Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hollywood Gold

A while back, I recommended The Dirt by Motley Crue as the ultimate rock n' roll autobiography. I would like to make a similar recommendation for Lana Turner's autobiography for anyone who is interested in a slice of life during the Golden Age of Hollywood. I finished it today -- as you can imagine, it's not a terribly time-consuming read -- and enjoyed it a great deal, yes, even before I got to the murder.

Everybody shows up for roll call: Bob Hope, Betty Grable, Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Tyrone Power, Artie Shaw, Louis Mayer, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford -- I mean, everybody. Lana takes the reader on the whole journey: How she got discovered (not quite how the legend went, but similar); how she rose to stardom; the inside story of each of her seven marriages and her numerous love affairs.

And above all else, the sacrifices she made to stay at the top, and the realities of life under the studio system. One of the most heartbreaking moments of the book was when she discovered she was pregnant with Tyrone Power's child. She desperately wanted the child, and in her account, Power seemed pleased when she told him. Power was not yet divorced from his wife, although the marriage had been effectively over for some time. Having the child would've risked both of their careers. As she put it, "I'd be publicly branded a whore, and I'd never work again." So she had the abortion. Her relationship with Power ended shortly after that.

The thing that made her book enjoyable to read was that it was very clear who was writing it. Although she undoubtedly had assistance in writing it (the book is copyrighted to Eltee Productions Inc. and Hollis Alpert), her personality comes shining through in anecdotes about how her hip mannequin was the smallest at the studio ("Greer Garson's was the largest, but she is a tall woman.") and how she always insisted on wearing real jewels in her movies.

Her personality (like most of us, I suppose) is confusing and contradictory at times. She describes in terrifying detail how Johnny Stompanato threatened her life and her family's life, how he stalked her relentlessly, even finagaling his way into a vacation to Acapulco she'd planned for herself. She couldn't break away from him or call for help. Yet, she had no qualms about drawing the line in her professional life. She was originally supposed to appear opposite Jimmy Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder but wanted control over her wardrobe. The director of the film called her up and cursed her out, so she called the studio and said she wouldn't stand for that and was quitting the film. She mentioned that she was concerned over the publicity, but even she acknowleged that wasn't the whole reason and there was something else that allowed her to keep getting duped and caught up in abusive relationships that were based on deceit (Johnny Stompanato hadn't even given her his real name; she found out Artie Shaw had been married twice before after she'd been with him for nearly two months already; her last husband asked for a loan, then disappeared with the money).

Clearly, this one won't go on the shelf between Great Expectations and Crime and Punishment. But if any of you are plannign vacations soon (either the mental kind or the kind where your whole self gets to go), Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth would be a good one to have along.

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