Cheryl Crane Biography

The only child of cinema sex goddess Lana Turner, Cheryl Crane serves as the classic Hollywood cautionary tale of what can occur when a celebrity parent is more interested in their own fame and sex life than in their child's welfare. Dubbed the "Sweater Girl" after taking her memorable walk in the form fitting garment in director Mervyn LeRoy's 1937 film They Won't Forget, the curvaceous Turner became a star in 1941 after dyeing her hair blond to play a showgirl in MGM's Ziegfeld Girl. Under contract at the studio, she solidified her image as a sex symbol in The Post - man Always Rings Twice (1946) and projected an image of elegance laced with promiscuity in a series of carefully crafted costume dramas and melodramas including The Three Musketeers (1948), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), The Flame and the Flesh (1954), and later in films for other studios (Peyton Place, 1957; Imitation of Life, 1959; Portrait in Black, 1960). Turner's personal life, however, was more dramatic than any role she ever played during her 42 year career in motion pictures. By January 1972 when she finally got off the marriage-go-round, the star had been wed eight times to a total of seven different men: bandleader Artie Shaw (1940), restaurateur Stephen Crane (1942–1943; 1943– 1944), millionaire businessman Bob Topping (1948–1952), actor Lex Barker (1953–1957), Fred May (1960–1962), Robert Eaton (1965–1969), and Ronald Dante (1969, separated 6 months later, divorced 1972). Turner was 22 and already a fixture in the Hollywood club scene when she eloped to Las Vegas with 45-year-old wannabe actor turned restaurateur, Stephen Crane, on July 17, 1942. Crane, however, was still technically married to a woman in Indiana from whom he had obtained a divorce less than a year earlier. Embarrassed, pregnant, and illegally married to a bigamist in the eyes of the law, Turner had the union annulled on February 4, 1943. The couple legally remarried on March 14, 1943 and some five months later their only child, Cheryl Christina Crane, was born in Hollywood on July 25, 1943. The marriage limped along for a year before ending in divorce on August 21, 1944. Lacking any natural instinct for mothering, Turner abdicated the raising of her daughter to a series of nannies and her own mother (known to the child as "Gran"). More interested in her career and sex life than in providing a stable emotional atmosphere for her child, Turner paraded a string of star lovers like Tyrone Power, Turhan Bey, Fernando Lamas, and numerous others through their home. The star instructed her daughter to refer to her ever changing cast of sex partners as "Uncles" or mother's "gentlemen friends." Following her bitter divorce in December 1952 from third husband, Bob Topping, Turner mar - ried actor Lex Barker on September 7, 1953. Barker, destined to be best remembered for playing "Tarzan" in five minor films from 1949 to 1953, allegedly began sexually abusing 10 -yearold Cheryl Crane sometime around March 1954. The abuse, sexual and physical, continued for three years with Barker threatening to send the girl to Juvenile Hall should she tell anyone of their encounters. Finally around March 1957, Crane worked up the nerve to tell her mother of the abuse after first confiding in her grandmother. That day, Turner threw Barker out of their home at gunpoint. The next morning the stunned star drove her daughter to the Beverly Hills Clinic for a gynecologic examination that verified the teenager had been violently and repeatedly entered over time. The decision not to prosecute Barker as a child molester was largely made by the studio to protect the career of its biggest female star. In April 1957, just weeks after Crane's shattering admission, Turner accused her teenaged daughter of flirting with her new "gentleman friend." Crane interpreted the accusation as proof that her mother actually believed she had seduced Lex Barker and caused the ruin of her marriage. Later that day, Crane ran away in downtown Los Angeles after being dropped at a train station for the trip back to yet another of the boarding schools in which she spent much of her youth. The teenager was recovered less than five hours later wandering in the city's Skid Row district. To avoid negative publicity, the papers were fed a story that Crane had bolted because she "hated school." During the filming of Peyton Place in mid–1957 Turner began an intense sexual relationship with John Stompanato, a darkly handsome Latin type for which the actress always held a particular weakness. Born in Woodstock, Illinois, on October 19, 1925, Stompanato graduated military school and served with the Marines in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, Stompanato drifted out to Hollywood where his good looks and easy manner soon made him popular, especially