 10:31 am (UTC)
// "It was all beauty and it was all talent, and if you had it they protected you."//

Wow. That's an amazing quote.

-- sheila

Thanks for this post, Alex. :)
Jun. 30th, 2006 11:51 am (UTC)
I Love Lana!
Thanks Alex for the beautiful pictures of Lana and the information, especially the quotes. I have always felt a strong connection to Lana Turner because of my middle name. Shortly after my birth, still in hospital, my mother was looking for a middle name to go with Jacqueline. She read a story about Lana and her child and my mom liked her daughter's name, Cheryl Crane. Of course, Cheryl Crane was infamous for the death of Lana's boyfriend and she is a lesbian. How about that!

Jul. 1st, 2006 03:20 am (UTC)
Re: I Love Lana!
I didn't know that. You have many mysteries, girl!
Jul. 3rd, 2006 12:00 am (UTC)
Alex. Michael Guillen here from The Evening Class. Thanks for your informative tribute. Love the photos, especially the sepia-tone one and the trivia/quotes are a great idea!! Folded you into my own entry.
Oct. 29th, 2007 07:46 pm (UTC)
Lana Turner
She was a beautiful woman, a little mixed up in her ideas of romance and marriage. She tried to raise her daughter well, but only succeeded in causing her daughter endless angst. She tried to live a good life, but had no good models to pattern herself after. Although she was successful in her career, I don't think that she was ever happy.
Jan. 10th, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC)
Short Left Index Finger
Lana Turner,smoked and drank too much,could not stand to be alonein a quiet room by herself(unlike me),fell in and out of love too easily,needed a maid to clean up after her,and got alomg with young children.It sounds to me like she suffered from ADD,which she probably inherited from her shiftless father Virgil,and alchoholic(as well as her),who gabled the rent money,and could not even keep a job for very long.As far as Cheryl being gay (like me),people with short left index fingers date women,and people with short right index fingers date men.
Jul. 13th, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
lana turner
I think lana furner was a one off.She wasnt real she was a superb product of what hollywood used to be like.Today it has no character.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )