Lana Turner was a stunning and elegant woman who became one of the biggest stars on the silver screen. In addition to being talented, Lana was known as Hollywood’s “sex symbol” (but she later admitted that she hated being called that). Her life looked glamorous, but things weren’t always picture perfect.
Lana faced many troubles in her life, specifically when it came to her love life. Turner got married eight times to seven husbands. Her attitude towards love and romance changed pretty often. Once a man charmed her, she was in love. Unfortunately, these guys weren’t exactly Prince Charmings. Some were vulgar and even abusive.
This is Lana’s story…
Cheryl Crane was trembling with fear, holding a kitchen knife in her hand. She could hear her mother’s screams and knew Johnny Stompanato was in another violent rage. He was threatening her mom, telling her he would kill her and her daughter if she tried to leave him. What he didn’t expect was that Cheryl Crane would protect her mother at any cost. As she watched the life leave his body, her life would never be the same again.
Lana Turner was a movie star with her own set of issues. She met an abusive man named Johnny Stompanato and invited him into her life even though she had a teenage daughter in the house. This toxic relationship ended with blood, and 14-year old Cheryl Crane was traumatized. Eventually, Crane managed to overcome abuse, murder, and control.
Back in 1936, Lana Turner was “discovered” in front of the Top Hat Malt Shop in Hollywood. She was famous for ushering countless people who would later become her directors and boyfriends. Unlike actresses like Judy Garland and Shirley Temple, Lana wasn’t really considered the “innocent type.” She was a party girl.
Even today, Hollywood party girls have a reputation, but it’s certainly not as stigmatized as it was in the 1930s. Turner was referred to as the “Nightclub Queen.” Even though her employer Louis B. Mayer was worried about her, the actress was determined to live her life to the fullest, and that included men.
Lana’s daughter, Cheryl Crane, lived a rather sheltered life. She was far from the party girl her mom was. Instead, she was constantly watched over like a hawk. Whether it was nannies or governesses, she was never alone. That was very frustrating, especially during her teenage years.
Turner was an overprotective mother. Like most parents, she wanted to protect her daughter at any cost. It might be to prevent her child from getting involved in scandals like Ike Turner did in your youth. At the end of the day, the mother-daughter relationship was distant, but Crane knew her mom loved her. It was Crane’s love for her mother that forced her to commit an unimaginable offense one day.
Cheryl Crane spoke about her mother’s exciting life in Hollywood’s golden age in her biography, “Detour: A Hollywood Story.” She described her mom as a free spirit who was open about her sexuality. She was known for having countless men coming into her life. When a reporter asked her about it, Turner said: “Let’s face it, it’s the physical that attracts me first.”
She continued, “If you get to know a man’s heart and soul, that’s the icing on the cake.” Lana Turner was seen in the arms of Hollywood heart-throbs, like George Raft, Richard Hutton, and Victor Mature. Turner explained, “I liked the boys, and the boys liked me.” Unfortunately, her relationships eventually faded… except for when it came to Johnny Stompanato.
When Lana Turner first met cool and attractive John Stompanato, she was in her late 30s. She recently divorced Lex Barker, her fourth husband. The star was looking for a distraction, and it wasn’t difficult for her. Stompanato was smitten right away. He sent Turner flowers and love letters, begging her to give him a chance.
Lana Turner ultimately decided to give it a shot with Stompanato for two reasons: One, he was a pretty good looking guy; and two, he said he knew some of the people in her circle. Turner gave in and went out with Stompanato before checking with their “mutual” friends.
When Lana Turner started hanging around Stompanato, she was a struggling star; she was physically, emotionally, and financially drained. On top of that, she was getting older, and aging in Hollywood wasn’t a good thing. At this point, she was almost 40, looking for work, and trying to keep herself relevant.
Her relationships didn’t last, and the IRS had no problem taxing their celebrities. Aside from her career, Turner had a 14-year-old daughter at home; Cheryl was a constant reminder of her age. All she wanted was to feel loved, and she thought Stompanato was the answer. Sadly, it was a real sickness that ended with blood. Crane ended up in the middle of her mother’s life choices.
Stompanato had a quiet, yet tough demeanor. He didn’t want to scare off Turner, so he told her he was a simple businessman running a gift shop. He also told the actress that he was 43, five years older than her. Since she was struggling with her age and Stompanato made her feel youthful.
But eventually, Lana found out the truth. When she introduced this man to her Hollywood friends, some of them recognized him as a sleazy creep who worked with criminals. They turned out to be right. In addition to working with criminals, he worked as a bodyguard for Mickey Cohen, one of LA’s most notorious gangsters.
