Lana Turner rose from her humble beginnings in rural Idaho to the heights of Hollywood superstardom—but no amount of fame could save her from tragedy. From her torrid affairs to the infamous act of violence that landed her in the gossip papers for decades, here are 45 seductive facts about Lana Turner.
1. Forever Mine
Lana Turner truly had a Hollywood rags-to-riches story. She was the beloved only child of John Virgil Turner and Mildred Frances Cowan, who both came from sturdy Midwest mining stock—John was a miner, and Mildred was a mining inspector’s daughter. The adult Turner’s heavy-lidded, silver screen glamour was a fry cry from the dust and dirt of her childhood.
2. Pint-Sized Performer
Even while her father was getting his hands dirty in the local silver mines, little Lana was practically begging her parents to enrol her in acting classes. She would often perform small dances for friends and family, and the little attention-hog even once got up on stage at her mother’s charity show and performed an impulsive dance routine for the crowd.
3. By Any Other Name
Turner’s full birth name was Julia Jean Turner; as a little girl her parents called her “Judy.”
4. Red and Gold
Though she became known for her platinum blonde hair in Hollywood, Turner actually had naturally auburn locks. Before she went blonde, she was even first advertised as “the red-headed sensation who brought ‘it’ back to the screen.”
5. Broken Home
The Turner family struggled financially for years, even relocating to San Francisco when Lana was six in hopes of better days ahead. Sadly, there was only unimaginable tragedy. John and Mildred soon separated, unable to take the pressure of poverty on their relationship—and that was just the beginning of the nightmare.
6. A Cruel Twist of Fate
In 1930, violent death visited the Turner family disguised as a miracle. On December 14, John won some much-needed money at a craps game. He hastily put the booty into his sock and left the table to bring the cash back to his starving family. Except he never made it home. Police found his body, bludgeoned to death, at the corner of Minnesota Street and Mariposa Street in San Francisco. His left shoe and sock were missing.
7. Little Girl Lost
John’s murder and robbery were never solved, and his death deeply affected little Lana, who was only nine years old at the time. She was incredibly close to him, and later said, “I know that my father’s sweetness and gaiety, his warmth and his tragedy, have never been far from me.” She added heartbreakingly, “That, and a sense of loss and of growing up too fast.”
8. Poverty Diet
Even from a young age, Turner was willing to sacrifice everything she had for her loved ones. All alone with her mother, Turner took to staying over at friends’ houses just so Mildred could save a little money and keep them surviving. She later remembered times where the two were “living on crackers and milk for half a week.”
9. Cinderella Story
Turner didn’t escape these lean years unscathed. At one point, she was staying with a family in Modesto for a stint while her mother squirreled away pennies working 80 hours a week as a beautician. According to Turner, the family was incredibly cruel to her, abusing her and even treating her “like a servant.”
10. Sister Lana
Despite her reputation as a sexy ingénue in film, as a child, Turner became fascinated with Roman Catholicism and even had dreams of becoming a nun.
11. It’s Lah-nah, Dahling
When she chose her stage name “Lana,” Turner was very clear on the pronunciation. It should be “Lah-nah” rather than “Lan-ah,” which she wholeheartedly detested. In fact, when Joan Rivers once asked her how she wanted her to pronounce the name, Turner purred, “Please, if you say “Lan-ah,” I shall slaughter you.”
12. Bombshell to the Bone
Even in her day, Lana Turner was considered one of the most glamorous film stars of all time. She herself once said in an interview, “Forsaking glamour is like forsaking my identity.”
13. Make ‘Em Sweat
Lana Turner became an overnight sensation. Her minor role in They Won’t Forget earned her the lusty nickname “The Sweater Girl” for her noticeably shapely bust. Unfortunately, the young girl absolutely detested the moniker, and was mortified when she saw her hourglass figure at the premiere. She later admitted that she was “squirming lower and lower” into her seat the whole time.
14. First Day Jitters
Despite all her dancing as a child, Turner wasn’t a natural in the spotlight. In fact, according to one of her directors, her very first audition was a total disaster. Director Mervyn LeRoy remembered that when the young girl walked in, “her hair was dark, messy, uncombed. Her hands were trembling so she could barely read the script.”
15. Rising Star
After her unforgettable debut, Turner quickly became the It Girl in Hollywood. One critic even called her “the answer to ‘oomph.’”
16. The Steam Team
Lana Turner and silver screen heartthrob Cary Grant starred in so many successful pictures together, the press dubbed them “the team that generates steam.”
