Hollywood is no stranger to scandal. There is no question that under all the glitz and glamour lies a world filled with greed and degradation. Hopefuls arrive daily in search of fame and fortune and are willing to sell their souls in order to attain their goals.
One such hopeful was Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner. She was born on February 8, 1921 in Wallace, Idaho. Hard times forced the family to relocate to San Francisco, California where her father, John "Virgil" Turner, tried to earn a living by gambling. In 1930, after a night of good luck, Virgil stuck his winnings in his left sock and struck off for home. His body was found in the Mission District with his left sock and shoe missing. His murder was never solved.
When Julia's "Judy" mother, Mildred Frances Turner, developed health problems, she was advised by a doctor to move to a drier climate and they moved to Los Angeles, California. Mildred tried to support herself and Judy by working as a beautician but Judy was often forced to live with her mother's friends and acquaintances in order to save money.
Judy attended Hollywood High School and one day in 1936 she decided to ditch her typing class. She went to the Top Hat Cafe on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and bought a soda. William R. Wilkerson, publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, walked into the cafe and immediately spotted the 15-year-old beauty sipping her soda and decided to approach her. He uttered the fateful question that would forever change her life, "Would you like to be in the movies?"
Wilkerson referred her to talent agent Zeppo Marx who agreed to represent her.
Film director Mervyn LeRoy was having a difficult time finding someone to cast in the role of Mary Clay in his upcoming film They Won't Forget. When Marx introduced Judy to LeRoy he knew he had filled the part.
Her walk-on role consisted of her walking down the street wearing a form fitting skirt, tight sweater and high heels. Even though the film was forgettable, Judy's small role caused an overnight sensation and earned her the unwanted nickname of "The Sweater Girl." She went on to sign a contract with MGM who set at work to reinvent her image. They created a new persona for her, complete with platinum blonde hair and a new name.
The sweater girl became Hollywood's latest sex symbol, Lana Turner. She is best known for her sultry performances in "The Postman Always Rings Twice", "Imitation Of Life", "Peyton Place" and "The Bad And The Beautiful".
Unfortunately Lana Turner's success on the big screen did not spill over into her personal life. She was married eight times to seven different men.
Her first marriage was to band leader, Artie Shaw who she had met while rebounding from her affair with Mickey Rooney. The marriage lasted only four months. Shaw was an arrogant man with a huge ego. He felt he was intellectually superior to Lana and was verbally and physically abusive to her.
Lana's second marriage was to Stephen Crane, a restaurateur. The marriage was annulled shortly after the nuptials when it was uncovered that Crane's Mexican divorce from his first wife was not recognized in the United States. Meanwhile Lana became pregnant with her only living child, a daughter named Cheryl. The two married again after Crane obtained a legitimate divorce but this union fared no better than her previous marriage and the two parted company for good.
Husband number three was millionaire Henry J. Topping Jr. whom Lana divorced when he lost his lost a substantial portion of his fortune due to excessive gambling and poor investments.
She next married actor Lex Barker. They divorced after four years when it was revealed that he was molesting her daughter, Cheryl.
She went on to marry and divorce three more times before throwing in the towel.
Lana had reached a low point in her life when she met Johnny Stompanato in 1957. She had just divorced Barker and her career was in a downward spiral. He went by the name of John Steele and his dark good looks and muscular physique and his persistent wooing, proved to much for Lana to resist.
When their relationship became public knowledge one of Lana's closest friends broke the news to her about Johnny's real identity.
Stompanato was a small-time hood and reputed gigolo. He preyed on women with money and once that was gone so was he. She learned that he had ties to the mob and he worked as bodyguard for gangster Mickey Cohen. Fearing bad publicity Lana tried to break off the affair but the attraction between them had deepened and Lana would later claim that she was afraid of what he would do to her and her daughter if she tried to leave him. Over the course of the following year their relationship was fraught with violent confrontations which Turner strived to keep hidden from the public eye.
Things finally came to a head on the night of Good Friday, April 4, 1958. Turner had been nominated for an Oscar for her role in Peyton Place. Determined not to be seen in public with a known gangster, she refused to allow Stompanato to escort her to the awards ceremony. A fact that did not sit well with him. When Turner returned from the ceremony Stompanato was waiting for her and the two became involved in a violent argument.
On this night Turner decided to finally end the relationship with Stompanato for good. Unfortunately for her Stompanato had other ideas. As the fight escalated in Turner's bedroom her 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl, could hear everything from her room next door. She heard Stompanato threaten to cut her mother's face and kill her and her grandmother.
At that moment Cheryl's only thought was to protect her mother. She ran downstairs to the kitchen and grabbed a carving knife. She ran back to Turner's bedroom, banged on the door and pleaded with her mother until Turner opened the door. Cheryl claims that Stompanato rushed towards her with his arm raised, holding what she thought was a weapon, straight onto the carving knife in her outstretched hand. The wound was fatal and within minutes Johnny Stompanato was dead.
Turner phoned a physician and her mother. Cheryl called her father, Stephen Crane. Eventually all three arrive at Turner's home. After pronouncing Stompanato deceased the physician suggested that Turner contact a lawyer. She immediately procured the services of Jerry Giesler. Only after he arrived at her residence were the police notified.
Giesler escorted Turner and Cheryl to the Beverly Hills Police station where they gave a formal statement about the events of that night. Cheryl was detained at the police station until being transferred to the county Juvenile Hall the next day. She remained there until the Coroner's inquest one week after the killing. Geisler was able to convince the authorities to excuse Cheryl from testifying. Citing that doing so would further traumatize her. It didn't really matter though. The only person that everyone wanted to hear from was her mother.
The Coroner's inquest was destined to be one of the most highly publicized events ever.
120 of the 160 seats in the court room were reserved for the press. Television stations ABC and NBC broadcast the inquest live.
Lana Turner was about to take center stage in the most important performance of her life. At stake was her daughter's future. And what a performance she gave! It was truly Oscar-worthy.
After Lana left the stand investigators testified that there were details of the event that confused them: the knife that was supposed to be brand new was chipped and scratched and there were no fingerprints on it; there was no blood on Turner's clothes or in the bedroom; there was no evidence of a violent fight in the bedroom; and finally there were unidentified hair or fibers mixed in the blood on the knife.
The jury deliberated for approximately a half-hour before reaching a decision. They ruled that it was a case of justifiable homicide. Cheryl Crane was justified in using deadly force against John Stompanato because she feared for her mother's life.
The district attorney decided not to pursue charges against Cheryl but he did initiate legal proceedings against Lana to determine whether or not she was a fit parent. As a result Cheryl became a ward of the state and eventually went to live with her grandmother.
To this day however, questions and rumors still surround the death of Johnny Stompanato. There are some people who insist that Lana Turner was the one who killed Stompanato and then after staging the scene got her daughter, Cheryl, to take the rap because she was a juvenile.
Wikipedia - Lana Turner
Tru TV.com - Lana Turner and John Stompanato