When Turner asked Stompanato about it, he immediately got defensive. According to Crane’s biography, Stompanato said: “You’d never gave given me a chance if you knew. I don’t see those guys no more – promise.” He was obviously lying, but Lana gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Even if she realized this was a toxic relationship and wanted to leave, it was too late. After dating him for six months, Stompanato publicly labeled the actress as “his girl” and got all the benefits that came with dating a Hollywood star. What Stompanato didn’t anticipate was Turner’s high morals and separating business from pleasure.
Now that he was dating a star, Stompanato pressured the actress to find him a role in Hollywood. Specifically, as a producer. Unfortunately for him, Turner wasn’t into the idea. She liked to keep her personal life separated from her career and didn’t involve Stompanato in any of her work.
Since he came from a gangster background, it’s not surprising that Stompanato physically abused Turner. In addition to hitting her, he would scream and curse at his girlfriend. He had an ugly dark side full of rage, and it reached an endpoint.
He even tried to murder Turner while filming abroad…
Turner and Stompanato got into an argument while they were filming in England. Instead of getting a man and storming out, Stompanato proceeded to smother the actress with a pillow. Thankfully, her bouncer that was on her production team heard her screams. He stormed in and kicked Stompanato out.
Within 24 hours, Johnny Stompanato was out of the country and seemingly out of her life. Unfortunately, throwing the ex-gangster into the gutter wasn’t enough. When Turner returned to Hollywood, she went back to Stompanato. Even though the couple made up, things weren’t rosy. The abuse was still going on.
As it turns out, the peace between the actress and Stompanato wasn’t real. Sure, they reconciled, but Stompanato still pushed Turner about becoming her producer. She turned him down once again, and that made him mad. They took a trip to Mexico, where Stompanato continued to prove that he can’t control his anger and assaulted Turner.
He was just a vicious and violent man. No matter what the star did or said, a person like Stompanato doesn’t change. She bit her tongue and kept quiet about the abuse. What she didn’t know was how far he would take it, and it got to an unexpected level.
When Turner introduced Stompanato to her daughter, Cheryl was 13 years old. Crane described him as quiet. She recalls initially liking him because he didn’t try to butter her up like her mom’s previous boyfriends/husbands. Plus, he bought her a horse named Rowena. However, his first impression didn’t last long.
Sadly, Crane’s illusion of her mother’s new boyfriend vanished quickly. After Turner got back from the 1958 Oscars, Stompanato resorted to violence once again. Crane was shocked and terrified. From this point on, it was obvious to Cheryl that this man was extremely violent, abusive, and dangerous.
When Crane first saw Stompanato get into a violent rage, the teenager was terrified. She wrote: “I saw for the first time what he [Stompanato] looked like when he was angry. He seethed. He clearly hated her [Turner].” Even when her mom tried to leave the relationship, Stompanato wouldn’t go away.
He was extremely possessive and even had the nerve to tell Turner, “You’re not getting rid of me that easy Miss Moviestar. I’ll cut you first!” This situation was dangerous, but Turner always had her teenage daughter to lean on. Whenever she was scared or alone, she found comfort in her loving daughter.
It comes as no surprise that Crane hated how this man treated her mother. She begged her mom to make Stompanato leave. She said, “Why don’t you just tell him to go? You’re a coward, Mother.” Her daughter’s words should have affected her, but she tried excusing his behavior, telling Cheryl she doesn’t understand their relationship.
Turner then told her, “I’m deathly afraid of him – I’m terrified.” Crane saw how scared her mom was and pleaded for her to call the police. Turner refused; she was way too concerned about another public scandal. Ironically, the scandal would come her way, regardless. Unfortunately, Crane had to pay the price.
On Good Friday 1958, the last act of violence took place. After another abusive argument, Tuner had enough. To protect her young daughter, she was finally ready to leave Stompanato for good. He screamed, “You’ll never get away from me.”
He continued, “Wherever you go, I’ll find you. Or I have people who can… if someone makes a living with their hands, break his hands. If someone makes a living with her face, destroy her face. I’ll cut you good, baby… And don’t think I won’t also get your mother and your kid. I don’t even have to be there. I have people to do the job for me – and I’ll watch.”
Turner told her daughter to stay in her room and do her homework while she gets rid of Stompanato. Crane knew something was wrong, and she left her room. That’s when she overheard their argument and her mom sobbing in the bedroom. Crane was so scared and had no idea what to do, so she went into the kitchen.
Crane wanted to protect herself in case Stompanato tried to hurt her, or her mother. She found a long kitchen knife next to the sink, and she took it upstairs. She walked over to her mom’s door and heard her conversation with Stompanato. He said, “This is the end – oh, yes!” That’s when Crane did something unforgettable.
Sacred for her life, Crane waited outside her mother’s door. Then, Turner ran out of the room and hid behind her daughter. Stompanato chased after her but ran into Crane and her knife first. Crane was obviously stunned when she realized he walked into the knife, but everything happened so fast.
