Fans are celebrating Lana Turner’s birthday this week, the voluptuous pin-up who became Hollywood’s iconic “sweater girl.”
Born on the wrong side of the tracks in small-town Wallace Idaho, Julia Jean Turner would become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
Projecting a sultry, playful sexuality on screen, her public persona was set from her breakthrough film They Won’t Forget.
Turner played an oversexed schoolgirl who, in her own words: “wore a tight sweater and her breasts bounced as she walked . . . a tight skirt and her buttocks bounced . . . She moved sinuously, undulating fore and aft .”
Audiences were titillated by the hints of carnal behaviour, but the reality was far, far more outrageous than they ever imagined.
Within Hollywood, it was common knowledge that Turner, like Grace Kelly, was sexually voracious. One MGM boss said: “Lana had the morals and attitudes of a man … If she saw a muscular stagehand with tight pants and she liked him, she’d invite him into her dressing room.”
Her famous lovers included Tyrone Power, Howard Hughes, Frank Sinatra, Victor Mature, Robert Stack, and (suspected but never proven) a married Clark Gable
She was married eight times to seven men. Her second and third marriages were to Joseph Crane in the space of two years (1942-1944) and with whom she had her only child, daughter Cheryl.
Frank Sinatra was completely smitten when he saw her in 1946’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. The film trailer proclaims of leading man John Garfield, “He had to have her,” and Ol’ Blue Eyes felt the same.
Turner was filmed, as always, to her advantage, in tiny shorts and low-cut white tops that flattered her platinum locks and glowing tan. Sinatra apparently echoed the trailer, declaring: “I have to have her.”
No matter that he had only just relocated permanently to LA from New York, with wife Nancy and their two children, Sinatra had never held himself back from pursuing and bedding numerous women before. But this time, it seemed he had met his match.
The singer asked a friend for her number and their affair immediately ignited – mainly (in fact, pretty much only) between the sheets.
Sinatra may not have been the most classically handsome man in show business but he effortlessly bedded some of the world’s greatest beauties from Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall to his second wife Ava Gardner.
He was also known as a voracious lover, but he later admitted Turner was on a whole other level. Apparently, the blonde bombshell only wanted sex, as often as possible. She had little interest in conversation, whether about their relationship or Hollywood and world events.
A bewitched Sinatra told his wife he wanted a divorce but the long-suffering Nancy had been through all this before and threw all his clothes into the street and then told his agent George Evans to deal with Turner.
When he called the star and threatened her career by invoking the standard studio contact ‘morality clause’, the actress laughed in his face and apparently replied: “You’re so cute to threaten me like this. Why, you’re just adorable, aren’t you?”
Turned said her box office success was based on the salacious teases of her ‘bad girl’ image, and any scandal would only increase her power.
Sinatra, meanwhile, tried wooing Turner with a new luxury apartment for their trysts. She called it “a dump” and he was forced to rent one of the expensive bungalows at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Sinatra released a public statement that he was separating from his wife and moved in officially with Turner at her Palm Springs mansion. Hollywood society was publicly scandalised so Turner tried to limit damage by telling gossip columnist Louella Parsons: “I’m not in love with Frank, and he’s not in love with me. I’ve never broken up a home. I just can’t take these accusations!”
Perhaps, unsurprisingly, both of them were also still maintaining affairs with other. Turner was seeing Tyrone Power, who was married by reported top be the love of her life. Sinatra was linked to starlet Marilyn Maxwell.
Both were also highly volatile personalities and within two weeks Sinatra had stormed out.
It might, as so many other Hollywood affairs, have rumbled on and off for a while, but Sinatra’s mother Dolly intervened.
The formidable matriarch apparently punched her son before whacking him around the head and telling him to “shut up” when he tried to defend his actions at an emergency family meeting.
The end of the affair played out publicly when the singer crooned the song Going Home to a tearful Nancy in the audience during a nightclub show, and the next day he moved back in.
Turner was left to read about it in the papers, screaming to her friend Gardner: “To think he could do that to a woman like me!”
Gardner, ironically, would not learn from her gal pal’s mistakes and would repeat the same scenario, only across many years and with far more heartache and fighting when she married Sinatra five years later in 1951.
The whole fascinating story is told in Sinatra: Behind The Legend by J. Randy Taraborrelli,