/ ==================== TOP ============================== //>
Click Pic Above
Lana Turner wanted to find a way out of poverty. She loved her men like most men love their women, beautiful and often. Forever seeking something in her men which they could not provide. Perhaps she was looking for her own happiness. Her first big serious love was for a lawyer I’d never heard of before starting this research on Miss Lana.
I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for a fifteen year girl to go from poverty to the Hollywood “A” list in such a short time. One week she was laying in her disheveled bed at night looking at the darkened ceiling surrounded by old movie magazines and dreaming of what a wonderful life these gorgeous Hollywood Stars must be leading, almost the next week she was being courted by the likes of Louis B. Mayer. Astonishing!
Above on the right is a slideshow of the vivacious Lana at sixteen. Look closely at the excitement in that face, the thrill of just being alive and embarking on a great journey which is all ahead of you. It must have been a wonderful experience. However, and there’s always one of those, be careful what you wish for…
Click Pix To Enlarge
The above pix are from the LIFE Magazine archives taken by photographer Peter Stackpole at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1937. Enlarge them, take a close look into young Lana's sixteen year old face and what do you see? (CLICK HERE)
At 15 years old Lana was a petit five feet three and voluptuous with perfect features, big blue eyes and creamy dimpled skin. She had the habit of hugging herself and laughing. “She was gorgeous” a former classmate was to write. One morning she cut typing class and ran across the street to the Top Hat Café (not Schwabs) to by a coke. As she sipped it at the counter she noticed a dapper man with black moustache staring at her. The counterman introduced Billy Wilkerson to Julia Jean “Judy” Turner.
Billy Wilkerson was the publisher of The Hollywood Reporter and owner of several nightclubs, including Café Trocadero. “Would you like to be in movies?” he asked Judy, who calmly replied “I’d have to ask my mother.”
Billy took her to the talent agent Zeppo Marx whose associate got her an audition at Warner Bros. with Mervyn LeRoy. The director was casting a movie called They Won’t Forget and looking for someone to play a sexy teenage student who gets murdered. LeRoy remembered Lana as “so nervous her hands were shaking.” She was so beautiful and appealing he gave her the part and signed her to a contract for $50 a week. When Lana received her first paycheck she enthusiastically told her mother “you’ll never have to work again”, and she never did.
LeRoy changed Judy’s name to Lana and later they would both claim credit for the name change. Lana appeared in only the first twelve minutes of They Won’t Forget. In one scene she walks quickly down the street in a tight skirt and sweater. LeRoy orchestrated an upbeat version of “Dixie” as the soundtrack to go along with her bouncing breasts and swaying hips. At the preview the audience went wild with whistles and screaming catcalls. After the movie opened Warner press agents nicknamed her “The Sweater Girl.”
Often showing up late and unprepared on the set caused by attending late night Hollywood parties, Lindsay Lohan had nothing on Lana Turner as far as late night partying went. Shortly after the pictures at the top of the page of Lana at sixteen were taken came June 9th. 1937. Louis B. Mayer closed down the entire studio for one day. Two days before (June 7th.) the biggest MGM star and money earner for the studio had suddenly passed away. Everyone was in shock, the twenty six year blond bombshell Miss Jean Harlow, had unexpectedly died of kidney failure.
Jean Harlow's death was a very unfortunate event for the studio, but left a vacancy to be filled in the area of blond bombshells for MGM. Lana was in the right place at the right time to become the next bombshell....
Lana's scandalous behavior in the early years set the tone for her career. At sixteen one thinks they will live forever burning the candle at both ends endlessly. Life of course teaches us differently and so it was with Miss Lana.
While she may not have been the greatest actress of her time, she did turn in some very powerful performances as she matured and her skill and interest developed. Good directors combined with a good script could bring out depths of character even she didn't know she had. By 1941 Lana was earning $1,500 a week after having perfected her slow, imperious walk in Ziegfeld Girl. Playing a showgirl whose head is turned by celebrity and money. It was the first time she was taken seriously as an actress and the role connected with what the public had been reading about her in private life. Articles usually depicted her as a nightclub queen decked out in jewels and sables and on the town with a different man every evening.
While still in her teens she had already had an affair with the above mentioned flamboyant 30 year old MGM lawyer Greg Bautzer and had married and divorced big bandleader Artie Shaw. Early in her twenties she became briefly involved with billionaire producer and aviation executive Howard Hughes.
