Lana Turner tops the list of Hollywood glamour queens.
Always camera ready, always fashionable, and usually decked out in jewels, Lana was the definition of movie star.
With her rags to riches discovery story, ethereal beauty, and seven husbands, Lana Turner’s life was the stuff of Hollywood legend. But beneath the movie star image was a thoughtful, funny, generous, and hard-working woman who loved her mother and daughter above all else.
Here are a few things about Lana Turner you didn’t know:
Her Father's Murder is Still Unsolved
Lana was born Julia Jean Turner in Wallace, Idaho on February 8, 1921. Julia’s young mother, Mildred Frances, was only 16 years older than her daughter. This fairly small difference in age led to an extremely close relationship between mother and daughter.
The rare bond between Lana and Mildred became even stronger after the tragic murder of Lana’s father, Virgil Turner. Headed home one evening after a lucky streak shooting craps, Virgil carried his significant winnings in his left sock, as was his habit. He planned to spend the extra income on a bicycle for his little girl.
But Virgil didn’t make it home that night.
When his body was later found in a back alley, his left sock, and his earnings from the game, were missing. The murder of Virgil Turner remains unsolved today.
Grief-stricken, Mildred and nine-year-old Julia Jean were officially on their own. Being a single working mother in the early 1930s wasn’t easy, but Mildred worked hard to provide for her little girl. By the time Julia Jean was fifteen, she and her mother were living in Los Angeles.
Lana Turner Wasn’t Discovered at Schwab’s with a Milkshake or a Malted
Legend has it that teenaged Lana Turner was discovered at Schwab’s drugstore, sipping a milkshake or a malted.
Over the years, Lana’s fabled discovery story inspired countless young teens to flood Schwab’s, where they too hoped to catch a big break over a malted.
But according to Lana [aff. link], that’s not exactly how it happened.
Fifteen-year-old Julia Jean, or Judy as her friends called her, was discovered after deciding to cut typing class for a soda:
“Not a strawberry soda or a chocolate malted, the way the story goes. It was only a Coke, because Coke cost a nickel, and that was all the money I had. The place was the Top Hat Café. As I sipped the Coke, a man at the fountain kept staring at me.”
The man, as it turned out, was W.R. “Billy” Wilkerson, publisher of the Hollywood Reporter. When he asked young Judy if she’d like to be in the movies, her innocent response was:
“I don’t know. I’d have to ask my mother.”
After getting her mother’s permission, Julia Jean Turner found herself in the movies.
Lana Turner: Don’t Mispronounce the Name
Julia Jean’s first film was 1937’s They Won’t Forget at Warner Bros. The studio told the teenaged Judy that though her last name was a good, strong American name, her first name was too common, and had to go.
It was Judy herself who thought up her new first name, “Lana,” which she believed was nearly divinely inspired:
“Out of nowhere, a name came into my head—clearly as though God had decided to speak to me…
I’d heard it in my head as ‘Lah-nah,’ and I don’t like hearing it pronounced any other way.”
Lana’s daughter, Cheryl Crane, further underscores that there’s only one correct way to pronounce her mother’s name [aff. link]:
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“Her name was Lana, ‘as in La-di-dah,’ she would say while correcting people. It offended her ears to hear it pronounced any other way and it’s still jarring for me to hear it pronounced with a flat A, as in ‘land.’”
Lana Turner Loved Hot Sauce
Lana Turner adored hot sauce, and was known to bring her own hot sauce everywhere. According to Lana’s daughter Cheryl:
“She carried hot sauce in her purse and added it to virtually everything. She believed chili peppers cleansed the toxins out of the body.”
Lana Turner Was a Gifted Dancer
Though she didn’t have any formal training, Lana Turner was a naturally gifted dancer. Films such as Two Girls on Broadway (1940) and Dancing Co-Ed (1939) gave Lana a chance to show just what a beautiful dancer she was.