with women. "Johnny," as he was known to his friends, was working as a greeter-bouncer in a bar owned by Mickey Cohen, a notorious Los Angeles mob boss, when the gangster hired the ex-Marine as one of his $300-a-week bodyguards and bag men. Well known to police under a variety of aliases ("John Holliday," "Jay Hubbard," "John Valentine, "John Steele," "John Truppa") Stompanato was arrested six times, but never convicted, on charges ranging from vagrancy to suspicion of burglary. To cover his criminal activities, the small-time hood sold cars, pets, flowers, and furniture. Women, however, were Stompanato's main source of income. Prior to meeting Lana Turner, he had been married at least four times often to older women who financially supported him. During divorce proceedings, one ex-wife accused Stompanato of attempting to strangle her mother to death because she had mislaid his handkerchiefs. A police file on the criminal characterized Stompanato as a con man who frequented expensive nightspots to meet wealthy women, let them lavish presents on him for a while, and moved on to another once their money was gone. Stompanato opened the Myrtlewood Gift Shop, a "front" business in Westwood, with $8,150 borrowed from a widow. Nicknamed "Oscar" after the Academy Award statuette, the physically wellendowed con man carried an address book filled with the private numbers of female movie stars like June Allyson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Anita Ekberg. Turner, 38, fell heavily for Stompanato who, lying to the actress, claimed to be 43 years old when, in fact, he was a decade younger. Stompanato ("John Steele" when they first met) also assured Turner his mob connections were a thing of the past pointing to his gift shop in Westwood as proof he was a legitimate businessman. Turner showered Stompanato with gifts and wrote torrid love letters filled with frank sexual innuendo and Spanish endearments calling him "my love and my life" usually signed "Lanita." Daughter Cheryl Crane, nearly 14 when she met the hood, immediately liked Stompanato because he spent more time with her than her own mother. Cracks in the Turner-Stompanato love affair began to emerge in November 1957 when the actress traveled to England to shoot the film Another Time, Another Place opposite screen newcomer Sean Connery. Stompanato followed "Lanita" to England where they quietly rented a house together in suburban Hampstead. Barred from the set, Stompanato became enraged when rumors reached him that Turner was reportedly having an affair with her handsome co-star. The smalltime hood angrily forced his way onto the set, loudly confronted Connery in front of the cast and crew, and was unceremoniously knocked out by one punch thrown by the future "James Bond." Humiliated, Stompanato pressed Turner to fi - nance a screenplay he was trying to option thinking that in addition to producing the film, he might even act in it. When Turner informed him around Christmas 1957 of her hard and fast rule never to mix business with pleasure, Stompanato lashed out, knocked her around, held a razor to her face, and was smothering her with a pillow when the actress broke free and was saved by a hotel maid who heard her terrified screams. Turner told a studio friend about the assault, Scotland Yard was notified, and Stompanato was expelled from England that same day. After wrapping the film, Turner (followed by Stompanato) checked into the Villa Vera in the Mexican beach resort of Acapulco on January 21, 1958. Accounts vary widely as to what happened between the pair in Mexico. The Villa Vera's manager later told reporters that Stompanato "wouldn't let her alone for a moment." Turner characterized the time spent there as an uneasy armed truce marred by recurring violent arguments. Stompanato reportedly struck the actress and held a gun to her head when she refused to have sex with him. The pair, however, was photographed in clubs together and neighbors near their bungalow in the Villa Vera complained of their noisy and boisterous lovemaking sessions. Turner, fearing negative career repercussions, cringed whenever the press described Stompanato as a "mob figure" with connections to top L.A. gangster Mickey Cohen. Arriving back in Hollywood after their six-week stay in Acapulco, Turner took the dangerous step of informing Stompanato that he would not be attending the Academy Awards with her. Nominated for Best Actress for Peyton Place, Turner instead chose to take her daughter and mother in a move carefully calculated to present her to the world as a committed family woman. According to Turner, Johnny Stompanato was awaiting her when she returned with Cheryl to the star's rented two-story Colonial-style home at 730 North Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills after the ceremony on Good Friday, April 4, 1958. While