The 1940s were the golden years for Lana as she had become the bridge between Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe. MGM carefully crafted her image and built her up as one of their biggest stars pushing her as the ‘love interest’ opposite the biggest names Clark Gable, Robert Taylor and Spencer Tracy. According to film historian Jenine Basinger “Lana’s career did not abound in great films, but it did abound in great screen moments.” Jeanine went on to say “her walks in They Won’t Forget (1937) and Ziegfeld Girl (1941) her mad scene in Johnny Eager (1941), her execution in The Three Musketeers (1948).” Critics dismissed her as limited but the public adored her soft voice and sexy demeanor. During World War II she was a favorite pinup next to Betty Grable. Her exquisite face and upswept hairdo appeared in hundreds of fan magazines. (For Lana's Magazine Covers Click Here)/ ==== Stephen Crane ==== //>
Actor-restaurateur Joseph Stephen Crane (1942–1943, 1943–1944) Lana and Steve's first marriage was annulled after she discovered that Steve's previous divorce had not yet been finalized. After a brief separation (during which Steve attempted suicide), they re-married to provide for their newborn daughter, Cheryl. Here just below is a short video of Lana and Steven at an Air Force base in Los Angeles during World Was II, look how young she looks!
Lana Elopes with Stephen Crane
Enlarge Page One - Enlarge Page Two
Click HERE To Enlarge
Lana's persistant scandalous behavior became legendary and made her more than one Hollywood enemy. In 1941 Lana's steamy love scenes with Robert Taylor while filming "Johnny Eager" so seduced Robert that rumors began he was about to leave his wife for the thrilling and sensual Lana. Robert's wife (Barbara Stanwyck) went into seclusion until filming was over. Barbara never spoke to Lana Turner again.
When the studio put Lana as the love interest opposite Clark Gable in 1942 for the filming of "Somewhere I'll Find You", his wife Carole Lombard (much older than Lana), showed up on the set as regular as clockwork to make sure Clark did not fall victim to the fabulous charms of the beautiful Lana.
Hollywood has always attracted offbeat characters. Thespians truly dedicated to the craft, forever honing their skills with education and challenge after challenge such as Laurence Olivier, Lionel Barrymore and Katherine Hepburn. Then their are those that craft a marketable image of themselves like sex Goddess Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield but later in life yearn to be taken seriously as an actor. Those that arrive by chance or lark such as Errol Flynn or Robert Mitchum but grow into fine actors. Lana was none of these (my opinion). She didn't give two hoots what anybody thought about her as long as she got what she wanted and the fans continued to adore her. She was a strong willed, beautiful and determined woman using her assets as she saw fit.
In those days major studios like MGM protected their stars from bad publicity. Whole divisions were dedicated to damage control for their big earners. The studios had an army of lawyers with contacts all over Hollywood and the media with Quid Pro Quo relationships built over many years. The Postman Always Rings Twice was released in 1946 and became a major earner for MGM. The public adored Lana's seductive femme fatale character named Cora Smith playing opposite John Garfield (Click Here). She was sesational and I still enjoy this film today.
Some scandals are just too big to cover up and one of these began in 1943 with the birth of her daughter Cheryl while Lana was briefly married to Stephen Crane (the first time - see FULL BIO). Cheryl was 10 years old in 1953 when Lana married her fourth husband Lex Barker. Lex was best known for playing Tarzan in the 1949 release of Tarzan's Magic Fountain. He was a big good looking piece of beefcake with an easygoing manner whose family was listed in the ‘Social Register” and for a while they were very happy together. They tried to have children but Lana had a stillbirth at seven months. She became despondent and starting drinking again. Lex tried to get her to stop, but she refused.
It was 1957 when Cheryl let her mother know that Lex had been sexually molesting her. Lex denied it but Lana said she could not longer go on living with him after such a terrible accusation. When they broke up Lex described Cheryl as “very strange” and it was later reported that he had warned Lana her daughter “would end up in… great trouble.” Until he died in May of 1973 Lex insisted that Cheryl had lied about him.
Lana says she never knew about the molestation during the four years of marriage to Lex until the very end when she kicked Lex out. He immediately left the country and went to Europe to continue his career. He was never formally charged or convicted. Cheryl became a very 'troubled' and rebellious teenager with several encounters with the law culminating in the grisly killing of Lana's live-in gangster lover, Joseph Stompanato when Cheryl was fourteen./ INSET HERE //>
For months Lana had been trying to break up with Johnny Stompanato, even as they carried on a passionate love affair. Because of his gangster connections, Lana had absolutely refused to be seen in public with Johnny. “Johnny was madly in-love with Lana” said one of her actress friends, “but there were so many mixed messages, so much game playing. When they were together, Lana seemed crazy about him and showered him with expensive presents. She’d phone him six or seven times a day but wouldn’t even go out to a coffee shop with the guy. He got confused and felt deballed. That’s when he started roughing her up and things got increasingly ugly from there…”. She wouldn’t allow him to escort her to the Academy Awards on March 26, 1958 (she’d been nominated for her role in Peyton Place) he beat her savagely.
Above: Johnny Stompanato
About 9:00pm on that Good Friday evening (April 4, 1958), Lana told Johnny they were through and ordered him to leave the house (730 North Bedford Drive, Beverly Hills). Johnny defied and shouted:
"...You'll never get away from me. I'll cut you good, baby.
No one will ever look at that pretty face again..."