Lana was a regular on the dance floors of popular nightclubs like Ciro’s (her favorite), the Mocambo, and the Cocoanut Grove. If MGM had used her talents differently, Lana Turner could have been one of the dancing greats of her generation.
She Was Funny
Lana didn’t get to show her great sense of humor very often in her films. But watch any one of Lana’s interviews from the 1980s as she promoted her autobiography, and her great humor and sense of fun are clear.
As Lana herself put it [aff. link]:
“The press has never had any sense of who I am, they’ve even missed my humor…Even when times were tough, as they so often were, my friends knew that I could come up with a funny story, acting out all the parts, with voices for each of the players. Humor has been the balm of my life, but it’s been reserved for those close to me, not part of the public Lana.”
Cheryl Crane seconds this observation, sharing that her mother was [aff. link]:
“…human and incredibly fun. My mother possessed an extraordinary sense of humor which, I believe, is what saved her from becoming a Hollywood tragedy. She was, above all, a survivor, and she loved to laugh more than anything in the world.”
Lana Turner Had Seven Husbands
Similar to Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner had seven husbands. Here’s a quick rundown of each one:
1. Artie Shaw (married 1940-1940)
Artie Shaw was a pompous, pedantic bandleader with a penchant for marrying glamorous women and breaking their self-esteem. (Ava Gardner was another of Shaw’s wives he tried to do this with.) Artie caught Lana on the rebound from the heartbreak of her first love, and the two eloped in Las Vegas.
Lana was only nineteen.
Artie was such a creep, the marriage only lasted four months. (Read more about Lana’s marriage to Artie here.)
2. Stephen Crane (married 1942-1943 (annulled); married again 1943-1944)
Lana fell for Stephen Crane fast, only to find out after they married that…he was already married.
Somehow Stephen failed to mention that during their brief courtship.
Lana, pregnant with their daughter Cheryl by the time she found out, was nearly charged with bigamy.
The marriage to Crane was annulled, and for the sake of soon-to-be-born Cheryl, Lana and Stephen married again once his divorce was final. But the damage had been done: Lana couldn’t trust her husband, who also spent her hard-earned money faster than she could make it.
And that spelled the end of the Turner/Crane marriage.
3. Bob Topping (married 1948-1952)
Henry J. Topping, Jr. was born to wealth. His family money came from steel, railroads, and tinplate. Lana was attracted to Topping in part because he had his own money, and she felt secure in the knowledge that Bob wasn’t after her money.
During their courtship, Bob constantly surprised Lana with diamonds and beautiful gifts, which appealed to her romantic side. He proposed by dropping a fifteen-carat marquise diamond ring into Lana’s martini glass one night.
But what started as such a promising marriage ultimately ended because of Topping’s out of control drinking.
And, irony or ironies, he too, came to rely on Lana for his income.
4. Lex Barker (married 1953-1957)
Lex Barker was definitely the scummiest of Lana’s husbands. Best known as one of the many movie Tarzans, Lex sexually abused Lana’s daughter Cheryl. When Lana found out, it was goodbye Lex.
5. Fred May (married 1960-1962)
Fred May was a successful real estate agent, and, in the years after his marriage to Lana, became the mayor of Malibu.
Lana herself said Fred May was the only one of her husbands who was a giver, not a taker, and didn’t try to use her.
Neither Lana nor her daughter Cheryl could come up with a solid reason why the marriage to Fred didn’t work. Even after Lana and Fred divorced, they remained good friends.
Perhaps by the time Lana and Fred got together, Lana was so accustomed to being used by her husbands, she didn’t know what to do with a guy who treated her right, and divorced him out of habit.
6. Robert Eaton (married 1965-1969)
Robert Eaton was not a nice guy. He married Lana, lived off her income, then partied and cheated on her in their own bedroom while Lana was out of town making the movies that supported his extravagant, cheating lifestyle.