accounts vary widely as to the exact chronology of events that occurred inside the house on North Bedford Drive, the scene was set for a deadly confrontation. Turner, evidently learning earlier in the evening that her abusive lover was not 43, but in reality 10 years younger, was panic-stricken. As an aging star of 38 whose sexploits were already grist for the papers, Turner was panic-stricken that the Hollywood press would present her as a has-been star forced to "pay" younger men for sex. The actress informed her 14-year-old daughter that she was breaking up with Johnny. That night, Stompanato cursed Turner to the point that she asked Crane, watch - ing television in her upstairs bedroom, not to pay attention to the tirade. The heated exchange continued in the star's bedroom directly across the landing from daughter Cheryl's. Turner accused Stompanato of lying and, though terrified of the hoodlum, demanded he leave. Turner later described the unfolding scene to a coroner's jury: "All I kept saying was, ‘There's no use discussing it any farther: that I can't go on like this, and I want you to leave me alone.' He grabbed me by the arms, and Mr. Stompanato grabbed me by the arms and started shaking me and cursing me very badly, and saying that, as he had told me before, no matter what I did, how I tried to get away, he would never leave me, that if he said jump, I would jump; if he said hop, I would hop, and I would have to do anything and everything he told me or he'd cut my face or cripple me. And if- when-it went beyond that he would kill me, and my daughter and my mother. And he said it did not matter what he would get me where it hurt the most and that would be my daughter and my mother." Turner turned and saw that her daughter, concerned her mother was in grave danger, had opened the door of the room. The actress told Crane to go back to her own bedroom and not to listen to any of the hateful exchange. Instead of doing so, the frightened girl raced downstairs to the kitchen and picked up an 8" butcher knife purchased earlier that day by Turner and Stompanato. Inside the bedroom, according to Turner's testimony, the angry actress confronted her lover- "That's just great, my child had to hear all of that, the horrible-and-I can't go through any more.'" Stompanato kept up a steady stream of verbal abuse and turned to the closet to pick up a suit on a hanger, in Turner's mind, to use to strike her. "Don't-don't ever touch me again. I am-I am absolutely finished. This is the end. And I want you to get out," Turner said and moved to the bedroom door with Stompanato close on her heels. "I opened it," the star tearfully testified, "and my daughter came in. I swear it was so fast, I-I truthfully thought she had hit him in the stomach. The best I can remember, they came together and they parted. I still never saw a blade. Mr. Stompanato grabbed himself here (abdomen). And he started to move forward, and he made almost a half turn, and then dropped on his back, and when he dropped, his arms went out, so that I still did not see that there was blood or a wound until I ran over to him, and I saw his sweater was cut, and I lifted the sweater up and I saw his wound. I remember only barely hearing my daughter sobbing and I ran into my bathroom which is very close and I grabbed a towel. I didn't know what to do. And then I put the towel there, and Mr. Stompanato was making very dreadful sounds in his throat of gasping, terrible sounds..." One-half hour after the killing, Dr. John B. McDonald arrived on scene and attempted to jump start the dead man's heart with an injection of adrenaline. The doctor wisely suggested Turner phone noted attorney Jerry Giesler, famous in Hollywood for winning acquittals for both Erroll Flynn and Charlie Chaplin in their statutory rape trials. In 1959, Giesler was briefly hired by the mother of George ("Superman") Reeves entry) to investigate her son's mysterious death. A few minutes later, an ambulance arrived followed by police who had picked up the emergency call on their scanners. One hour after the stabbing, Beverly Hills Police Chief Clinton B. Anderson visited the death house to find a mob of people including celebrity columnist James Bacon and Jerry Giesler who was already in firm control of the situation. An autopsy revealed the 8" knife (which had been inserted upside down with the sharp edge facing up) had fatally punctured the abdomen, kidney, and struck the backbone with such force that it curved up into the heart. Death, in any event, would have resulted in five minutes. Interestingly, the autopsy revealed Stompanato suffered from an incurable liver disease that would have certainly claimed his life within ten years. As Cheryl Crane cooled her heels in Juvenile Hall booked on suspicion of murder, the press crackled with stories about the case. Mickey Cohen