I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite gallant leading ladies these days. Chief among them is, of course, Elizabeth Taylor. Say what you will about her life, her appetites (for men, jewels, food), and her talent, but she lived life with a gusto that few of us could hope to match. Remember when Montgomery Clift crashed his car outside her house, and she saved his life by reaching down into his throat and pulling out the front teeth he was choking on? And how, outside the hospital in a cab with an unconscious Monty on her lap, she responded to the cab driver’s insistence that he be paid the $10 fare by throwing a $10,000 diamond ring at him?
But these are told and retold stories. The one I want to tell today is Lana Turner’s.
Yes, Lana Turner’s star has dimmed in the past decades. And the Johnny Stompanato scandal has remained vivid in the public memory. But here’s something to make you reconsider Lana. When he 13-year-old daughter, Cheryl, finally admitted that Lana’s husband, film’s latest Tarzan, Lex Barker, had been raping her for years, Lana first took Cheryl to a doctor to confirm the story, and then, that night, walked into her bedroom and stood over a Lex Barker. She held a gun to his head. And then she thought, “Is this bastard worth the rest of my life in prison? The end of my career? Everyone’s life ruined?” She left the room and put away the gun, and the next morning ordered Lex out.
Then consider the irony that a few years later, it would be another lover at the wrong end of a weapon, one held by Cheryl, on a night that would end in a scandal that almost ruined both their lives. There aren’t a lot of celebrity memoirs that I heartily recommend, but I will go on the record as saying that Lana’s is a must-read—and then you have to read Cheryl Crane’s Detour, for all the tales that Lana left out.