Thursday, Mar. 01, 2007

The Lana Turner Affair, 1958

Lana Turner reigned as one of Hollywood's box-office queens for more than two decades. Real life was much trampier. Her father, a miner in Idaho, was murdered after winning a craps game. She loved to hang out with men of ill repute and would eventually marry seven times. One marriage, to the actor Lex Barker, would end in 1957 after she accused him of molesting her daughter by a previous marriage, Cheryl Crane. True to her failings, she began a torrid and tumultuous affair with Johnny Stompanato, a man suspected of mob ties. When she tried to break it off, he grew violent. And on the night of April 4, 1958, Stompanato and Turner engaged in a ferocious argument at her Beverly Hills home, so violent in fact that 14-year old Cheryl ran for a knife and ended up stabbing Stompanato to death. The papers loved the story and the coroner's inquest was one of the most sensational legal hearings Hollywood has ever seen. Turner's tale on the stand was riveting: a wayward mother in distress and the faithful daughter who comes to her rescue. "I walked toward the bedroom door," Turner testified. "He was right behind me. And I opened it and my daughter came in. I swear it was so fast, I truthfully thought she had hit him in the stomach ... I never saw a blade." A Stompanato friend's outburst in court implied that it was Lana who wielded the knife, but the coroner declared the whole thing justifiable homicide. Turner's career flourished into the 1980s.

From the Archive:
The Bad and the Beautiful