“I took a step forward and lifted the weapon. He ran in the blade. It went in. In! For three ghastly heartbeats, our bodies fused. He looked straight at me, unblinking… In slow motion, he pulled off and jerked in backward steps toward the bed… he knew his life was ending, and he hadn’t seen in coming.”
Stompanato immediately fell to the ground and couldn’t breathe. You could hear him gurgle as the air was escaping his lungs. Both mother and daughter were terrified by this horrific scene. As soon as Crane realized what just happened, she dropped the knife. She told her mom she was sorry, but she ignored her distressed daughter.
Instead, she took her abuser’s side and tried to resuscitate him, but it was no use. Stompanato was dead, and the room was got quiet. At this point, young Crane was traumatized and called her dad, the one person in the world that would help her no matter what. That’s when the scandal started to unfold.
It didn’t take long for Hollywood and the rest of the world to find out about John Stompanato’s sudden death. Turner was devastated when she saw what her daughter had done. At first, she tried to take the blame for Cheryl’s crime. But it didn’t work.
Crane was sent to juvenile hall and had to remain there for two weeks without bail. During that time, the adults went to trial, and Mickey Cohen got involved. He wasn’t happy when he found out that his former guard was killed. He had a reputation for talking to the press and decided to stir the pot.
Cohen wasted no time making things difficult for the actress. In her biography, Crane said that Mickey was telling reporters things like, “I can’t understand it,” or “I don’t like the whole thing… There’s a lot of unanswered questions… I’m going to find some of those answers, no matter what happens.” After he gave his statements, somebody broke into Stompanato’s apartment.
Nothing was taken. It was highly speculated that Mickey and his men snuck in. Whoever it was that broke in got exactly what they were looking for. Newspapers published private love letters between Stompanato and the actress. The whole ordeal was all over the media and turned into a game of who to trust. Was Turner making up the abuse? Did she stab her lover with a knife and blame her daughter?
Thankfully, Crane was released at the end. The Crime was deemed as a “justifiable homicide.” Even though Crane was no longer in custody, the events of that night continued to haunt her for the rest of her life. Crane talked about what it was like when she left juvenile and admitted that her family never spoke about the murder again. “It’s not something one just closes the door on,” she explained.
“When one is responsible for someone’s life ending, whether it’s a justifiable act or not, it stays with you, and you have to cope with it, and it took many years to do that… we never discussed what had happened… I had no idea what my own parents thought of me.”
After this life-changing event, the girl was supervised and tended to. Unfortunately, her home was broken forever. The state got a court order and had custody over Crane until she turned 18. She legally went to live with her grandmother. After being sheltered by her mom for 14 years, Cheryl finally felt like she could breathe.
But she was getting checked on regularly but her psychiatrist. Even though Turner was no longer present in Crane’s life and couldn’t control her, she managed to pressure her grandma to act by proxy. Crane didn’t get the freedom she needed. In her book, Crane conveyed that the best thing her family could have done to help her move forward was to treat her like a normal teenager.
Death is the only certainty in this world, and Crane couldn’t change the past. No matter how much she wanted to bring her mother’s lover back, there was nothing she could do. All she wanted was to have a normal life, but she was never an ordinary girl. She always was and always will be Lana Turner’s daughter.
She couldn’t experience the world like a normal teenager, and Crane retaliated by rebelling. She hung out with the “bad boys,” hoping to overshadow the haunting memories of Stompanato’s death her mind. Sadly, it didn’t work, and Crane’s problems would only get worse.
Crane would often sneak out to get away from her mother’s eye and the press. Yeah, she was free, but the scandal was far from over. The media was watching Crane, and on top of that, Stompanato’s family was trying to get every last drop of Lana Turner’s money.
The only time Crane could sneak away when her grandmother got drunk. That’s when Crane escaped and drank all night. The older Crane got, her parents continued to fight over custody. While they argued, Crane ended up in dangerous situations, and eventually, she would have to be institutionalized against her will.
As we know, Turner liked to be in control of her environment and the people around her, including her daughter. But Cheryl had a strong fighting spirit that she kept hidden at a young age. Now it was time for the real Cheryl Crane to come out. She started wearing makeup, revealing clothes, and went out dancing.
Her mom hated everything her daughter did. She always preferred Cheryl to wear age-appropriate clothes and very little makeup. But Crane didn’t care about her mother’s opinion; she just wanted to forget about her traumatizing past. She wanted to forget about her mom and Stompanato and live her life how she wanted. Sadly, it turned into a downward spiral.
Even though she was living with her grandmother now, Crane’s life was still being controlled. Between ages 15 and 17, the high schooler participated in questionable activities, including drinking, taking tranquilizers, and riding in speeding cars with boys.