stepped forward to claim Stompanato's body telling any reporter within earshot that he was not satisfied with the way the case was being handled by authorities and suggesting Turner herself might in some way be responsible for Johnny's death. Cohen's thugs broke into Stompanato's apartment and retrieved a stack of explicit love letters written by Turner to Stompanato at the height of their tempestuous romance. The gangster turned these over to the Los Angeles Examiner to prove the star was actually, at one time, deeply in love with the man she called "Daddy" and "Honey-Pot." The Hearst paper ran the embarrassing letters splayed across its pages to the mortification of Lana Turner. Later, a roll of film shot by Stompanato was quietly turned over to Turner's attorneys. The film contained shots of Stompanato having sex with various women and photos of the naked Turner asleep on a bed. The obvious inference was that Stompa - nato or his gangster friends could one day use the material to blackmail Turner or her studio. Cohen also footed the bill for his friend's funeral and burial with full military honors in Oakdale Cemetery in the hood's hometown of Woodstock, Illinois. On April 11, 1958, the much anticipated coroner's inquest into the death of John Stompanato was held in the Hall of Records in Los Angeles minus Cheryl Crane. Earlier, the wily Jerry Gies - ler had successfully argued that the juvenile had suffered enough and had previously given a full statement of the affair to authorities at the time of her arrest. Lana Turner, one of the world's biggest stars, was to be the key witness at the inquest. Mickey Cohen, in attendance to make sure the proceedings were above board, was called as the first witness. Asked if he had been able to identify Stompanato's body, the gangster remarked, "I refuse to identify the body on the grounds I may be accused of this murder." Cohen was dismissed after spending only two minutes on the stand. All eyes were on Turner when she was finally called to testify. For 62 drama-filled minutes the star (often seemingly on the brink of collapse) dramatically described the fatal incident. When finished, many observers called Turner's testimony the greatest performance of her career. Less than twenty minutes after the case went to the ten man, two woman jury they returned with a verdict of "justifiable homicide" in a ten to two vote. Cheryl Crane had protected her mother from a potentially dangerous man. Next day, an editorial in the Los Angeles Times essentially called Lana Turner an unfit mother guilty of parading a series of questionable men through her daughter's life. The piece concluded with the damning observation, "In the Turner case Cheryl isn't the juvenile delinquent; Lana is." Cheryl Crane may well have escaped being tried for murder, but afterwards became the flash point for a series of soul killing custody battles between her mother and father, Stephen Crane. As the Stompanato family announced they were filing a $750,000 "wrongful death" suit against Turner on behalf of the dead man's 10-year-old son, Cheryl Crane appeared in a Juvenile Court in Santa Monica. An earlier case report had been unkind to both Lana Turner and Stephen Crane who were found to be exercising "a lack of proper parental control and supervision" over their daughter. While Cheryl Crane would legally be a ward of the court until 18, the hearing would determine who would gain physical custody of the troubled 14-year-old girl. Unwilling to offend either parent, she asked the judge to allow her to live with her grandmother. Over the next few years, as Turner and her ex-husband periodically sparred over her in court, Cheryl Crane continued to make news by running away from reform schools, consorting with questionable company, taking drugs, or being admitted to the Institute for Living, a psychiatric facility in Hartford, Connecticut. Crane finally "escaped" institutionalization for good in April 1962 after Turner signed her 19-year-old daughter out of the Hartford facility. Turner, who settled the "wrongful death" suit with the Stompanato clan out of court for $20,000, survived the scandal and subsequent bad press to achieve career success in films like Imitation of Life (1959) and Madame X (1965) that oddly mirrored her turbulent personal life. Cheryl Crane worked for her father for 15 years at his trendy restaurant, the Luau, learning the business from the ground up, even attending the restaurant management school at Cornell University. In Detour she describes her committed lesbian relationship of 15 years and has since enjoyed great success in the field of California real estate. Lana Turner, the MGM love goddess destined to be forever known as filmdom's "Sweater Girl," died of throat cancer at the age of 75 on June 29, 1995. Mother and daughter had long since reconciled.

Comments