Myth No. 1: Lana Turner was discovered at age 15 while having an ice-cream soda at Schwab’s drugstore in Hollywood. Wrong. The Big Moment actually occurred at the Top Hat Cafe near Hollywood High, and it was a Coke.
Myth No. 2: Sweater Girl Lana Turner, one of the hottest pinups of the ’40s, was also a sex-bomb offscreen. Wrong. “Romance was very important to me, but I got so tired of sex, sex, sex,” she says. “It was the courtship and the cuddling I cared about, not the act itself.”
Myth No. 3: Lana Turner has eyebrows. Wrong. They haven’t grown back since they were shaved in 1938 for The Adventures of Marco Polo.
At 61, Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner from Wallace, Idaho now wants to correct these and other distressing calumnies. “I’m so sick and tired of all the lies,” she says. “I refuse to leave this earth with that pile of movie-magazine trash, scandal and slander as my epitaph.” To let her fans know about the real Turner, Lana (who chose the name herself and pronounces it Laahnaah) has now written her autobiography. Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth (Dutton, $14.95), already a bestseller, is the lively tale of a blonde too many gentlemen preferred. In 300 torrid pages that sometimes read like a B-movie script, Turner discusses her seven husbands, seven divorces, two abortions, three stillbirths, 698 pairs of shoes and one suicide attempt (in 1951).
She also goes into lurid detail about her affair with mobster Johnny Stompanato in the ’50s, which proved for him a fatal liaison. “His consuming passion was strangely exciting,” she writes. “My dangerous captivation went far beyond lovemaking. In fact, the sex was nothing special.” What was special was that Johnny liked to knock her around. One night her daughter, Cheryl, then 14, walked in while Stompanato was threatening Lana and stabbed him to death. (Cheryl, Turner’s only child—by her second husband, businessman Stephan Crane—was acquitted on grounds of justifiable homicide and made a ward of the court; she now sells real estate in Hawaii.)
After recounting a life dripping with pathos and tragedy, Turner is once again in the throes of melodrama, only this time the heavy traffic is on the screen: She plays Jacqueline Perrault, Jane Wyman’s wealthy sister-in-law on the TV hit series Falcon Crest. Lana’s first appearance last February rocketed the show’s ratings to No. 3. Scheduled for six more episodes, beginning Nov. 12, she is fretting less about mother-Falcon Wyman (they are rumored to be feuding) than about her script entrances. “I can’t always keep arriving in my limousine with luggage,” she complains. “They’re going to have to show me in some mock-up European apartment or something, or it will become silly. Landing in a helicopter might be fun.”
Only a few years ago, this elegant peregrine with perfectly coiffed blond hair, trim (size 4) figure and bejeweled fingers (a four-carat “L” lights her left hand) was, by her own admission, a wounded bird. She had not appeared in a movie since 1976, and TV offers were not exactly flooding in. “I was doing a play, Murder Among Friends, in New Orleans in 1980,” Turner recalls. “I was drinking, not eating and missing performances. I was on a downhill slide. When I got home to Beverly Hills, I weighed 95 pounds, maybe less. My hairdresser, Eric Root, took one look at me and said: ‘Okay, that’s it.’ ”
Root propelled Turner to a holistic specialist, who advised her to stop drinking, eat organic foods and examine her spiritual side. “Eric saved my life at my darkest moment,” declares Lana. She says that their close relationship is strictly platonic and, in fact, to hear Lana tell it, she has been a “chosen celibate” since her last marriage ended in 1969. “I used to lean on men. But whenever a crisis happened in my life, they fell apart, and suddenly I became the strong one. I am not ashamed to say that I have no desire to marry again.” Small wonder.
Turner was 19 in 1940 when she made her first trip to the altar, with bandleader Artie Shaw. By then, the precocious daughter of a miner and a beautician had been discovered sipping her Coke by W.R. Wilkerson, publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, had made 10 movies and had already wound up a romance with Hollywood lawyer Greg Bautzer.
From day three, it was apparent that Shaw was not playing her song: They disagreed on everything, including the merits of Lana’s cooking. Three months later they separated, and she climbed aboard her marital merry-go-round, snatching and flinging husbands like so many brass rings. Between spouses there were lovers, among them the late Fernando Lamas (whose son Lorenzo co-stars on Falcon Crest) and Tyrone Power, who was married to actress Annabella at the time. Lana got her second abortion after Power made her pregnant (the first abortion occurred at the end of her marriage to Shaw).
“Why was I always attracted to the wrong man?” laments Turner, looking back. “Why did I always end up the patsy? Almost all my husbands have taken and I was always giving.” Indeed, husband No. 7, hip hypnotist Ronald Dante, took a little too much: He abandoned Lana after she had “loaned” him $35,000 for a business venture and later, writes Lana, $100,000 worth of jewelry was missing from her Beverly Hills home.
All the while, Turner plugged away bravely at a career that spanned 54 movies, including Madame X, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Ziegfeld Girl, stage performances like the road show Forty Carats and a short-lived TV series, The Survivors, which was about the family of a banking tycoon. The high point was her 1958 Academy Award nomination for the film version of Peyton Place. On the same evening that Lana lost the Oscar to Joanne Woodward (for The Three Faces of Eve), she returned home to a brawling Stompanato, who proceeded to beat her up. “I was still wearing my jewelry, and the bitter irony of a battered woman in diamonds struck me like another blow from John’s fist.”
It was a hard life—and a good movie script. Warner Bros., in fact, has just bought the film rights to Lana’s book. She will help cast it but plans to save her own acting talents for other projects. Meanwhile, Lana is living serenely in a condominium in Los Angeles’ Century City and pondering her next literary effort. “Reams of things that are terribly important were left out of this book,” she says. “Of course, I couldn’t hold a hatchet over the editors’ heads. But they took all the flesh out of it.” Readers who think there was flesh aplenty will be thrilled to learn that Turner’s sequel is called What Was Left Out.