Popular legend has it that Lana Turner was discovered sitting on a
fountain stool at Schwab's drugstore in Hollywood.* Maybe it's true,
maybe not, but more likely it's just one of those 24 Carat Hollywood
stories that studio press agents turned out to light the public's
imagination. One thing is certain, the Hollywood movie star machine made
the most out of the flashy looking young woman from Idaho.
Turner's first role was a small part in The
Great Garrick, a period film about the Comedy Francaise. Turner began
to get better exposure opposite Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in the 1938
Love Finds Andy Hardy. In Rich Man, Poor Girl, Turner's
screen persona began taking more shape. In 1939 there was another
supporting role in a staple MGM series flick, Calling Dr. Kildare.
These Glamour Girls, 1939, gave Turner her first chance at starring
in a movie, and energetic screen presence kept her career moving up the
fame ladder. MGM finally put Turner in a big A picture giving solid
support to Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
From 1941 on, it was pretty much no looking back for Turner. MGM starred
her opposite Clark Gable in Honky Tonk and Robert Taylor in Johnny
Eager. The were eager to capitalize on the flashy blonde trusses and
the sexy figure of their young star.
Lana Turner was a prime example of the star-making
power of the studio system. Turner parlayed a glittering screen presence
with great studio publicity, carving out a career that arguably
included few strong screen performances. But movie stars are about
chemistry. Mix 3 parts Gable with 2 parts Turner and you come up with a
winning movie cocktail. Turner's favorite leading man brushed her lips
in in three movies, starting with their most successful pairing, Honky
Tonk, followed seven years later by the 1948 Homecoming, d the
last of the three, 1954's Betrayed. Gable was a guy who could tame
Turner, making for hot screen sparks.
The Postman Always Rings Twice gave Turner a chance to
make the most of her bleached blonde hair. The chemistry between street
tough John Garfield and Turner, a hard-nosed ambitious small town girl
looking for money and love at any cost. My favorite Lana movies
include The Three Musketeers in which she captures the icy
gutter-fighting style of Lady DeWinter with the perfection of a perfect
white diamond. Turner's doomed quality in the quintessential Hollywood
story, The Bad and the Beautiful, is an example of perfect casting.
Playing opposite Kirk Douglas, her actress Georgia Lorrison is thoroughly
convincing and her embraces with Kirk make for hot celluloid.
MGM was constantly looking for the perfect
vehicle for their Turner. They tried her her period clothing in Green
Dolphin Street. She looked great and the production included a whopper
of an earthquake, but the drama was pretty much overblown. The studio even
snuck her into some brief glitzy outfits for a widescreen biblical epic The
Prodigal in which she played Samarra the temptress. Don't look for
anything more than comic book production values in that one, but Turner
looks great in less is more.
Turner's personal life was filled with more
melodrama than any of her films. She was married seven times to
celebrities like band leader Artie Shaw and beefcake actor Lex Barker. The
most sordid segment of Turner's life involved the stabbing murder of
boyfriend gangster Johnny Stompanato by daughter Cheryl Crane in 1958. The
tabloids had a field day and Turner's career never really
Turner often played roles that called on her to
portray women hungry to turn glass into diamonds, without the knowledge of
the Alchemists. She seldom was very convincing. Despite making few
good movies, Lana Turner's star burned bright enough. The platinum hair
and the up front sexual posture won out over acting talent.
*Lana Turner was not discovered at Schwab's
Drugstore. She skipped class while attending Hollywood High School
in 1936. She went across Highland Ave. to Top's Cafe where she was
"discovered" by Billy Wilkerson, owner of the Hollywood
Reporter.--- Bruce Torrence
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