17. The Cover-up
Turner often struggled to make it as a serious actress. When critics saw her more dramatic turns in films like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they sneered at the attempts. One critic scoffed “As for Lana Turner, fully clad for a change…[she is] as wooden as [her role].” After seeing Johnny Eager, another critic complained that producers had “swathed her best assets in a toga.” Great insights, guys.
18. Killer Queen
With the advent of World War II, Turner became a popular pin-up girl. Fighter pilots painted her image on the noses of their planes, and when she went on a tour selling war bonds, she became a hot ticket item when she promised kisses in exchange for high bids. In one instance, she sold a mere two kisses for a whopping $5,000 in bonds.
19. Hiding the Habit
Turner was a lifelong and extremely dedicated smoker. The studios tried to conceal the unsightly habit from the public, and photos of her holding cigarettes had to be continually airbrushed.
20. Blonde Ambition
In 1946, Turner got her first truly serious and critically acclaimed role in the film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice. The movie launched her transition from sex kitten to femme fatale, and Turner appreciated actually having something to do, since she was understandably sick of films where all she did was “walk across the screen and look pretty.”
21. The Power of Love
Throughout her numerous marriages and dalliances, Turner only considered one man the love of her life: actor Tyrone Power.
22. Coming out
When Turner’s daughter Cheryl was 13 years old, she came out to her mother as a lesbian. Although Turner didn’t publicize the news to those outside of her inner circle, both she and Cheryl’s father were welcoming of their daughter’s sexuality. Turner also reportedly considered Cheryl’s life-partner Joyce LeRoy her second daughter.
23. Game Recognize Game
Turner once said in an interview that her favorite actress was screen legend Bette Davis.
24. Third Time’s the Harm
Turner went for the gold when it came to her third marriage. The lucky man was millionaire playboy Bob Topping, who proposed by taking her out to the hottest new club and plunking a diamond ring into the starlet’s martini, as one does. The pair married at the family mansion, natch. It would be one of her longest unions—but it also kicked off one of the lowest periods in her life.
25. Low Point
After a string of flops in the early 50s and the birth of a stillborn baby, Turner was in dire emotional and financial straits. It didn’t help that her then-husband Bob Topping thoroughly revoked his dreamboat card by becoming a drunk and a gambler. Driven to despair, Turner attempted suicide in 1951. She was only saved after her manager burst down the bathroom door and called an ambulance.
26. That’ll Show Them
In 1956, after more box office disappointments and yet another marriage and divorce to actor Lex Barker, MGM dropped Turner from her contract, making her a free agent after 18 years with the studio. But Turner got the last laugh: In 1957, she starred in the successful blockbuster Peyton Place and earned an Academy Award nomination.
27. Imitation of Life
Turner was one of the first movie stars to have her personal and professional life merge. Critics have noted that her film roles—particularly in hits like Peyton Place and Imitation of Life—often closely mirrored her private dramas, with Turner playing mothers navigating difficult relationships with their daughters.
28. If the Shoe Fits
Turner loved shoes, and she regularly bought the same style in a rainbow of colors just because she could. At one point, she reportedly owned 698 pairs.
29. All Love Lost
Over the course of the 1960s, Turner married another three men in quick succession, with each union ending in divorce.
30. Back to the Grind
During this time, Turner’s film choices were sometimes praised but more often panned, and in the 1970s, she turned to the theater instead, and was soon treading the boards with the best of them. True to her sturdy mining stock, one of the stagehands on her show described her as “the hardest working broad I’ve known.”
31. No Show
But somehow, no success ever lasted. By the twilight years of her life, Turner confessed she was in a “downhill slide.” Her alcoholism, which had started slowly in the 1950s, had turned into a full-blown addiction by the 1980s. A gaunt, 95-pound Turner was now frequently playing hooky on performances, and could barely keep it together for the engagements she did manage to appear in.
32. Finding God
In her last years, however, Turner crawled her way back to health. She quit drinking and rediscovered her Catholicism, though she was never able to quit smoking.
33. All Glam Things Come to an End
In 1992, doctors diagnosed Turner with throat cancer. Although initial treatments looked promising, she died just three years later, in June of 1995. Her daughter Cheryl described her death as a “total shock,” partly because her radiation therapy had seemed so successful. Turner was cremated, and her family spread her ashes in Hawaii.
