There are a lot of things that stick in my mind about Lana Turner—things I’ve seen and heard since I came to know her rather well.
Lana was one of the stars who had really skyrocketed in the years I spent in New York and I hadn’t even met her when I came back to Hollywood to live last summer.
But she has come to mean such a lot to me in several ways that I can sort of ramble on about her. Nothing very important—bits and pieces—making up one of the rare people I’ve met in my lifetime. Giving maybe some of the feeling of the word, if you had to pick just one word, that would describe her best—contrasts.
That, by the way, is the word I stole from Clark Gable. He remarked once that there were so many contrasting sides to Lana they made you blink.
For instance, I was up at her house one afternoon when she came romping in to see her small daughter. Miss Cheryl Christine, who is two. She has golden brown hair and the biggest brownest eyes I ever saw in anybody’s head. With me, she had been rather dignified. At sight of her mother she let out a squeal. Broke the world’s record for her age getting across the room. Flung up her arms and said, “Please, Baby.”
“Does she mean you—or herself?” I asked. You know how tots use the third person about themselves, like, “Baby wants to go now.” At least all mine did.
Lana grinned. “I guess she means me,” she said. “She usually calls me her baby. And I call her my baby. So that makes it mutual.”
Yet when Lana was in Washington some time ago and was guest of honor at a luncheon given by (then) Senator Harry S. Truman, she said something in startling contrast. At the end of the luncheon, the Senator introduced her to his guests as one of our most famous movie stars and asked her to say a few words.
Lana got up and said, simply, “I thank Senator Truman for calling me a famous movie star. But when I talk to people like you, who govern our country and hold its future in their hands, I feel I have a much more important title—I’m one of America’s young mothers. And I’d like you to think of me that way. Young mothers are probably the most important people in the world. I guess they always have been. My daughter’s future is the thing of most concern to me—and to you.”
She meant it, too.
Which reminds me: When Senator Truman, after being elected vice-president, became President of the United States at the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lana called and asked me to lunch with her.
“I’m in a quandary,” she said over the coffee. “Mr. Truman was very nice to me when I was in Washington, very kind and friendly. Do you think I ought to write and—well, not exactly congratulate him—would you? I mean because he got to be president when Roosevelt died and so you would not want to congratulate him—but somehow I’d like to write to him—do you think it would be all right?”
I said I thought President Truman would like to hear from his friends, like to know they were thinking about him.
“What’ll I say?” Lana said.
“What would you like to say?” I asked.
Lana thought a moment. Rather shyly, she said, “I’d like to say that I wish him good luck, that I realize what a great task he has been given but that I feel great confidence in him and so do all the other people I know and that—that we will all pray for him.”
“Robert Sherwood and Elmer Davis couldn’t do better,” I said.
That’s one piece of Lana Turner, who majored in civics in high school.
When it comes to men, Lana is something else again. Men fall in love with her at first sight and—let’s face it—nobody can fall in love harder than Lana. It’s a gift. Each time is the only time—she’s sure she’s never been in love before and never will be again. There are no halfway measures about Lana Turner.
All her romances are life-and-death. She wouldn’t—I imagine—think it was any fun to be sort of halfway in love. But she never flirts and the legend in Hollywood is very specific on this point. She never two-timed anybody in her life.
In the beginning, everybody thought she was going to marry Greg Bautzer, a young lawyer of these parts. But that passed by mutual consent. Hot on its heels she married Artie Shaw, the band leader. The marriage lasted four months—to music. Then it crashed and burned magnificently.
After that, she married Stephen Crane, an actor. They had a lot of trouble, but in the end Lana felt none of it mattered because she had Cheryl Christine.
The man in her life today is Turhan Bey, of course, and she is madly in love with him. No question about that. Now that he has gone into the United States Army, Lana doesn’t go out at all in the evening. Her heart is at Camp Roberts.
Bey is romantic looking. He’s different. And most people think it’s just one of those white-hot attractions that happen to girls like Lana. Again—you can never figure Lana by the rules, because there have never been two people in Hollywood who seemed to have such wide mutual interests, who really find in each other so much companionship.
“The worst fight we ever had,” Lana told me, “was over a line in Dr. Carrel’s book, ‘Man The Unknown.’ I mean Turhan gets so—so stubborn. After all, there can be a lot of different interpretations of what a man like that has to say. I have as much right to mine as he has to his.” She smiled—and, by the way, she smiles rarely. That probably is why her smile has such enchantment. It seems to come from within. “We didn’t speak for two days.”
With Artie Shaw and Stephen Crane, Lana did her share of night clubbing—like a lot of other young girls. Not being one for half measures, she usually went home in the dawn, having had a merry time. Besides, she’s the kind of a girl who likes riding home in the dawn. Incidentally, she looks as fresh, as beautiful, as lovely at dawn as she did when she left her dressing room. The dewy quality of her doesn’t seem to get all mussed up the way it does with lots of girls. But if you ask her for the secret of that immaculate neatness, she looks honestly blank. “I don’t do any thing special,” she says. Maybe it’s because she has the most exquisite skin I’ve ever seen on any girl. In fact, when she puts her cheek against Cheryl Christine’s, you can’t see much difference.
With Turhan Bey, she doesn’t go much to night clubs. Last season, they never missed a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, went regularly to the ballet and to some serious lectures on governmental affairs. Turhan is a highly educated and very well-read man. His conversation is fascinating. That is part of his great charm for Lana—who is growing up all the time and has to some extent discarded her sweaters mentally as well as physically.
