Sunday, November 4, 2012
This is the City of the Angels, and you haven't got any wings
Lana Turner was a popular screen goddess of the 1940s and 50s. She was known as the ‘Sweater Girl’ because of the great way she filled out a sweater. Meaning…she was stacked. Anyway, Turner was the star of such films as Peyton Place, The Bad and The Beautiful, and my personal favorite – The Postman Always Rings Twice. Lana’s personal life was just as crazy as some of her film roles.
Our lovely Sweater Girl was married seven times, but none managed to last longer than five years at most. Her longest marriage was to Henry Topping at 4 Years 7 Months 14 Days. Her shortest marriage was her first marriage to Stephen Crane, which was annulled, at 6 Months 18 Days (38 days later, she married him again). She was married to Artie Shaw, the famous big band leader, for 6 Months 27 Days. Love was not something Lana was good at. Unfortunately this fact was personified in Johnny Stompanato.
Stompanato was a former Marine with dashing Italian-American good looks, a well-muscled body, and an amazing talent to charm the ladies. (And a few men) Stompanato came to California in 1948 with a man named Sir Charles Hubbard, who brought our gigolo along as a “companion” Over the course of the next two years; Johnny ‘borrowed’ $85,000 dollars from Hubbard. The intrepid FBI believed that Stompanato had blackmailed Hubbard for the money. No one really knows. Shortly after that Hubbard was busted for Marijuana (A big deal in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Haven’t you all seen Reefer Madness??) and hightailed it out of Cali, leaving John stranded. But not for long. He soon hooked up with Mickey Cohen or Mickey C as he was known, and begin working as a bagman and bodyguard for the Al Capone of California. The Mickster ran it all. Drugs. Prostitution. Numbers. You name it. Johnny was in it now. This new lifestyle gave him access to some of the wealthier elements in Los Angeles and he was seemingly always on the arm of an older, beautiful woman with some serious dosh in her bank account.
So entereth Lana.
At first Stompanato sent her flowers and records, calling her on the phone in an effort to get close to her. He laid the charm on thick and since Lana was recently divorced from her 4th husband, Johnny was the something new and exciting she thought she was looking for. Too bad it turned out to be a mistake. A fatal one for Stompanato. (One of the main reasons she stayed with Stompanato for as long as she did was simply bad press. She wouldn’t call the cops when he beat her for fear that her career would be devastated. Same goes hiding the abuse.)
Once Johnny had inundated himself into Lana’s life, his real nature came out. He beat her and verbally abused her constantly. She had him ejected from London, where she was filming, because he was beating her so badly. (Well, that and he stormed onto the set with a gun. Sean Connery, Lana’s co-star, punched him in the jaw and took the gun. Do not mess with James Bond. I’m just saying) He threatened her life, her daughter’s life, and life of her mother. So…Lana stayed with him…until her daughter made the decision for them all.
After the Academy Awards in 1958, Lana and Stompanato returned home and promptly started fighting. Cheryl Crane, Turner’s 14 year old daughter, was in her room right next door. The teenager went to the door and pleaded with her mother to let her in. Turner yelled for her to get away from the door and that ‘Johnny was leaving’ but of course Stomapanato was staying…and still yelling and threatening Lana. Now, here is where the story gets interesting. Cheryl stated to the police that she ran into the kitchen and grabbed a carving knife off the counter. The knife had been purchased earlier that day by Turner and Stompanato (Are you all thinking the same thing I am? A brand new knife…recently purchased by the victim and Turner? Pretty coincidental isn’t it. Just wait…it gets better) Cheryl ran back to the bedroom with the knife in hand and this time Turner opened the door. Story goes; Johnny had his back to the door and was gathering clothes from the closet and some wooden hangers. Turner told police he decided to leave the house.
Now picture this if you can. Johnny at the closet. Cheryl at the door. Lana between them. Cheryl stated he turned with clothes over his shoulder and his hand raised to her mother with something that looked like a weapon. As he moved passed Lana, Cheryl struck with the knife. Lana thought, or so she told the police, that Cheryl had punched him. Nope, she stabbed him. Johnny fell to the floor. Lana picked up the knife, dropped it in the sink of her bar area, and called her mother. Not the police. Her mother. Doctors showed up in minutes but Johnny boy was toast.
Cheryl was let off and the murder found Justifiable Homicide. She was however made a ward of the state and sent to a home for troubled girls. Critics remarked that Turner gave her ‘best acting performance of her life” at her daughter’s trial.
So did Cheryl Crane really kill Stompanato out of fear or was it planned? No one really knows…except Cheryl…and she ain’t talking.