Out in the hall stood Cheryl, Lana’s terrified 14 year old daughter listening to the argument through the closed door to Lana’s bedroom. After a few seconds, Cheryl ran to the kitchen. Lana’s Mexican maid, Carmen Cruz says that as she was passing from the foyer to the living room she saw Cheryl enter the kitchen and come out with butcher knife in hand. Cheryl then ran back upstairs.
Lana and Johnny were still at full volume “I’ve just had enough” shouted Lana, Johnny yelled back “cunt, you’re dead!”
Cheryl began pounding on the bedroom door “Let me in! Let me in! Let me talk to both of you!”
There are many versions of what followed from this moment on. In 1982, Lana wrote her version in her autobiography (Lana; The Lady, the Legend, the Truth). In 1998 Cheryl Crane published her version in her gritty, powerful memoir (Detour: A Hollywood Story) and of course there was the coroner’s inquest transcript and various newspaper accounts. The best one I have found was an article written by Patricia Bosworth and excerpts follow.
Distilling down the various accounts the following story emerges. The door to the pink bedroom was opened by Lana, Johnny stood behind her with his arm raised in the air. Cheryl moved forward into the bedroom and stuck the knife into Johnny’s gut, piercing Johnny’s liver, his portal vein and his aorta.
The stunned fatally wounded gangster stared at Cheryl in horror. “My God, Cheryl what have you done?” . Johnny fell backwards onto the pink carpet emitting loud gurgling noises. Fourteen year old Cheryl put the butcher knife on the marble dressing table and ran screaming from the room.It was 9:20pm.
Lana later testified she hadn’t noticed any blood at first, because of the way Johnny had fallen, but then she saw the red wet knife. She lifted up his sweater and saw the wound – just a narrow slit – and realized he’d been stabbed.
She picked up the knife, carried it into the bathroom and dropped it in the bathroom sink. Returning with a towel, she screamed “Cheryl! Come quickly! You’ve got to help!”.
Cheryl didn’t respond because she had run to her room to call her father, Stephen Crane, whose restaurant, the Luau, was just minutes away.
Lana was too distraught to remember her Doctor’s number, so she phoned her mother, Mildred Turner asked Lana what was wrong, but Lana could only say “Please call Doctor Mac immediately. It’s an emergency. Tell him to come at once.”
Just then Cheryl appeared in the doorway, whimpering. Lana asked her to get some fresh washcloths from the bathroom to put on Johnny’s forehead.
Lana bent down to speak to him but Johnny didn’t answer. She slapped his cheeks and gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation. She was so intent on saving her lover’s life she didn’t hear the doorbell ringing. Suddenly her ex-husband, Stephen Crane was in the bedroom staring down at the blood soaked towels.“Oh my God,” Crane exclaimed.
Only then did Lana look up. “Stephen! Why are you here?” she cried, and she ran forward, as if to block the view.
“I did it, Daddy, but I didn’t mean to. John was going to hurt Mommy,” Cheryl said, sobbing, as Lana put her arms around Cheryl.
Crane dragged Cheryl away from Lana and into the hall. “Everything will be alright,” he told her.
The doorbell rang again, and minutes later the gaunt, severe Mildred Turner was upstairs, demanding, “Lana! Lana! What happened? Where’s my baby?” She ran to Cheryl’s bedroom, where the girl was crying convulsively. Mildred Turner wrapped her arms around her granddaughter and rocked her back and forth.
The doorbell began to ring incessantly. It was John McDonald, the family Doctor, known as Doctor Mac, who had taken care of the Turner’s every sniffle for years. He hurried up to the pink bedroom, flung off his jacket, saw Johnny Stompanato on the floor and gave him a shot of adrenaline. He ordered Lana to dial 0 (Operator) for emergency and get an ambulance. He phoned for another Doctor and put his stethoscope to Johnny’s chest. “Lana, I can’t get a heartbeat,” he said. The he told Lana “Call Jerry Giesler.”
Giesler was the most powerful criminal lawyer in Hollywood. His clients ranged from gangster Bugsy Siegel to Charlie Chaplin. Lana reached him at a dinner party, and he said he would be over right away.
Outside in the rainy darkness sirens wailed. Stephen Crane later testified that he had run outside to move the four cars parked in the driveway. There wer no keys in any of them, so he helped push the vehicles – which included Johnny Stompanato’s white Thunderbird – into the street just as an ambulance screeched to a halt.Lights began popping on in houses on North Bedford Dr., and people in bathrobes came out onto the sidewalk to gawk as medics, ambulance attendants and police poured into the mansion.
James Bacon was then a respected Associated Press correspondent. He says “moving right along with the cops” telling whoever answered the door he was “assistant to the coroner.” He’d heard about the murder from a photographer friend who had a two-way police radio. “I’d done a lot of interviews with Lana Turner ever since she made Honky Tonk with Clark Gable back in 1941.
