They’re still mine!” Lana Turner, Hollywood’s eternal Sweater Girl, still busty, still beautiful at 54, gracefully gestured toward her pneumatic chest, a 25-carat marquise diamond flashing on her left hand. “Every young, sexy-looking broad had to have a title back then. To this day I don’t know who thought up Sweater Girl, but if I ever find out…”
Her silver-blond hair flew as Lana faltered through the first nervous minutes of a personal appearance at Manhattan’s Town Hall. Some of the audience of 2,000 had traveled from as far away as London, Chicago and Miami for the one-woman show of film clips, patter, questions and answers.
Lana was the most recent of the “legendary ladies of the screen” to be put onstage by publicist John Springer, a charter member of the FOOFs, Friends of Old Films. Among her predecessors, all pushing 70, were Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Roz Russell.
Her jitters receding after two standing ovations, Lana got a big laugh when she tattled about an awkward scene with Clark Gable in Homecoming: the gum she often chewed on the set got caught in his false teeth after a clinch. The 90 minutes of film excerpts proved she was not just a smashing sexpot but a better actress than critics ever allowed.
Unwinding at a post-performance party at producer-director John Bowab’s apartment, Lana admitted, “When Springer said, ‘I want to pay tribute,’ I said, ‘For what?’ I didn’t look like an old frump or gargoyle tonight, did I?” She saw the event as worth the expense, such as for her all-white Werle gown she had specially made. “I don’t know how to add—I flunked math—but tonight should create money, and I don’t mind spending my own if the prospect of the return looks good.” Like other older actresses, Lana wants most of all to work. She hasn’t been on U.S. screens, big or small, in anything new since 1970, and she dismissed her 1973 British film, Persecution, as a “bomb.” “But I never say never,” she said. “There are some good women left who aren’t on crutches, and the writers should be writing for us. I’m not about to open a bar or boutique!”
Today the unmarried Lana leads a quiet life in a Century City co-op. “I have a few close friends and thousands of acquaintances, and my personal life will just sound dull if I tell you about it. I was queen of the nightclubs when I was 18, but I’d rather sit home with my color TV now.”
She won’t talk about her famous romances, her seven husbands or the stabbing of her lover Johnny Stompanato by her 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl. The killing was ruled “justifiable homicide” in defense of her mother.
“Cheryl is quite a businesswoman now,” Lana says. “I call her Miss Executive, and we are very close. She works with her father [Stephen Crane] in the restaurant business in Beverly Hills.” Financially, mother is no slouch either. She has invested in real estate and “each time, it’s paid off.” She also owns Gray Host, an outstanding stud and¾ brother to Kelso, the all-time Thoroughbred money winner. “So listen, if I don’t get any work, I’ll just depend on my stud—I mean, of course, my horse.”
As slim-hipped as always, Lana keeps in shape with mild exercise, “but no jogging.” Recalling the adoration inside Town Hall, she looked mischievous. “They were lovely, but the only parts I really enjoyed,” she said, “were when the little devil in me could have some fun with the answers.”