Friday, July 1, 2022

Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth by Lana Turner

Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth
by Lana Turner
Dean Street Press
250 pages
Paperback ISBN: 9781914150791
Originally published 1982
New edition October 2021

This review was originally published at the Classic Film Collective Patreon in May 2022.

“Nobody put a gun to my head to get me to write this book. I did it for two reasons: to set the record straight about me, so that all the lies could be answered by the truth, and because the timing was right. “ — Lana Turner

Lana Turner was the epitome of a movie star. With her perfectly coiffed blonde hair, an enviable wardrobe of designer gowns, furs and jewels and her sultry stare, Turner's adoring fans worshipped her. Over the years she evolved with her roles from being the sweater girl in They Won't Forget (1937), the femme fatale in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and the queen of soaps in Peyton Place (1957) and Imitation of Life (1959). She wasn't always taken seriously as an actress and had to constantly prove her worth. After 5 decades of being in the business, she had over 50 movies to her name and a sole Academy Award nomination. Along with her success were also many personal troubles. She endured family tragedies, seven failed marriages and a scandal involving her daughter Cheryl and her mobster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about Lana Turner and rumors would often spread like wildfire. In 1982, Turner decided to take matters into her own hands and tell her side of the story.

"Like many of the stars contracted into the old studio system, Lana was at the mercy of public opinion, which dictated every aspect of her life—including whom she could marry and have children with. And her story was not a Hollywood dream. There were many nightmares and heartbreaking tragedies she had to endure; which were then turned into fodder for public consumption.” — TCM host Alicia Malone

Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth is an emotional memoir about a woman who lived to love but fell victim to the trappings of the Hollywood studio system. Like many movie star memoirs, you have to take this one with a grain of salt because it's clear that Turner wore her heart on her sleeve. The memoir is filled with candid tales of love and loss, of triumph and failures. It's a personal memoir but was also a way for Turner to protect her image and her legacy. 

Turner had developed a reputation as a glamorous movie star who was demanding on set. Reading between the lines, I see a woman who may have been temperamental but was also a shrewd business woman who knew her worth. She was a woman driven by emotion and instinct and built a life and career by a combination of her own rules and ones that were well established in the entertainment industry.

In the memoir, Lana Turner discusses many of her films and offers a little behind-the-scenes information on most of them. She only discusses her process a couple of times and focuses more on the people she worked with rather than her craft. Every single one of her seven marriages is discussed at length. It's clear that these men were emotionally volatile and were drawn to Turner's beauty, fame and financial success. There are also devastating stories about Turner's suicide attempt, her abortions, her stillborn births, her failed love affairs with Greg Bautzer and Tyrone Power and a few hints at a drinking problem. About three chapters are devoted to Johnny Stompanato, the events leading up to her daughter Cheryl Crane killing him in self-defense and the aftermath. Turner lacks some self-awareness at certain points but then in others she recognizes her shortcomings and also the struggles of being a women in a strict patriarchal society. The biggest takeaway about her many romances is that if the expectation had not been that she marry to keep up appearances, her husbands would have remained lovers instead.

Readers will learn more about Lana Turner as a woman rather than as a working actress. But there are still plenty of interesting old Hollywood tidbits from the book:

  • Lana Turner admitted to being naturally shy. Instead of butterflies she likened her nerves to "eagles, with flapping wings and tearing claws."
  • Her image as the sweater girl got Turner her start in Hollywood. But she quickly grew to dislike it.“That image clung to me for the rest of my career. I was the sexual promise, the object of desire. And as I matured, my facade did too, to an image of coolness and glamour—the movie star in diamonds, swathed in white mink.”
  • For Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), she pleaded with producer Carey Wilson not to put her in a sweater. She wore a bathing suit instead.
  • She had a congenital condition, Rh blood factor, which prevented her from taking on roles in films like Mogambo (1953) which were shot in "exotic" locations.
  • She met husband #1 Artie Shaw and husband #5 Frederick May on the set of Dancing Co-Ed (1939).
  • She claims to have become the highest paid actress in the world in early 1945.
  • Turner had this to say about the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice "It always amazes me that when Hollywood makes a really good movie, and some producer gets the bright idea to remake it, he comes up with something inferior to the original.”
  • She refused to star in A Life of Her Own (1950) with Wendell Corey. She fought with Dore Schary to get him off the picture (not because she didn't like him but because she didn't think he'd make a good co-star). Ray Milland was cast instead.
  • Despite the still recent Stompanato scandal, producer Ross Hunter still wanted her for Imitation of Life (1959).
  • Turner was going to star in Anatomy of a Murder (1959). At that point in her career she was fastidious about her look. Every detail from her hair, makeup and clothes had to be just perfect. When she made demands about her wardrobe, director Otto Preminger called to yell at her. Turner was not having it and asked her agent to pull her from the film.

Originally published in 1982, Dean Street Press released a new edition of Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth in October of 2021 in paperback and e-book formats. It includes an introduction by TCM host and author Alicia Malone.

Thank you to Dean Street Press for a copy of the book to review!

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