Fascination with the underworld continues to hold a certain amount of intrigue for many, though I’m sure the killings and how they obtained their money, most likely does not. In our minds, the allure of their presence, their fancy lifestyle, the respect bestowed upon them has a way of eluding the minds of the masses.
Through my years of research , the one thing that became abundantly clear was their strong sense of family unity, respect and high regard for one another– until they were crossed, then all bets were off! But as you witnessed in the movie, The Godfather, when Michael Corleone gives his brother, Fredo a kiss goodbye, he tells him it’s only business.
Being an Italian myself, I’m not so sure I’m buying the ‘it’s only business’ excuse. Under normal circumstances, we Italians are an emotional bunch when you ruffle our feathers.
So today, I’m talking about Lana Turner, an Academy Award winning actress who gained more attention in her life than the Kardashian’s, especially after she became involved with gangster, Johnny Stompanato.
Lana Turner was discovered and signed to Warner Bros. at the young age of sixteen. Although Lana had no dreams of being an actress, her beauty would be noticed by William R. Wilkerson, the publisher of the Hollywood Reporter as she sat sipping a soda at the counter in The Top Hat Café located in Los Angeles. As one would expect, the café quickly became a landmark and the place for young hopefuls to congregate praying for the same break.
Already a beautiful woman, Lana did nothing to enhance her beauty like so many celebrities of today and that was what attracted Warner Bros. to sign her on. It didn’t take long for her to obtain the nickname of ‘the sweater girl’ because of her form-fitting attire, a name she loathed throughout her career. She rose to fame quickly and became well-known for her beauty and sex appeal. That sex appeal would have several men in and out of her life. Until Elizabeth Taylor came along, Lana Turner held the record for being married seven times, Elizabeth Taylor beating her by one.
When she met the handsome Johnny Stompanato not long after ending one of her many marriages, they fell head over heels in love. But when she learned about his ties to the Los Angeles underworld as a second-string hoodlum and bodyguard for gangster, Mickey Cohen, she tried to break it off. The funny thing is, her concern had nothing to do with his connection, but the fact that she’d be risking her career from the bad publicity when the media learned they were a couple.
But Stompanato wasn’t about to take no for an answer and he continued pursuing her until he won. Their relationship became a media sensation as they followed their every move making her name a household word. Unfortunately, the love-hate relationship turned violent with physical abuse, and yet, they’d reconcile, only to have the cycle begin again each time.
In 1957, Lana flew to England where she was filming a movie with Sean Connery. Being lonely and having difficulty with the film, she contacted Stompanato to join her. He took the next plane out to be by her side. Initially, the reunion was happy, but it didn’t take much for things to sour and he was back to his old ways of demanding she do as he said, and when she’d refuse, he’d threatened her with disfigurement as he held a razor to her face.
Sorry she’d invited him, Lana refused to allow him to visit her on the set. His domineering personality and jealousy brought out the worst in him and he went into a tirade. He apparently thought she was having an affair with Sean Connery. One night during a violent argument, he began choking her to the point of bruising making it impossible for the makeup artist to cover the marks so that she could continue filming. As a result, the film was put on hold while she recuperated. Three weeks was a major setback for the production company, as well as the other actors.
After returning to the set, Lana was afraid Stompanato would show up anyway. Fearful of what he might do, Lana and her makeup artist contacted Scotland Yard to alert them he might show up. And show up he did, only this time, he was wielding a gun and warning Sean Connery to stay away from his girl. Fortunately, Connery was able to disarm Stompanato by twisting his arm. Scotland Yard detectives took Stompanato into custody and drove him to the airport to deport him back to the States. Humiliated from the information hitting the newspapers drove Stompanato wild.
Once the film was completed and Lana returned home, she warned her fourteen year-old daughter that she was going to break it off with Stompanato that night and she should prepare herself for the worst. On that fateful evening of April 4, 1958, Lana’s fourteen year old daughter who was in her bedroom at the time, heard her mother and Stompanato arguing. She appeared in the doorway of her mother’s bedroom. When Lana saw her, she asked Cheryl to go back to her bedroom because she didn’t want her to hear what was being said. Cheryl complied until she could no longer listen to Stompanato’s threats or her mother’s screaming as she fought back. Within seconds, Cheryl ran to the kitchen, grabbed a knife off the counter and returned to her mother’s bedroom and stabbed Stompanato in the abdomen until he died.
After an inquest hearing where Lana Turner gave the performance of her life, it was deemed justifiable homicide which lead to Stompanato’s son filing a civil suit claiming Lana killed his father because she was jealous of her daughter, whom she thought was having an affair with him.
Becoming a ward of the court, Cheryl was then placed in her grandmother’s custody, but she ran away. Once found, she was sent to a boarding school and again, she ran away. After emancipation, Cheryl admits to turning to drugs and alcohol. I can’t even imagine what a messed up head this woman carries around with her every day.
To this day the speculation continues about who really killed Stompanato that night. Some believe Cheryl is covering for her mother but she continues to maintain her story even after her mother’s death in 1995.
In 1988, Cheryl wrote an autobiography titled Detour: A Hollywood Story to set the record straight. In it, she admits to stabbing Stompanato but alleges he was sexually abusing her, the same as one of Lana’s ex-husband’s had.
What is so ironic about this story is Johnny Stompanato’s death was not the result of disloyalty to his mobster family, but instead taken down by a fourteen-year-old child who could no longer stand his abuse.