Tom McParland looks at the turbulent life – on and off screen – of Hollywood actress Lana Turner, who once said of her life, “I thought I’d have seven kids and one husband instead of the other way around”.
By the time Lana Turner straddled the earlier years of my cinema going (1955-60) she was playing women of indefinable age – a peculiar category that Hollywood reserves for its less-than-youthful female box-office draws before they hobble off to Granny Clampett pastures. Lana Turner was one such actress.
The difference between Lana Turner and other Hollywood blonde bombshells such as Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield was Lana’s ability to incite audiences into believing that she was femme fatale or screen angel without flaunting sexuality. Her screen presence was enough.
But like the Monroes and Mansfields, Lana Turner’s aptitude to cope with real life was an entirely different matter. When asked, near the end of her life what the price of fame was, she replied “Loss of privacy.”
The similarity of fame to notoriety is that both arrive unexpectedly, with the added hazard that the first is more susceptible to conversion into the second. When the commodity sold is delusion, publicly there can be no distinction between the wrapping and the product. They’re intertwined. That’s why stardom can be both fairy godmother and notoriety’s identical twin.
Lana Turner was born to turbulence. Tuesday, February 8th, 1921 (officially 1920) was the blustering winter night that a frantic couple drove to Providence Hospital in tiny Wallace, Idaho, trying to beat the stork. Virgil Turner (24) and his 16 year-old wife Mildred Frances just made it in time. Their only daughter, Julia Jean Mildred Francis Turner, future Hollywood pin-up and international movie star, was born. Financially struggling, the Turners would eventually move to San Francisco.
Turbulence repeated itself. Julia Jean Mildred Turner’s parents separated when she was six. Then just before Christmas 1930 Virgil, Lana’s father – by now playboy, womaniser and gambler – was murdered and robbed for his unpaid gambling debts by shadowy miscreants. Julia Jean Mildred was just nine at the time.
Her mother had to work an 80-hour week as a beautician just to keep bodies, souls and paid-for childcare together. While her mother worked, Julia Jean Mildred was cared for by a Catholic family and schooled by the local Presentation convent. Young Turner, over-enthralled by the glory of Catholic ceremony, thought she wanted to become a nun. She abandoned the idea when she learned that it meant losing her auburn curls.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own