TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Twelve — Lana Turner

Glamour. Personifed.

Lana Turner was one of the first of my favorite screen actresses. She was so glamorous, with that halo of white-blond hair, beautiful clothes, stunning face, perfect figure. Although her private exploits often eclipsed her on-screen performances, it can’t be denied that Lana Turner was a true movie star.


Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner was born on February 8, 1921, in Wallace, Idaho. Her mother, Mildred, was 16 at the time of her birth, and her father, John, was 18. Judy – as she was called – moved from town to town with her parents, with John working a variety of jobs, including mining and selling insurance. Her parents separated in 1929, at the start of the Depression, shortly after moving to San Francisco. The following year, John was the victim of a robbery after winning a sizable amount in a card game and was found dead on the street. The murder was never solved.

A few years later, Judy and her mother wound up in Los Angeles; Mildred worked in a beauty parlor and Judy enrolled in Hollywood High School. One day, Judy skipped a typing class and wound up in the Top Hat Cafe across the street from her school. While there, she was seen by the publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, Billy Wilkerson, who asked her if she wanted to be in movies. “I don’t know,” she reportedly replied. “I’ll have to ask my mother.”

At the age of 16, in They Won’t Forget.

Wilkerson got the 16-year-old an agent and she was interviewed by director Mervyn LeRoy for a role as a murder victim in the Warner Bros. feature They Won’t Forget (1937). LeRoy hired her and, after discarding LeRoy suggestion to change her first name to Leonore, the budding actress proposed that she change her name to Lana. In February 1937, Lana signed a contract with Warner Bros., with a starting salary of $50 a week.


  • Her name was pronounced “LAH-na” – not “LAN-na,” as she told Joan Rivers in 1982 during a visit to the Tonight Show. (“If you call me ‘LAN-na,’ I shall slaughter you,” Turner said.)
  • For the 1938 film The Adventures of Marco Polo, producer Sam Goldwyn insisted that Lana’s eyebrows be shaved off and replaced with straight, fake black brows. Her own eyebrows never grew back.

    Lana with Johnny Stompanato and her daughter, Cheryl.

  • In April 1958, during an argument between Lana and her lover, mobster Johnny Stompanato, Lana’s 14-year-old daughter stabbed Stompanato to death. The killing was ruled a justifiable homicide.
  • Lana was married seven times. (She once said, “I started off wanting one husband and seven children, but it ended up the other way around.”) Her husbands included bandleader Artie Shaw (whose eight wives included Ava Gardner and Evelyn Keyes) and Lex Barker (whose five wives included Arlene Dahl).
  • Lana was nominated for her only Academy Award in 1958, for Peyton Place. She lost to Susan Hayward in I Want to Live!


See The Postman Always Rings Twice. Again.

There are several first-rate films airing on Lana Turner Day, including two of my best-loved movies, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and Peyton Place (1957). But I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t choose The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), which stars Lana as Cora Smith, the wife of a roadside diner owner, who falls for a drifter and convinces him to help her kill her husband. I remember falling in love with this film as a child – and I’m just as fond of it today. (Incidentally, Lana was a vocal critic of the 1981 remake, calling it “pornographic trash.”)

Treat yourself and tune in to Postman on Lana Turner Day. You only owe it to yourself.

And join me for Day 13 of Summer Under the Stars!

~ by shadowsandsatin on August 11, 2020.

5 Responses to “TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Twelve — Lana Turner”

  1. I was hoping TCM would air Marriage is a Private Affair, 1944. I was struck by how appealing young Lana was on my only previous viewing.

  2. Thanks for the terrific post on Lana! I’m a big fan of hers and am planting myself on the couch today to watch. I agree with your selections, and want to add “The Three Musketeers”. Her performance as the evil Lady de Winter is really fun to watch. I just sat through “The Merry Widow” for the first time and enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Pre-code film favorite Una Merkel is Turner’s secretary and has a part reminiscent of her prior sidekick roles, imparting snappy quips to all!

  3. […] Day 12: Lana Turner […]

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