Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lana Turner: Birth of a Starlet, Part 2

Note: The first part of this two part article can be found here.

As far as party girls go, Lindsay Lohan had nothing on Lana Turner in the early 1940’s (well, accept arrests and rehab time). With her perky nose, dancing dimples and honey blonde hair, the gorgeous “Sweater Girl” was on the top of the Hollywood heap, both socially and professionally. Although she was still technically a starlet, her career was on the rise, which only heated up her love life all the more.

Her wild woman reputation would only be enhanced by her whirlwind four month marriage to bandleader Artie Shaw (pictured below), a notorious ladies man, who jilted both Betty Grable and a young and impressionable Judy Garland for Turner. Eloping after their first date, the 29 year-old lothario and the sweater girl (who had just turned 19 earlier that week) had a tumultuous time of it and Lana famously called her tenure with Shaw her “college education.” The irony is that Turner claims that she married Shaw on the rebound from yet another infamous Hollywood wolf, attorney Greg Bautzer. Bautzer ditched her for Joan Crawford (Bautzer would be portrayed by actor Steve Forrest in 1981’s Mommie Dearest). He would not only represent her in her divorce from Shaw, but also in her split from second husband, restaurateur Stephen Crane. And so goes the fast and furious Hollywood sexual Merry-Go-Round.

With her divorce came a new crop of men and nightclub rounds. Victor Mature and singer Tony Martin were just a few who squired the blonde beauty around town. MGM took the opportunity of Turner’s burgeoning notoriety to cast her in Ziegfeld Girl (1941) with fellow studio beauty Hedy Lamarr and fellow studio cutie Garland. As Sheila Hale, top banana in a sea of legs and sequins that only the great showman Florenz Ziegfeld could display properly, Lana tumbled and stumbled in yet another kind of sea…..booze and men. The hit film played as a precursor of sorts to 1967’s Valley of the Dolls, and allowed Turner melodramatic training which, not only boosted her career at the time, but would hold her in good stead twenty some odd years later in her middle aged diva stage (ie: Peyton Place (1957), Imitation of Life (1959) and Madame X (1966)).

Her next picture was the big budget remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which placed her at third billing after Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman. Originally slated to play the slutty victim of Mr. Hyde, she was cast as the good girl in love with Dr. Jekyll, when Miss Bergman, set to play that role, wanted a change of pace and requested their parts be switched. With the success of Ziegfeld Girl, Metro cast her with the studio’s top male star, the King himself, Clark Gable, in a western/romance called Honky Tonk (1941). Mrs. Gable, aka Carole Lombard, reportedly didn’t like the film pairing, believing the kisses during the fade out might linger after the cameras stopped rolling. Rumors swirled to that notion, though Turner stated, both in a Ladies Home Journal article, as well as her autobiography, that no such affair took place.

Yet another case of alleged extramarital cuddling occurred during the filming of Johnny Eager (1942) with another MGM heavyweight heartthrob, Robert Taylor. The films promotional ads read: "Taylor's Johnny, Turner's eager." Married to actress Barbara Stanwyck at the time, Taylor reportedly was so smitten with Turner that he asked Stanwyck for a divorce. As with the rumored Gable affair, Lana also denied any wrongdoing with Bob Taylor. The onscreen chemistry was definitely there, as it was with Gable and tongues continued to wag when she and Gable were cast yet again in Somewhere I’ll Find You (1942), and it was during the filming of this picture that Carole Lombard was killed in a plane crash while on a war bond selling tour. The following year, Turner starred in a picture called Slightly Dangerous.

By the end of the war, Lana Turner was a hot property, both on and off screen. No film could display this sexy femme fatale persona better than the one for which the actress would become most famous, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). As a tanned and tempting married waitress on the make, she would forever brand her image, wearing a stark white two piece short set and matching turban. She would have several more husbands in the next 25 years and many other big roles, but this part defined her sex goddess persona for the rest of the decade and most of the next one. The starlet had become a star.


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