7. Ronald Dante (married 1969-1972)
A hypnotist by trade, friends said Ronald Dante must have hypnotized Lana into marrying him.
One evening after a night on the town together, Dante excused himself, ostensibly to go pick up some sandwiches for a late snack…and never came back.
Of course, just before deserting his wife, Dante got Lana to write him a check for $35,000 for a “business investment.”
Luckily, Lana was able to stop payment on the check, but that was obviously the end of the Turner/Dante marriage.
Keeping Her Sense of Humor
Despite all the heartache, Lana kept her sense of humor about all seven of her husbands:
“Somebody asked me recently if I have ever sat down and added up what my husbands cost me in hard, cold cash…I know that the figure must come to tens of thousands of dollars. With the exception of dear Fred May, who is still my good friend, all my husbands have taken, and I was always giving…
One thing I have to say about my husbands—all of them were able to make me laugh—at least at the beginning. I couldn’t have married them otherwise.”
It’s this attitude and humor that helped Lana survive seven marriages without becoming bitter at the world.
Lana Turner Was A Hard Worker
After her father’s murder, Julia Jean Turner dreamed of the day she could lift the heavy load from her mother’s shoulders, and support Mildred financially. And from the age of seventeen on, Lana Turner did just that. Once Lana became a star, her income supported both Turner women for life. Mildred never had to work again.
Lana was known for her professionalism: she never came to her film sets unprepared, and was always letter-perfect with her lines. And while other glamour queens watched their careers fade away with age, Lana moved with the times. Without losing the core, Lana Turner-glamorous image, she remained an in demand actress through her final years. Lana, understandably, was proud of her longevity and work ethic:
“Everything I had, the kind of life I loved, had come through my own efforts, from hard, continual work under pressure…”
She Wanted A Big Family
Lana once said that:
“My plan was to have one husband and seven children, but it turned out the other way.”
Lana’s blood was rh negative, which made it extremely difficult—and dangerous—for her to have children. Her beautiful daughter Cheryl was the only pregnancy Lana was able to carry to term.
And Cheryl’s birth was nothing short of a miracle: baby Cheryl required a complete blood transfusion immediately after her birth.
That’s right, a complete blood transfusion.
Lana was very candid about her pain and disappointment at not being able to have more children:
“It’s one of life’s bitter ironies that I, who wanted a big family, could bear only one child. Eventually I lost three babies, two boys and a girl. Today most mothers are tested for the rh factor, and science has learned to control its damaging effect. But in my day it almost took a miracle just to save my baby’s life.”
Though Lana never had the large family she desired, the deep bond she shared with her mother and daughter was perhaps even greater because of it.
Lana Turner Loved Fashion
A significant part of Lana Turner’s always “camera ready” look came down to fashion. Lana loved fashion, and she loved to dress well.
Once she became one of Hollywood’s most sought after stars, Lana finally had the income to purchase the clothes she’d always dreamed of. According to Cheryl,
“Mother had many closets, of course, but the grandest of them all was at the big house we had in the ‘50’s on Mapleton Drive in Holmby Hills. It was the length of half the house. It started as an outdoor porch but she had it closed in and remodeled. French doors on either side of her bed led into the dressing room. There were windows at the far end and long panels of mirrors by the two-and-a-half foot-high platform where she had her fittings…
You could spend days looking at all of her clothes and shoes. Mother’s affinity for footwear amounted to a passion. When she liked a style, she bought the pair in every available color. At one time she accumulated 698 pairs.”
Lana’s taste in clothes and jewelry was impeccable. So much so, that at times, Lana was asked to wear her own wardrobe and jewelry in her films. In 1955’s The Sea Chase , for example, Lana wore all her own jewelry, and all but one dress in the film was from her own closet.
Be sure to take a look at my Lana Turner: A Life of Fashion article for more about Lana’s fashion favorites, and my own collection of Lana Turner owned items.
More Lana Turner
Read the rest of my Lana Turer series in the articles below: