Lana Turner’s Flirting With Danger Again
On the sunny, quiet afternoon of August 30th, a sleepy clerk in the marriage bureau at the county courthouse in Santa Ana, California, some thirty-five miles from Hollywood, looked up in amazement as he recognized the couple standing before him. He didn’t need to ask their names, but he went through the formalities and then wrote down “Lana Turner” and “Frederick Clemens May.”
“We were driving to his ranch,” Lana explained quickly, “and we decided to take out a license. It was all so sudden.”
But Lana, as she has done in the past, was winking at the truth. She stood at Fred’s side, calmly playing her role. But the third person in the drama was missing—Cheryl was offstage, waiting behind the gray walls of the El Retiro School for Girls for whatever fate would bring her now.
If the clerk knew that he wasn’t saying. But this decision couldn’t have been all that sudden. In California, you can’t apply for a license without a doctor’s certificate, and the necessary examinations and laboratory tests take at least twenty-four hours before the results are known. The clerk looked up quizzically at Lana, but her half-closed eyes were fixed on an invisible spot somewhere past his head.
Her fiance, tanned, crewcut Fred May, avoided the clerk’s glance, too. And after that, the couple gave only the answers necessary to fill out the form.
They did not say why they had decided to marry in California, where the three-day waiting period is a lot of days when you’re trying to keep a secret.
They did not say when they would marry, or where.
The clerk continued to fill out the license. May said he was 43 and that his occupation was “rancher.” Lana gave her age as 39 and said she had been married four times previously. May said that he, too, had been married before—once. “Sign here,” the clerk said, making an “x” to indicate the proper line. They signed, took the license with them and then drove off to celebrate at the Del Mar race track.
In an hour, the news was out. Surrounded by reporters, Fred May was triumphant. “Only two people were in on our secret,” he said. “Lana’s daughter, Cheryl, who is overjoyed that her mother is finding happiness. And Lana’s mother, Mrs. Myrtle Turner, who also approves.”
But the three-day waiting period ended with no sign that they’d set a date. “It’ll be September 5th,” a friend revealed. “Lana told me that five is a lucky number for her and Fred.” In her fifth marriage, she might grasp at anything that would change her luck. But the day passed, as did the “lucky fifths” of the months that followed. The question was no longer when they’d marry, but whether they’d marry at all.
“We’ll marry,” Lana insisted, and, her blue-green eyes averted, she added, “but not tomorrow. . . . I’m not holding out on you,” she said. “We just don’t know.”
Fred, though, seemed to be growing impatient. Angrily, he walked out on Lana and a group of her friends, leaving them seated at a restaurant table on the Strip. The next day, Lana shrugged the incident off. “We had a lovers’ quarrel, but kissed and made up later,” she said. Her voice was level as she added, “We are still in love.”
But were they, as Lana pretended, still in love! Had it, for that matter, ever been love About Fred, who had retired from his several businesses at 38 and now ran a horse ranch in Chino, there seemed no doubt. And Lana? What about her?
A gamble for love
Through it all, Lana glowed. Her eyes shone and her cheeks were flushed with excitement. She was flirting with danger again. The stakes were high and dazzling—she was gambling for love. And this time she might risk anything to break the streak of bad luck—almost like a curse—that had doggedly followed her so long. For now there glittered before her an added prize—Cheryl. Marriage to a solid, respectable man like Fred May might well bring her daughter back to her.
But for Lana, love has always been a fatal game. She’s always played with her eyes closed—as if that were the only way she dared to play at all.
The curse—if that’s what it was—ran in the family. At 14, her mother, Myrtle Turner, was a runaway bride. According to Lana, the man, her father, was a bootlegger, a drifter, a rock worker and a gentleman who changed his name often. After a crap game in which he won a lot of money, he was slugged and left tragically to die on a San Francisco street.
Myrtle had played once and lost. Lana played more often, but Fate didn’t have much better luck in store for her. A close friend tried to explain it: “She’s stupid about men. But most men,” he confessed, “are stupid about women. Maybe that’s the reason we all like her so much.”