“So there I was in Lana’s big blue floral living room, I just marched right up to the second floor. Nobody stopped me and I walked right into Lana’s pink bedroom and saw the dead body of Johnny Stompanato lying on the pink carpet… But there was no blood. The room was pristine clean but it was filling up with people. The cops were swarming around with tape measures and notebooks, a photographer snapping slash pictures of Stompanato with his sweater pulled up so they could document the stab wound.”
Bacon thinks he saw the detective Fred Otash nosing around. “Giesler, who was there too, probably brought him. They often worked together on cases.” Otash was a private eye who later helped obtain men to put wiretaps in Marilyn Monroe’s house when she was involved with J.F.K.
About 10:50pm Clinton Anderson, chief of the Beverly Hills Police Dept., arrived at the crime scene. One week earlier he had received a phone call from Mildred Turner who said that her daughter Lana, was worried about Johnny Stompanato’s increasingly violent behavior and asked what she should do. He told her to have Lana report it to the police dept. immediately. She never did report it.
Stompanato’s reputation was notorious. The wavy haired ex-Marine used aliases such as John Valentine and was known to be an extortionist. Anderson had once kicked Stompanato out of a Beverly Hills hotel after he became abusive during a police investigation. Stompanato had been formerly arrested at least twice and had numerous run-ins with the law, but had never been jailed. Married and divorced three times with a ten year old son, John III, he had at various times sold cars, owned a pet shop, and run a furniture store to make ends meet, but mainly he preyed on wealthy women. He was known in Hollywood, according to one actress, as “a great lover with a big dong.”
Andersen conferred with the medics and detectives. The he noticed James Bacon and “Blew his stack” says Bacon. Then he spotted Giesler and Otash, “he practically went ape. The fact that the press, a private eye and the attorney Giesler were at the murder scene before he was really upset him.”
Bacon remembers watching Anderson taking Lana, “looking mighty clam under the circumstances” into a corner of her dressing room while a fire dept. resuscitation crew worked on Stompanato’s lifeless body. “I heard her asking ‘Can I take the blame for my baby?’ or something like that, and Anderson tells her ‘Not unless you actually committed the crime.’ Lana bows her head and says ‘O.K., Chief, it was my daughter.’”
Anderson then went to Cheryl’s bedroom to hear her version of the story. A year earlier the rebellious teenager had run away from boarding school and been picked up by the police on skid row. Since then she had shuttled between her mother and her grandmother.. Anderson and Cheryl’s father were good friends, but Anderson was “direct and official” with her that night. The words tumbled out. “I’m so sorry Chief. I didn’t mean to do it. Johnny said he was going to hurt mother.” Later on, Anderson would report that mother and daughter told almost identical stories.
At midnight, Lana and Cheryl were driven to the Beverly Hills police station a few blocks away. Stephen Crane followed in another car. The paparazzi and news photographers were allowed to take pictures of Cheryl and Chief Anderson in his office while Lana and her ex-husband sat on the sidelines. In another room Giesler told reporters “this was justifiable homicide. There is no justification for a trial.”
After the press left Giesler joined Cheryl as she gave her statement to the police, which was in part: “He was threatening mother… to kill her and to hurt Daddy, Granny and me… so I rushed into the room and struck him with the knife.”
Above: Jerry Giesler and Lana. (Click Pic to Enlarge)
Then between sobs, Lana spoke. She had been afraid of Stompanato she said. She admitted giving him thousands of dollars “not counting the tabs I picked up for him.” She said the argument that night had started because he had lied about his age.
Cheryl learned one important fact. She had thought that when her mother had opened the door, Stompanato was behind her with his arm raised as if to strike. Actually he was holding up “a jacket and a shirt” on hangers. Years later Cheryl wrote “Would I have raised the knife if John’s arm hadn’t been raised?... I don’t know… I believe that in my fright I jabbed at him with the knife out of a split second impulse to scare him… I knew little of knives. Indeed the autopsy revealed the blade had been inserted upside down, that is sharp side up.”
Once the statements were given Cheryl was led away by the police matron. “Where is she going>” Lana asked, and Anderson explained “she’ll be spending the night here.”
Lana screamed “Oh No! I want my baby home with me.” Suddenly the enormity of what had happened dawned on Lana. Bolting from the office she ran after Cheryl down a long seedy hallway only to see Cheryl disappear behind a barred doorway, the entrance to the holding cells. “That vision is one that will never go away. My child’s face behind bars…” she would later write in her memoirs. “Open the door she shouted at the matron.”
The matron did open the door and Lana ran in and embraced her daughter. Together they sank down onto the narrow cot and Lana tried to reassure her they would get her out the next day. Shortly after that Cheryl was booked on a holding charge of suspicion of murder.
About 1:00am Jerry Giesler took Lana home in his limousine. As they pulled up to the house attendants from the Coroner’s Office were wheeling Johnny Stompanato’s body out the door and into the coroner’s wagon. Lana started sobbing and Giesler pushed her down onto the floor of the car. He jumped out of the car as flash bulbs exploded all around and told the paparazzi that Lana had gone somewhere else to rest, so they could all leave.