34. The Devil Wears Lana
Turner was obsessively detail-oriented and picky. The diva always made sure she was camera-ready, even if it meant lounging around in sweatpants with a full face of makeup and five pounds of jewelry. When things didn’t go her way, though, she was notoriously difficult: dressmakers often stormed out of fittings because of her demands, and she frequently got into trouble by publically complaining about sub-par scripts. Honestly? Lean in, Lana.
35. Talent Scouting
Turner’s discovery is a thing of Hollywood legend. At the time, she and her mother had relocated to Los Angeles when the teenaged Turner decided to skip class one afternoon and buy herself a Coca-Cola at the corner shop instead—but the naughty decision just so happened to be her lucky break. Publisher William R. Wilkerson was in the store at the same time, and he immediately saw her potential.
When Wilkerson asked her if she’d like to star in films, Turner hilariously responded by saying, “I’ll have to ask my mother first.”
36. Run Away With Me
Turner was a hopeless romantic, and threw herself into passionate—and reckless—trysts. When she was still a teenager, she ran away to Las Vegas and eloped with the dashing bandleader Artie Shaw after just one date. Though Shaw was almost a decade older than the ingénue, Turner said she was “stirred by his eloquence.”
37. Bitter Split
Sadly, the hasty marriage dissolved as quickly as it came in a mere four months, but it left Turner with permanent emotional scars. Shaw himself admitted he was a “very difficult man,” but Turner’s confessions about the union were even darker. According to her, he mistreated her “like an untutored blonde savage, and took no pains to conceal his opinion.”
38. Bed Rest
Though Turner escaped the unhappy marriage, one more tragic surprise awaited her. In the spring of 1940, after the pair had been separated for months, she discovered that she was pregnant. It was disastrous news. Her star was just on the rise, and stuffy studio executives were apoplectic at the thought of a breaking scandal.
Producers quickly hushed up the pregnancy, told the press Turner had been hospitalized for the classic “exhaustion” excuse, and she had an abortion.
38. Fool Me Twice
Bizarrely—and tragically—Turner’s second marriage was a mirror image of her first. She eloped to Las Vegas with Steve Crane after just a week of dating, but then divorced him after just four months. It turned out that Crane was, well, already married, and Turner split the moment she found out his previous divorce hadn’t been finalized.
40. Pregnancy Scare
But wait, there’s more. Just like her marriage with Shaw, Turner discovered she was pregnant after the separation. This time, however, she was determined to keep the baby, and she even briefly went back to Crane—but fate wasn’t on her side. The pregnancy was incredibly difficult and dangerous, and doctors urged her to have another abortion.
Turner stubbornly refused and carried the baby to term. In July 1943, she gave birth to her daughter Cheryl.
41. Secret Admirer
In 1957, Turner started getting phone calls and flowers from a mysterious gentleman while on the set of her new film The Lady Takes a Flyer. He went by the name “John Steele,” and Turner didn’t even know how he got her phone number. Nonetheless, he pursued her relentlessly and showered her with gifts, and she eventually gave in and started dating him.
Sadly, it seemed that every time Lana Turner reached a high in her life, a crushing low was just around the corner. Soon after becoming involved with this mysterious “John Steele,” Turner found out from a friend who he really was: the dangerous mobster Johnny Stompanato. Though she tried to break off the affair after the discovery, it was just the beginning of a violent and tumultuous relationship.
43. Crime of Passion
With Turner’s life fraying at the edges, it was only a short time before it all unraveled. On April 4, 1958, the most infamous scandal of her career took place. Stompanato came over to Turner’s Beverly Hills home and started an argument where he threatened to kill her, her mother, and her 14-year-old daughter Cheryl. It would be the last threat he ever made.
Cheryl had been listening to the fight from the next room and, terrified that he would make good on his word, got a kitchen knife and violently stabbed him in the stomach. The abusive mobster died on Turner’s bedroom floor.
44. Close to Home
Just like with the death of her father all those years ago, the tragedy deeply affected Turner. On the set of her next film, Imitation of Life, she was often so distraught that she couldn’t act. She suffered frequent panic attacks and sobbed for three full days after filming the death scene of one of the characters.
45. What’s the Verdict?
After Stompanato’s shocking death, Turner and Cheryl were instantly embroiled in a media frenzy. The press turned the ensuing court case into a chaotic three-ring circus, with over 100 reporters showing up to the inquest. But, at last, it had something of a happy ending. After just 25 minutes of deliberation, the jury determined it was “justifiable homicide” and Cheryl was let go.