Lana, too, looked back, trying to understand. “I’ve fallen in love many times, and I was usually the patsy. All my life I’ve wanted to be loved. But I lost out every time.”
At nineteen, Lana was as impatient for love as, later, Cheryl would be. She eloped with Artie Shaw after just one dinner date. She had acted too quickly and her luck was bad. The marriage failed. Next, she married Steve Crane but this love was doomed even before the wedding vows were said. Steve’s divorce from another woman was not yet final and the marriage had to be annulled. But Cheryl was already on the way, so they tried again. After his divorce was final, Lana and Steve re-married. By then, it was too late. Though friends say that Steve still loves her today, it wasn’t meant to be.
Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be, either, with Tyrone Power—“the only man I ever loved,” Lana said recently. By the time they got around to getting married, Fate had stepped in. Ty had found Linda Christian. “And that was that,” said Lana.
As for her, she found Bob Topping. Cheryl was five then and she was Mommy’s flower girl. She was dressed up in an Empire gown of white lace over turquoise blue satin and her soft brown curls peeped out from under a white lace bonnet. In the mad scramble of reporters and photographers, she somehow got pushed and crowded out of the way. When Lana passed by close to her, she reached out eagerly and caught at her skirt of champagne colored satin. “Mommy,” she whispered. Lana heard her and, turning around for a moment, she leaned down to give her a kiss. “Now darling,” she told her, “you run along with Granny. Mommy has to go upstairs with Uncle Bob.” Obediently, she took her grandmother’s hand, but her eyes still followed her beautiful mother as she made her way up the stairway. Lana didn’t hear the little girl sigh nor did she see the bewildered look on her face. Yet that look was to be there often.
“This is forever,” Lana had said about Bob. But “forever” was destined to last only four years.
Everyone expected Lana would then marry Fernando Lamas, but, instead, the groom was Lex Barker. “We’ll be happy, you’ll see,” Lana promised Cheryl, hugging her close. “He even has a daughter who’s eleven, just like you. You can be friends and go to school together.”
But they weren’t happy. And the girls weren’t friends. Their fights kept the Bel Air Town and Country School in an uproar. And it was usually Cheryl who was blamed and punished—so often that the other girls were always laughing at her. She was almost relieved when she was finally expelled from the school.
When this marriage, too, ended, the trouble between the two girls was blamed as part of the reason. And Lex saw a danger that Lana’s eyes were closed to. “Cheryl is a difficult girl to understand,” he told a friend, “and I fear she will get into trouble one of these days unless she finds a friend who can help her.”
She was a sullen girl at that time, people said. She was sometimes the pampered pet of her parents, other times the child who had to be left alone while Mommy acted and Daddy took care of his restaurant. She had been often disappointed.
“C’mon, Cherie,” her mother said one time, “we’re going on a picnic.” The girl was thrilled. But then a reporter and a photographer got in the car with them and Mommy explained they were doing something called a “layout,” a picture story for a magazine. So they’d spent the whole day changing clothes and pretending to do things, but never really doing them.
When Cheryl was twelve, she had few friends. The mother of one of them reported that she lit one cigarette after another, flaunting her smoking. And the following year, when the girls wouldn’t stop teasing her over a story in a scandal magazine about her mother, she ran away from the Sacred Heart Academy in Flint-ridge.
Lana blinked at the warning signals. She was still playing the game; she was dazzled, blinded as she made her most fatal try for love—this time with Johnny Stompanato.
To Cheryl, her mother seemed successful at love. Everyone adored her, and the lonely girl wished she could be more like her. She idolized her. When, from her mother’s pink bedroom, she heard Stompanato’s angry threats, she rushed to defend her, stabbing the man who would hurt her mother.
Yet even after that terrible tragedy, Lana still continued to tempt fate. She seemed somehow to still be drawn to a kind of man who was wrong for her. And eyebrows were raised as people said one of her dates had a striking physical resemblance to Stompanato.