The reporters took off after the ambulance and Giesler led the sobbing Lana into her house where her close friends were waiting to comfort her. Del Armstrong, Lana’s trusted make-up man and Glen Rose her press agent were there. Rose and Armstrong had worked on Lana’s most recent movie Another Time, Another place so they had both known Stompanato. “Everyone knew Johnny” Rose said in an interview “he never left Lana alone.”/-----------------//>
At the morgue, gangster Mickey Cohen, almost in tears, identified Stompanato’s body and said he would arrange for the funeral in Johnny’s hometown of Woodstock Illinois. (Accompanying the body might have been a problem since Cohen was already under indictment for assaulting a federal agent.) “I don’t like the whole thing” Cohen yelled, “There’s a lot of unanswered questions about how Johnny was killed. I’m going to find out the answers no matter what happens.”
At the morgue gangster Mickey Cohen identifies Johnny's body
Calming down slightly he told a reporter. “Johnny’s been around for a long time. But if what they tell me is true he made no effort to dodge the knife. It just doesn’t jell with me… When I heard how Johnny was killed cold chills went through me. It’s a fantastic way for a man like Johnny to die.”
Police emptied Johnny’s pockets and found tenderly inscribed photographs of Lana as well as a lock of her platinum blond hair. They also removed from his wrist a heavy ID bracelet engraved in Spanish; “Daddy John my sweet love this recalls a piece of my heart which will be with you always and remember Guido, my life for you for all time. Lanita.”
By 4:00am the atmosphere in Lana’s house had become so charged that according to Glen Rose he suggested to Lana that she “sleep over at my place.” She agreed and when they arrived at his apartment in Beverly Hills “Lana fell into a doze in my spare room.”
Over in Westwood Fred Packard, a clerk at the Del Capri Hotel, where Johnny Stompanato rented a suite heard about the stabbing. Packard grabbed a passkey and let himself into Johnny’s apartment. He found the lights on and the batroom window had been jimmied open. A maid later said that leather shaving kit was missing from it’s place above the washbasin. It had been stuffed with letters she said.
By the next morning everyone knew about the gangster’s violent death. Newspapers, radio and TV broadcast the crime around the world. It was the biggest scandal to hit Hollywood since the 1920’s when another lurid incident ended the career of silent screen star Fatty Arbuckle who had been accused, but acquitted, of raping a young starlet who subsequently died.
Dominic Dunne heard about the stabbing right after it occurred. “My wife and I lived a block away from Lana. In the night of the murder we were giving a dinner party and we got a phone call alerting us about the stabbing just as coffee was being served.”
Dunne admits to joining the crowd milling around outside Lana’s home the next morning. “It was like a circus. By the end of the day, entire families were crammed into their cars ogling as they drove by, and there were people literally hanging from the trees with binoculars. For weeks there was a constant traffic jam. The public just couldn’t get enough of the gory details, and frankly, I was fascinated too. It had all the ingredients of a sordid detective thriller. I mean the gangster and the movie star, what could be better than that?”/ Cheryl Escorted from Jail //>
At 7:30am on April 5, Lana and Stephen Crane were back at the police station with breakfast from a local drugstore for their daughter, but Cheryl refused to eat. A day long conference with police and lawyers followed. Giesler represented Cheryl and Louis Blau represented Lana. Stephen Crane had hired a lawyer for himself, Arthur Crowley who had once defended Confidential the scandal magazine. When attempts to have Cheryl released into the custody of her grandmother, Mildred Turner failed, she was taken to Juvenile Hall.
District Attorney William McKesson refused to break with customary procedure and release her in less than 72 hours. Lieutenant William Richey of the Beverly Hills police had submitted a petition to the court stating the Cheryl Crane had not been properly supervised. The teenager would remain in jail pending a hearing to decide whether she should stand trial for murder. As a minor she would not be subject to the death penalty.
The following day was Easter Sunday. Glen Rose said; “it was still raining. Lana received permission to visit her daughter early. Parents of other kids at Juvenile Hall stood around in the rain complaining very loudly,” Rose says, as the movie star and her ex-husband glided up to the door of Juvenile Hall in separate Cadillacs. There were press reports of ‘special treatment’.
Rose added; “The police were bending over backwards to stand tough. They did not want to be accused of going easy on celebrities, Cheryl would not be released until the coroner’s inquest.” Cheryl would later write that when her parents visited her in jail, “between silences, we talked trifles… I didn’t tell them how awful the place was.”
Lana took her daughter some soap and Crane gave her a box of candy. Cheryl didn’t talk about the runaways and unwed mothers she was meeting in jail or about the girl who had cornered her in the day room and yelled “I bet you didn’t do it. I bet your mother really did it.” Cheryl found herself screaming back “I did it! I did it!”
