Wednesday, April 1, 2009


“I liked the boys and the boys liked me.” – Lana Turner

A few years ago I wrote about the use of white in Bodyheat: two lovers conspire to kill a husband. I was convinced that it was Kathleen Turner’s floating white ensembles – one after another throughout the film – which lured the man into murder. At the time I was clueless that Bodyheat was fashioned after early film noir like The Postman Always Rings Twice of 1946. In Postman, Lana Turner is also wearing all white as she conspires with a lover to kill her husband.

Recently as I passed by a group of books on display in the library, I came across the big and juicy Lana: The Memories, The Myths, The Movies. Spellbound from the start, I realized that this book was a part of the library’s celebration of National Women’s History Month only as I left with the volume in my clutches. It felt like a private victory and joke because I’ve already heard the spiel about how women like scientists and politicians would work in a target, but here was the library egging me on.

And I had just had a conversation with a friend about her: “Have you done Lana Turner yet?” he asked me. “No, but I want to -” I said. “I’ve got an image.” It’s a rather improbable version of the actress, when she takes on a brunette, Italian look. It proved to be unpopular with the fans so well trained toward the bleached bombshell box.

Hers is a complex story, a bigger drama than any she ever played. Yet the story told in this book by her daughter Cheryl Crane seems a bit circumspect to me - she breezily recounts whirlwind events as she slices in the husbands. No doubt the real goods of this book are the remarkable photographs and tidbits of a revolving door of famous men. There’s even a great shot of her with Andy Warhol – of course he was a big fan.

Louis B. Mayer of MGM has the nerve one day to shockingly point to Turner’s privates when she’s probably not even 25 yet, telling her she thinks of nothing else. Yet this focus is surely a major part of her (and the studio’s) success. Her first foray into film in 1937 is a mere walk full of jiggles in a sweater, the footage to launch the term “Sweater Girl.” At sixteen she doesn’t understand what is going on. Now they’re telling her a few years later that she thinks too much about sex?

Her endless smiles, clear joy and innocence still shine through year after year, no matter what is going on in her life. I find myself a bit sad that as I age, I cannot keep up this effervescent smile like she did. It was bittersweet to then read that in fact the aging Lana Turner could become “LT,” as they called her - someone not so easy inside her skin and the role of playing herself.

Some of us are not convinced that her daughter Cheryl killed Johnny Stompanato, her mother’s mob lover – not after we hear of all the black and blue fits of Turner, of ashtrays thrown, hospitalizations and feisty divorces delivered on a dime. Crane’s writing is gracious and she doesn’t seem to have inherited her mother’s hot head. But of course Crane does not live in the pressure cooker of beautiful legs, a flawless face and hair which is living sculpture in its own right.

I see my own mother in Lana Turner – some of the same costume jewelry, the turbans, the stance. And like Turner, Mom couldn’t always handle the flame that high heels, push-up bras and great legs provide. Because when in doubt, marry the man, no matter how many there are. The alternative can be a rougher ride.

1 comment:

-carywd said...

wonderful post
love the photomontage