10 Dramatic Facts About Lana Turner

APIC/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
APIC/Hulton Archive/Getty Images / APIC/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

February 8, 2021 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Lana Turner, the ice-blonde goddess of the silver screen whose film credits include The Postman Always Rings Twice, Peyton Place, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Imitation of Life. Though she was a Hollywood icon, Turner's real life was as dramatic and tragic as any of the heroines she ever played onscreen (if not more so).

1. Lana Turner's father was murdered when she was a child.

Lana Turner—born Julia Jean Mildred Francis Turner on February 8, 1921 in Wallace, Idaho—had one of the most dramatic off-screen lives of any star of the Golden Age of Hollywood. The tragedy began when Turner was just 9 years old and her father—a conman and sometime-bootlegger named Virgil M. Turner—was beaten to death after winning money at a card game. His murder was never solved.

2. Lana Turner was discovered while skipping class.

Turner's 1936 discovery story is one of the most famous in Hollywood history. The soon-to-be star was just 16 years old, and a junior at Hollywood High School, when she skipped class to have a drink at the Top Hat Malt Shop across the street from her school. She was spotted by William Wilkerson, then-publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, who asked her if she wanted to be in movies. Turner famously responded, "I don't know, I'll have to ask my mother."

3. Lana Turner was known as "The Sweater Girl."

Lana Turner and Richard Carlson in Dancing Co-Ed (1939).
Lana Turner and Richard Carlson in Dancing Co-Ed (1939). / Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Hulton Archives via Getty Images

Lana got the nickname "The Sweater Girl" as a result of the form-fitting, figure-accentuating top her character wore in her feature film debut, Mervyn LeRoy's legal drama They Won't Forget (1937). In it, Turner has a small role as a teenager whose murder sets off the plot. Warner Bros. publicist Irving Fine took credit for the nickname, which Lana—per her daughter Cheryl Crane in the documentary Lana Turner … A Daughter’s Memoir absolutely hated.

"My mother told me that when she first sat there in that darkened theater watching herself on-screen in that sweater, she went scarlet," Crane said. "She was so embarrassed. And it took her a long time to get over it." For better or worse, Turner was the first actress to take on this popular moniker; both Jayne Mansfield and Jane Russell later became known as "Sweater Girls," too.

4. Lana Turner was married eight times.

Lana Turner was married eight times to seven different men. The first of those men was band leader Artie Shaw, with whom she eloped in Las Vegas in 1940 after their first date; the marriage lasted four months. After their divorce, Turner found out she was pregnant but, per Shaw, "at the instigation of [her agent] Johnny Hyde and [Louis B. Mayer, co-founder at MGM, where Lana was under contract at the time]," she underwent an abortion.

5. Lana Turner's second marriage also took place in Las Vegas ... but it had to be redone.

Turner's second marriage—which also took place in Vegas—was in 1942 to Steve Crane who, as it turned out, wasn't yet divorced from his first wife. As such, their marriage was annulled. Turner learned she was pregnant (with her only child, Cheryl), and the pair got remarried in 1943. They divorced a year later.

6. Lana Turner was rumored to have had an ongoing affair with Clark Gable.

Clark Gable and Lana Turner in Honky Tonk (1941).
Clark Gable and Lana Turner in Honky Tonk (1941). / Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Turner was rumored to have had affairs with a lot of Hollywood's top leading men—one of them being Clark Gable, with whom she co-starred in several films in the early '40s. Robert Matzen hypothesized in his book Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 that Lombard took the plane ride that killed her—versus another, safer plane that would have taken longer—because she was anxious to get home to Gable, her husband, whom she had reportedly fought with the previous night about his affair with Turner.

7. For Lana Turner, Tyrone Power was the "one who got away."

Turner had many marriages, but the man she later came to consider the love of her life was someone she didn't marry. He was, after all, already married to someone else. That someone was actor Tyrone Power, with whom Turner began an affair in the late 1940s. In 1947 Turner learned she was pregnant but had an abortion; one year later, Power divorced his wife but dumped Turner, too. He then married yet another actress with whom he'd begun an affair.

8. Lana Turner taught James Bond how to kiss.

In a 2016 interview, Sir Roger Moore spoke about how, in his pre-Bond days, he starred in the costume drama Diane alongside Turner, who taught him how to kiss properly. "I go in for the kiss, and I dive in," said Moore, mimicking his passionate embrace and her horrified reaction. "I said, 'What's wrong, Lana?' She says, 'Sweetheart, when a lady gets to 35, she has to be very careful about this [gesturing to her neck]. So could you give me all that passion, but a little less of that pressure?' And so I learned to kiss gently. My wife will attest to that."

9. Lana Turner's relationship with Johnny Stompanato ended tragically.

In the late 1950s, Turner was in a relationship with mobster (and bodyguard to famous gangster Mickey Cohen) Johnny Stompanato, who quickly became physically abusive toward the actress. On Friday 4, 1958, while at Turner's home in Beverly Hills, California, Stompanato threatened to kill Lana's mother, cut Lana's face to ruin her career, and hurt Lana's daughter Cheryl.

Fearing for her mother's life, Cheryl—who was just 14 years old at the time—grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed Stompanato, killing him in what was ruled a justifiable homicide. The aftermath of the death turned into a sideshow, as Mickey Cohen leaked Turner's love letters to Stompanato to the press and much of the media savaged her. Gossip maven Hedda Hopper called Turner "a hedonist without subtlety preoccupied with her design for living." Cheryl became a ward of the state and went to live with her grandmother.

10. Lana Turner's personal life was echoed in one of her most famous roles.

John Gavin and Lana Turner in Imitation of Life (1959).
John Gavin and Lana Turner in Imitation of Life (1959). / Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Hulton Archives via Getty Images

Shortly after Stompanato's death, Turner was offered the starring role in Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life, in which she would play an aging actress whose desires for continued stardom affect her relationship with her troubled teenage daughter (Sandra Dee). When producer Ross Hunter offered Turner the role, she initially turned it down, fearing that it echoed her real life too closely.

She eventually accepted, however, when Hunter offered her a weekly fee plus 50 percent of the net profits, ultimately earning Turner (who was in debt to MGM and drowning in legal fees) over $2 million. The film, however, hurt Lana's relationship with Cheryl, who later said, "I found that a very difficult film to watch. It was almost like watching myself. The mother-daughter connection was a little close to home for me."

Cheryl went through a rebellious period in her teens, ending up in a reformatory (from which she repeatedly broke out) and later a sanitarium before going to work for her father at the age of 21, putting her on a path to stability.