Lana remained in seclusion until the coroner’s inquest set for a week after the stabbing. Nobody gave her the papers so she didn’t see her love letters to Stompanato splashed across the front pages. In the letters in which described her lurid romance in intimate detail, she cautioned “Cuidad” (be careful), abnd she referred to Stompanato as Daddy.One letter read “’I’m your woman! I need you, my man!” In another Lana wrote “Phones are great, yes, but I need to touch you, feel you, feel your tenderness and your strength. To hold you in my arms so, so close – to cuddle you sweetly – and then to be completely smothered in your arms and kisses, oh, so many many kisses!!!”
The letters had been sneaked to The Los Angeles Herald & Express by Mickey Cohen, who insisted he had received them from Stompanato before his death. He denied having had anything to do with the break in at the Del Capri Hotel. He said that he’d allowed the letters to be published because “it’s been said he was chasing Lana and she was afraid of him. The letters show they were deeply in love with each other.”
When Lana learned about the publication of the letters, she felt ashamed. But ironically the contents revealed not a wanton woman, as she was portrayed in the press, but a hopelessly naïve romantic. It only heightened her appeal with Lana’s fans. Favorable mail flowed in at an overwhelming rate.
Meanwhile, Stompanato’s 45 year old brother, Carmine, a barber arrived in Los Angeles from Woodstock Illinois to claim the body. He told the press he did not believe Cheryl’s story and demanded a full investigation, including a lie detector test for Lana. He wanted to know how an ex Marine could be killed by a 14 year old who had never wielded a knife before? He suggested “Maybe he was asleep when he was stabbed.”
On April 8, Carmine flew back to Woodstock and his brother’s body arrived on a separate plane. Because Johnny Stompanato was an ex Marine he was buried in a flag draped coffin with full military honors. His step mother, Verena Stompanato told reporters “we are not vindictive but she said she believed her son had been slandered. “They are saying things that couldn’t be possible. I don’t believe the real truth is known… Any cold blooded murder should be investigated. I don’t believe there is such a thing as Justifiable Homicide.” Lana Turner had wanted to marry Johnny, she said, and had even considered sending Cheryl to school in Woodstock under an assumed name. She said she had destroyed most of the letters Johnny had written her because they were very damaging. “Damaging to whom? a reporter asked her. “Lana Turner.”/ === Johnny's Funeral === //>
Flag being handed to Johnny's brother Carmine
Del Armstrong, Lana’s make-up man held down the fort at North Bedford Dr.. Armstrong began his career at MGM doing makeup on The Wizard Of Oz and ended it more than 50 years later. He remembers that he didn’t leave Turner’s house for three days. “I manned the phone and answered the door. It was crazy outside. Cars honking in the street. Reporters, photographers clamoring to see Lana. I let very few people in. Frank Sinatra was among the first to pay a visit. He stayed about 15 minutes with Lana. Long ago they had been lovers. They were still close friends.” Armstrong said he used to be ‘Lana’s Date’ when Frank was separated from his first wife Nancy. “I’d bring Lana to Frank’s concerts, and then I’d walk her backstage and leave her with him.”
Armstrong had been doing Lana’s makeup since Marriage Is A Private Affair (1944). “Oh God, was she beautiful. What a face, perfection… We traveled all over the world together on location. After work we used to get drunk together and talk ‘guy talk.’ Very basic stuff. We knew a lot about each other. I’d do anything for her and she’d do anything for me. The only thing we hadn’t done is go to bed together… Once or twice we talked about hopping in the sack, but I’d say ‘you have to short a concentration span’ and she’d laugh, but it was the truth. She’d say ‘I want that one’ and she’d always get him. She was always the aggressor. But once she’d slept with a guy, she’d lose interest, except for Tyrone Power.”
“The week after the murder, Doctor Mac kept Lana sedated. After three days she kinda woke up and asked to see me.” Armstrong said “I ran right up and there she was in that huge pink bedroom. As soon as she saw me she began to cry. I’d been through a lot with her. When Tyrone Power broke her heart, and when Fernando Lamas beat her up so bad she had to call Sinatra and Frank gave her his house in Palm Springs to hide out until her face healed, I was there.”
“So that afternoon I let her cry and then lit her a cigarette. And then she said ‘I’ve got to tell you exactly what happened.’ She’d never lied to me and I’d never lied to her… She told me that she and Johnny were having one hell of a fight and she told him to get out and that’s when he began threatening her and saying he was going to beat her up. She was aware Johnny was dangerous. We all were. He was a very sinister man. Cheryl wanted to defend her mother. She was terrified he was going to kill her. He’d tried to before.”
“Lana told me ‘Cheryl walked into the bedroom and Johnny and I turned around and said something like Oh no, not now, but Cheryl just kept going. And Johnny walked right into the knife and dropped like an ox.’”