They spent a good many evenings at home. It’s always struck me as kind of typical that Lana’s house is all mixed up, too. When you go there, you don’t get any impression of a decorated house—it’s all contrasts, too. A rather formal drawing room, with gray walls and gray drapes piped in red, and chartreuse and red in the furniture. The bar has bookshelves on two walls, a lot of bright and burnished copper on the mantelpiece, and yellow and green checked wallpaper on the ceiling.
“I like that,” Lana says. “I thought that one up myself.”
A very livable, gay, charming house—arranged to suit Lana herself. She and Turhan spent a lot of time in front of that big fireplace, or out on the terrace overlooking the golf course.
“I’ve never had time to do much traveling,” Lana says, “and by the time I could have maybe—I mean afforded it—the war came and there was no place you could go. So I missed everything. Turhan has traveled everywhere. So when he tells me about it, I can see and understand places I will never see, places that don’t exist any more and all the countries that are so changed. Of course it’s wonderful for me.”
There are all those things about Lana—and there is, too, the story of Cheryl’s birth. A nurse who was in the hospital at that time once told me a little about that—as much as her ethics would permit.
For days it didn’t look as though the baby could possibly live. She was born with so pronounced an anemia, she had one blood transfusion after another, and was finally taken to the Children’s Hospital, where she stayed for some months.
“You know how it is about movie stars,” the nurse said, “you never can tell and you never know what to expect. I never saw anybody suffer more than Lana Turner did. Of course she was just a kid—she seemed so awfully young and little. She wanted a baby so badly, worse than anybody I ever saw, and when the girls had to tell her that maybe the baby wouldn’t live—it was just like taking her heart out. A nurse can always tell. You learn to know real pain when you see it and that girl really suffered more than anyone I ever saw. But she had courage. After the first shock she put her chin up, said the best thing she could do for her baby was to have faith. Lots of it. Surely God didn’t want her baby back so soon. He must have sent it to her to keep. She said she was just going to keep on knowing her baby would be all right.”
If you could see Cheryl now you would wonder if faith hadn’t done a remarkable job. Never saw a healthier baby in my life and when she and Lana go on vacations—usually down to the desert—the young lady keeps her mother stepping.
Then Lana does funny little things that sometimes people misunderstand. (The sweater-girl legend has something to do with that.) Once she went out with a gas station attendant who used to park her car. He told her how much he admired her—on the screen of course. He said all the boys he knew were envious because he’d talked to her and they kidded him about not having the nerve to ask for a date.
“So,” said Lana, “I went dancing with him. Why not? He was a very nice boy. After all, if he’d come into the drugstore opposite Hollywood High when I was having a soda, I’d have been tickled to death to have a date with him. We had a lot of fun, as a matter of fact. Just because you’re in the movies doesn’t mean you can’t be a human being. Billy Wilkerson walked into a drugstore and saw me sitting on a stool—and that’s how I got to be a movie star. Tomorrow somebody might walk into a gas station and see a kid there and next week he might be a movie star—that’s America, or am I wrong?”
Which brings me to a Sergeant, over in Germany. He is a very nice red-headed Sergeant, and he and his platoon have carried a picture of Lana from Normandy to VE Day—with Patto—riding her in the first jeep. The day I told her this we were lunching at Romanoffs and she cried so hard everybody kept staring at us. But Lana didn’t notice. She just kept saying, “It makes you feet so strange when you know you are just you, to have men who are fighting as hard as they are feel that way about you.”
Then during the last days when Patton was wheeling south into Czechoslovakia, the Sergeant wrote me a letter which I have to put in any story about Lana.
He said: “I received your letter telling us that Miss Turner was really touched and pleased that she is our mascot. I get to like that gal better every day and so do the others. What I mean is this, whether I can say it very well or not. The men’s feeling for her represents everything that is different between us and the German soldiers. That’s a heck of a statement to make unless I can back it up. But we feel that our liking for Miss Turner represents exactly what we are fighting for. It has been said by some of our so-called experts that we do not know what we are fighting for. I refer for one to Hanson Baldwin who said exactly that in an article in Life Magazine some time ago which we all resented a lot.
“These American doughboys fight for one thing. Their homes. Women make homes. We fight to keep war away from our homes and our women and to be sure they can go on living decent free lives. I honestly believe the American soldier has more respect for his womenfolks than any other group of men in the world.
“So we get back to Miss Turner. Soldiers think a lot about their girls. Somehow when they see Lana’s picture, it’s a symbol of all the girls—the individual girls each of us is thinking about. This may seem involved to you, but just the same somewhere in it is the answer to what we are fighting for and why we are winning.
“The Germans do not respect their women. If a nation does not respect and look up to its women, it’s lost. German women are the most awful things I have ever seen. They are worse than the men. They are still Nazis, they are without any remorse, they behave like wildcats. They have shocked us more than anything we have seen in Germany and we have seen things you will never know about. The Germans are insane beasts, the civilians too, but the women are worst.
“Somehow then it is better to be fighting for Lana Turner than it is to be fighting for the Greater Reich. Understand? Because she is all our girls rolled into one and we can get together and know how the other fellow feels.”
I don’t think I’m prejudiced because the Sergeant happens to be my son. I think that’s a pretty fine letter. So does Lana. . . .
Oh well, Clark Gable summed it up in his usual succinct fashion.
“That Turner,” said Mr. Gable, “is sure one helofagal! A man can like her as much as he could love her.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1945