And then it was all over. Suddenly, Lana was shocked into reality. Her “baby” was playing the love game on her own- and Fate was mocking at her in the same heartless way as it had the other Turner women. When Cheryl threatened to run away with Marty Gunn, a carhop at a drive-in, Lana had to open her eyes wide and see that love was not just a game after all.
This time, she acted quickly. She agreed with the authorities that Cheryl should be committed to the El Retiro school for girls, hoping that there she would get the help she couldn’t get at home. And when she wasn’t as happy there as Lana had promised her . . . when the wonders Lana had hoped for didn’t happen fast enough . . . when Cheryl had run away from the school a second time—then this was when Lana and Fred May reached a peak of seriousness in their romance.
“He’s a wonderful man,” Lana said, “and I only wish I had met him years ago. His advice to me is always good. He knows just what is best for me.” She didn’t mention love. And who knows? Maybe Lana had opened her eyes and then shut them tight again. Maybe Lana felt that if she could only show her good faith, if she only took out a license with a man like Fred, then maybe the courts would return Cheryl to her. At the very least, maybe Cheryl could go back to her grandmother.
For when Marty Gunn’s story came out, Lana had seen the pattern repeating itself; she had heard echoes of her own words in Cheryl’s.
Marty told of their first meeting at the drive-in … of the dates when Cheryl would slip out of her grandmother’s house after midnight and then slip back in at 4 A.M. … of how Cheryl would tremble, insisting that people were staring at her . . . of how she told him, “I think I’m the loneliest girl in the world.” He told her he was lonely, too, but she couldn’t believe it. In her mother’s glamorous world, she had never found anyone else who was lonely, too. Perhaps it was this that drew them together, for Marty told of how finally there came a night when she whispered, “More than anything else in the world, I want to marry you, Marty, and have children.”
Shortly after that, he said, when he met Cheryl she was crying—Cheryl who never cries. She said they were going to send her away. She told him, “I just want to be happy. Is that so wrong?”
He told of how she wouldn’t be comforted, how, still crying, she said, “I’ve never had to want for anything, Marty—but I’ve never had anything. Does that sound strange? Anything I have wanted has been given to me, except what I really wanted—a deep-down love and attention. The two things I’ve wanted most I haven’t had—love and happiness. I almost feel the world wanted me to be unhappy.”
Marty told, too, of the only message he’s had from Cheryl since she was sent to El Retiro, the very day after he’d given her a small diamond engagement ring and she gave him a St. Christopher’s medal. A week after, he says that Lana telephoned him, saying, “I have a message to you from Cherie. She said, ‘Tell Marty that I love him!’ ” He’s never heard from her again. When she ran away from El Retiro, and tried to phone a number where she might reach him, he wasn’t there.
Cheryl had played at love; she vowed she would marry the first chance she got. But Lana couldn’t stand by and let fate repeat itself for the third generation. She couldn’t let her daughter be a loser, too. Whatever she had to do to prevent that, she was now ready to do.
Only she may have chosen the wrong thing to do.
If Lana’s planning on a sacrifice, if she’s planning to marry just for Cheryl’s sake, then she may be a loser herself—for the fifth time. At 39, she may be as wrong about the marriage she wants as Cheryl was at 16. She may be winking at the truth once more, shutting her ears to Cheryl’s own words, “You can’t run away forever.”
For the truth is that mother and daughter both need love—desperately. And perhaps Lana can never give Cheryl the deep- down love she needs until she has it herself.
It’s true, Lana has the love of Fred May. There seems no doubt about that. She has bad the love of many men, and she must know by now that you can’t take love without giving it back. She must know by now that a one-sided love won’t last; a marriage made in sacrifice won’t last. And she can’t afford to lose again. For her own sake and for Cheryl’s. If she has any doubts, then she’s not only flirting with danger, she’s marrying it.
LANA NOW STARS IN “PORTRAIT IN BLACK” FOR U-I. WATCH FOR “BY LOVE POSSESSSED” FOR U.A
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JANUARY 1961