There was already another theory swirling around Hollywood – that Lana had stabbed Johnny because he was fooling around with her daughter and she was jealous. Armstrong called this theory “preposterous. Neither Lana or Cheryl ever deviated from the fact that Cheryl had stabbed Stompanato because he was trying to hurt her mother. I knew Johnny Stompanato and he was trying to kill Lana. Besides, nobody could make up a story as complete as Lana and Cheryl told and stick to it if they were lying. It is all so crazy it has to be true.”
Esther Williams, the champion swimmer who became one of MGM’s biggest stars and had a dressing room next to Lana said “We all heard the different versions of the murder. It was the No. 1 topic of conversation in 1958. Nobody will ever know the entire truth. The bottom line is, there have always been cover ups here because Hollywood protects it’s own.”
The writer Jill Robertson, daughter of Dore Schary, head of MGM in the 50s said “she wouldn’t be surprised if Stompanato had tried to fool around with Cheryl and Lana found out.” Robinson went to school with Cheryl and remembers her as a ‘fragile, damaged and frightened kid.’
As the day of the coroner’s inquest approached Glen Rose attempted to handle the press “a three ring circus of yellow journalism.” It was impossible to tell from some of the news features whether Cheryl was on trial for stabbing Stompanato or Lana was on trial for her shockingly loose morals. The fans were overwhelmingly in favor of Lana” Rose said, but The Hollywood Reporter stated: “The town’s sympathy is with Steve Crane and his daughter.”
Rose said that Giesler told him they were all on the firing line together. “Don’t show emotion” he would tell us, “and for Christ’s sake don’t panic. Best advice: shut the fuck up!”
Rose ignored Giesler’s orders only once, when he got into a fight with the columnist Walter Winchell outside the night club Mocambo. “Walter had some love letters from Lana to Johnny he planned to publish in his column and I told him to give them back to me they weren’t his property. At one point we’re pushing and shoving each other on the sidewalk and Walter is yelling ‘You can’t talk to me that way, I’m God!’” Later Winchell wrote a thousand word column about Lana telling her fans to “have a heart for a lady with a broken heart.”
Rose said after that incident he managed to ‘stay cool’. “The image of Lana as the distraught, concerned mother, speechless with grief and shame was the best image to play,” so she kept pushing that.
On April 11, the morning of the inquest Lana rose at dawn to be made up and coiffed. Del Armstrong said “I couldn’t be there as I was working on another film, but I knew she was prepared. Giesler had coached her for hours. It was to be the most important performance of her life.”
Hundreds of fans lined the sidewalk to watch Lana, severly elegant in a gray silk Italian suit, with her hair cropped mannishly short, enter the Hall of Records building in downtown Los Angeles and go up to the eight floor courtroom on the arm of Jerry Giesler.
More fans and 150 reporters from around the world jammed the courtroom. The local affiliate of ABC was filming and taping the inquest with orders to make the recordings available to other television and radio stations.
Cheryl Crane was not present. She had been excused from testifying because she was a juvenile and because Giesler said “she had already gone through enough.” Her statement was read into the record.
The first witness was Mickey Cohen. Asked if he’d identified the body as Johnny Stompanato’s, he said “I refuse to identify him as John Stompanato Jr. for the reason that I may be accused of this murder.” After that he was hastily excused. Next, Chief Anderson took the stand and confirmed that he had identified Stompanato’s body.
About 10:00am Lana testified and for 62 minutes she held the courtroom spellbound. She underplayed speaking very carefully and very slowly always calling Johnny “Mr. Stompanato”. Every so often she clasped one white glove which she kept in her lap and she took occasional sips of water.
Above: Lana's Mother Mildred testifying at the inquest.
She described how “he kept swearing and threatening me and he had a jacket and a shirt hanging in the closet… He walked back to me and was holding the jacket on the hanger in a way that he was going to strike me with it. I said ‘…don’t ever touch me again… I am absolutely finished. This is the end. And I want you to get out.’ And after I said that I was walking towards the bedroom door and he was right behind me, and I opened it, and my daughter came in… I truthfully thought she had hit him in the stomach. As best as I can remember they came together and they parted. I still never saw a blade.”
Lana would write in her 1982 memoir, “It was an humiliating ordeal to explain on the witness stand what I barely understood myself – to confess before the cameras that strange helplessness that bound me to John for so long.”
After her testimony there was a 15 minute recess. Cheryl Crane would later write that reporters clustered around Lana and she suddenly felt faint. “Jerry, could we go somewhere for a few minutes?” Lana murmured, but Giesler stumbled and Lana had to catch him by the arm. “Who’s helping who?” she said dryly. Reporters later quoted a bystander as saying “What an act she’s putting on!”
Reporters cluster around Lana and Jerry Giesler
After the break the inquest continued. Police and other witnesses moved on and off the stand, “providing puzzling forensic details that would raise questions for years to come,” Cheryl Crane later wrote. No identifiable fingerprints on the knife. No blood in the bedroom, except for “spots the size of a ten cent piece alongside the body,” Chief Anderson testified. He was later to write “The most ironic angle of the Stompanato investigation was the refusal of the underworld to believe that this this ‘tough’ ex Marine could have been killed so easily by a 14 year old girl… Here’s how it happened. Surprise and accident brought about Johnny’s sudden death. The distraught child caught him off guard.”
