A portrait of Lana Turner circa 1940s.
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Downtown Wallace, ID – the birthplace of Lana Turner.
Photo by: Mandy/Wikimedia | CC-BY-2.0
Actress Lana Turner (1920–1995) was born Julia Jean Turner to Mildred Frances Cowan and John Virgil Turner at Providence Hospital on the east side of Wallace, Idaho, the town where Lana lived until she was 6 years old.  For the first year or so of Turner’s life, her father owned and operated a dry-cleaning business called City Dye Works. After the business failed, he went to work in the mines of Wallace until the family relocated to the town of Stockton, California, near San Francisco. Just prior to the family’s move to California, six-year-old Turner tap danced at the Liberty Theatre in what is believed to be her first public performance.  On what would have been her 100th birthday, the town of Wallace dedicated a plaque in her honor at the Liberty Theatre. 
Shortly after moving to California, tragedy struck the family—first a separation, then a murder. When Lana’s parents separated, her father traveled, selling insurance, and her mother got a job at a beauty salon; they placed Lana in a foster home and visited her frequently. Soon thereafter, her father was murdered after winning a large sum of money in a card game, and the death profoundly affected her. For nearly another year, she lived with the foster family until her mother removed her, suspecting she was being abused. Lana briefly lived with another family until her mother could find an affordable apartment for them both. 
In 1936, the pair moved to Los Angeles, where the young teen enrolled at Hollywood High.  About a month later, she skipped class and went to buy a soda at the Top Hat Café across the street—a seemingly small decision that altered the course of her life.  While she was there, William R. Wilkerson, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, noticed her and referred her to a talent agent.  The agent, Herbert “Zeppo” Marx, referred Turner to director Mervyn LeRoy, who ultimately cast her in her first movie—“They Won’t Forget”—and suggested she change her name from Julia to Lana.  It was from that film that Turner acquired the nickname “The Sweater Girl,” which she hated and spoke out against for the entirety of her career. In a 1982 article for Good Housekeeping, Turner wrote, “I was not prepared for the girl I saw on the screen. As the camera caught her in a form-fitting skirt and sweater, she seemed to be flaunting a youthful sexuality. I clutched my mother’s hand in embarrassment as an unmistakable chorus of wolf whistles arose from the audience.”  After the film was released in 1937, Turner was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $100 a week and graduated from high school in between shooting movies. 
A portrait of Lana Turner circa 1940s.
Courtesy of Wikimedia
Turner made more than 50 films and starred in various stage, radio and television productions in a career spanning more than four decades.  She remained with MGM until 1956, and during that time she starred in her most famous role, Cora Smith, in “The Postman Always Rings Twice” in 1946.  In 1952 she starred in “The Bad and the Beautiful,” and in 1957 she received her first and only nomination for an Academy Award (Best Actress) for her role as Constance MacKenzie in “Peyton Place.” 
Over the course of her career, Turner made headlines for her personal life as much as her public life. In 1958, she was catapulted into the spotlight when her 14-year-old daughter Cheryl—whom she had with her husband Joseph “Steve” Crane—stabbed Turner’s boyfriend Johnny Stompanato to death during a domestic dispute.  The death was later ruled a justifiable homicide.
In 1982, Turner released her memoir, “Lana: The Lady, the Legend, the Truth.” Ten years later she was diagnosed with throat cancer, which ultimately took her life in 1995. 
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