She chose to drink and ignore her 10 P.M. curfew. Therefore, she ended up in the back seat of a police car once again, but her lawyer bailed her out shortly after. Cheryl’s 18th birthday was approaching, and she was excited to officially declare her independence. But before that, she did something that caused her family to really question her sanity.
Basically, Crane knew she saw the same sex differently. She dated plenty of boys, but she revealed that she has always been attracted to women. Apparently, she came out to her mother when she was 10. Her family didn’t take her confession seriously, but she didn’t get criticized or punished.
The older Crane got, the more evident it became that she preferred women over men. But that didn’t mean she dismissed all men. She had several relationships with boys, and one particular boyfriend made her an offer that could help her escape early. His idea was to help her get emancipated.
Martin, the boy Crane was dating, knew all about her struggles. He knew all she wanted was to get out of her family’s control and be her own person. She was sick of being known as “Lana Turner’s daughter” or a murderer. Martin proposed to her, and she said yes. She was excited to live her own life.
It seemed like a quick fix to Crane’s problems. She would be considered independent and seen as an adult. The issue with getting married is that she had to tell her parents something she really didn’t want to do. She knew it’s the only way to get her freedom, so she decided to tell them, but their response was deceiving.
Crane wanted everyone to realize that her and Martin’s engagement was serious. She even staged a situation where her grandma walked in and saw her in bed with Martin. What came as a surprise to Crane was how okay her parents were with this news. She thought they would be furious.
They just smiled and gave Crane their blessing. They just told her they need time to make some necessary arrangements. Crane was in complete shock that her parents had no objection and are allowing her to marry this guy. She didn’t care, though. She just needed their written consent. Crane went to bed that evening feeling like her freedom was just within reach.
The day after Crane told her parents she was getting married, Turner told her daughter that she was going into a mental institution. Crane was confused and didn’t understand. Her mom attempted to downplay the situation. She called the hospital a resort – a facility that would help her and make her happy.
Crane’s dad and grandmother also thought it would be a good idea for her to go. Since her 18th birthday was right around the corner, she agreed. She assumed once she is 18, she could sign herself out. Unfortunately, that wasn’t how it works. On her birthday, Crane tried checking out but wasn’t allowed.
As you would expect, Crane did not feel comfortable at the mental facility; it was like a jail. What Crane didn’t know was that the day she turned 18, she was free to leave the institution. It was her controlling mother who kept a strong grip on the doctors and lawyers.
Crane reached out to her mother’s lawyer for help. He told her that she was legally bound to her doctors, which was a complete lie. He told her that the doctors would decide when she could leave. Crane spent ten miserable months there. When Turner realized her daughter wasn’t getting any help, she let her out.
Crane was furious, but there was nothing she could really do. I mean, she was hospitalized for almost a year. Now that she was 18 and independent, Crane continued on her destructive path. She went back to smoking, drinking, and partying. The barely legal Crane didn’t know where she would end up every night, or where she’d wake up in the morning.
After a crazy night of partying, Crane got home and found pills in her medicine cabinet. She swallowed them all, hoping to finally escape her haunting memories of the past. She almost succeeded. Thankfully, she woke up in the hospital the next morning. Something in her kind of clicked.
Crane acknowledged that her life was filled with nothing but darkness and pain. She threatened to kill herself, but she didn’t think she would actually go through with it. That’s when she realized that there must be something wrong with her, and she called her mother for help. She wrote, “I was so grateful to be alive.”
She went on to say, “I wanted to live now, to do something with what I had been given. I saw that the answer was not in death, which was a waste… After a week I telephoned my Mother… ‘I want to make real changes in my life,’ I said. ‘Will you help me?’” Turner didn’t hesitate. Although she had a strange way of showing it, she loved her daughter and wanted her to get better.
At the end of the day, all Turner wanted was for her daughter to be happy. Crane was her only child, and she didn’t want to watch her die. She wanted to see her live a beautiful life, love, and smile again. Unfortunately, her traumatizing past didn’t make this easy. Crane’s pain came from neglect, abuse, and murder.
Crane knew it was up to her now. Sure, she couldn’t control her upbringing, but now she is older, wiser, and can make her own choices. She wanted to live. Crane managed to forgive her mother; they reconnected and formed a stronger relationship. Once she let love and forgiveness in, she was blessed with a fruitful life.
It’s been years, and Crane managed to get passed the struggles to get on the right track to a happy life. She worked a number of jobs until she was a hostess at her dad’s restaurant chain. She attended Cornell University, where she studied hospitality in order to help her father’s business. During her 15 years working there, she met the love of her life, an athlete and model named Joyce LeRoy, otherwise known as “Josh.”
After meeting her soul mate, her life was filled with gratitude and success. She was finally able to cope with living in her mother’s shadow and the terrible events of that haunting night. Crane’s story had a happy ending: “I was discovering a profound truth: when you accept yourself, people accept you… The fact is, I’ve come through.”