The medical examiner was the last to testify. He described the fatal wound adding that during the autopsy he discovered that Johnny Stompanato was suffering from an incurable kidney disease and would not have lived more than another 10 years./ Medical Examinar //>
Chief Clinton Anderson on the stand holding the murder weapon.
At the end of the inquest, one spectator jumped up and shouthed, “Lies! Lies! All lies! This mother and daughter were both in love with Stompanato. He was better than any of them… Johnny Stompanato was a gentleman!”
After 25 minutes the jury returned with a verdict of “Justifiable Homicide,” but Cheryl was ordered to be kept in jail pending a Juvenile Court hearing two weeks later. District Attorney William McKesson made it clear he would not be inclined to prosecute her without further evidence./ INSET ENDS HERE //>
Hallway to the bedroom where Cheryl killed Johnny - Click to Enlarge
"...Read all about it! Getch yer Headlines Right Here!..."
The media sensation was beyond belief. The MGM studio had failed to renew Lana's contract in March of 1956 and thought she was past her prime due to falling revenues. So at 36yrs old Lana was on her own without the huge MGM damage control division on her side and the press was merciless. It was said that Miss Lana gave the greatest performance of her life while on the stand in front of the judge.
Click below for more great pix of Lana
Lana’s Legs - Lana and Johnny - Lana’s daughter - Lana’s trial - Lana Pix.
Before Cheryl Crane’s juvenile court hearing and investigation was launched into Lana’s private life. Her four marriages and lavish lifestyle were examined. The Los Angele Times ran a scathing editorial condemning Lana for her self indulgences and said “Cheryl isn’t the juvenile delinquent, Lana is.”
LIFE magazine ran the photo’s of Lana’s trial scenes in The Postman Always Rings Twice and Peyton Place comparing the cinematic performances with her pathetic breakdown at the inquest pictured above.
On April 24 Cheryl was temporarily made a ward of the court with the judge decreeing that she would live with her grandmother Mildred for 60 days and have visits with her parents no more than once a week without special permission. By December this arrangement had been made indefinite by the judge because neither Lana nor Stephen had objected to it. Afterward Lana bravely faced reporters and told them “I am pleased with the decision.”
She then fled to Giesler’s limo clutching a summons from the Stompanato family which had filed a wrongful death against her and Stephen Crane for $725,500. The suit charged Lana with parental neglect and with falsely alleging that Johnny was going to disfigure her which had “incited” Cheryl Crane “to inflict the deadly wound on Johnny Stompanato.”
Enlarge Page One - Enlarge Page Two
How do you put a Perfect Storm of BAD publicity to work for you? You get a hold of Ross Hunter and ask for the lead role in his re-made production of "Imitation of Life". Douglas Sirk directed this movie like a maestro and Universal used all that Stompanato controversy to promote the movie turning out the biggest hit of 1959. Fans and Critics could easily see both "Peyton Place" and "Imitation of Life" reflected Miss Lana's personal life showing the very troubled and complicated relationship between a single mother with her teenage daughter.
Lana was nearly broke by now and had agreed to work for a percentage of any potential profit instead of getting her usual salary. 'Peyton Place' and 'Imitation of Life' were mega hits and put her back in the black by a couple of million.
Here are a couple of my favorite photos of Miss Lana and I find them very charming. The one on the left is when she was very young and more or less innocent while the one on the right was taken many years later after a tumultuous life and many lessons learned. She (as we all do) dealt with the sometimes harsh consequences of her choices in life with both grace and dignity. For that alone I admire her character for it seems to me, nobody could ask for more.
Being a life long smoker brought the consequence of a long struggle with throat cancer from which she passed away in 1995 at the ripe young age of 74. Her daughter Cheryl Crane and her "Life Partner" Miss Joyce Leroy whom Lana called "her second daughter" were all together at the end of this adventurous life. She willed most of her large fortune to her maid (Miss Carmen Lopez Cruz) but also provided for Cheryl and Joyce.
Take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard's "Walk of Fame" and when you come to 6241, look down and there is Lana's star. The next time you bend an elbow and hoist one, give a toast to a life well lived: Miss Lana Turner.....
NOTE: There's much more to the Lana Turner story including her very early childhood, so I would encourage you to visit amazon and find a good book on her life and times. If you're interested in more. I would also urge you to watch this excellent video (CLICK HERE).
/ ====== FBI FILE ===== //> Here you can thumb through Lana's F.B.I. file. Just click on the right hand page.
Just below are my latest Lana Pix
Got a Pic related to this Blog you'd like to see published here? Upload it right here and please be sure to tell me exactly who it is and any other info you may have. I'll be glad to include it right here with your name or website!