Lana Turner’s life story epitomizes the dark, dangerous side of Hollywood glamour. Supposedly discovered skipping school one day in a drugstore on Sunset Boulevard. She had a raw smouldering sex appeal to go with her devastating blonde looks.
Initially packaged as the Sweater Girl, a ploy which accentuated her obvious charms, she went on to become a top pin-up during World War II and was MGM’s most manufactured glamour girl during the fifties.
Sometimes, as in The Postman Always Rings Twice or Peyton Place, for which she won an Oscar nomination, she turned in a fine performance, but she is chiefly remembered for her image rather than for her acting. Her private life was extraordinarily scandalous – in addition to being married seven times, most famously to the bandleader Artie Shaw and the former movie Tarzan lex Barker, her hoodlum boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, was knifed to death by her daughter in her kitchen.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, she remained a box-ollice draw. In 1970 she appeared in a television series appropriately entitled The Survivors. Here then is our pick for five of her best movies.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
The first English language version and the sexiest of the three films made of James M.Cain’s novel (he also wrote “Double Indemnity”). The chemistry between a drifter (John Garfield) and a waitress (Turner) at a roadside cafe waiting for a chance to escape her suffocating life and husband is so explosive that it leads to killing the woman’s husband. The pair get off when charged with murder, but their lawyer (Hume Cronyn) gets the goods on them for a blackmail scheme. In a twist of fate, each of the murderers gets their comeuppance in an unexpected way. The story and direction make the murder seem almost inevitable. MGM tried for more than a decade to get a script that would pass the Breen office censors. In the meantime, Italian director Luchino Visconti made a version entitled “Osessione” in 1942. Remade with more blatant sexuality in 1980 with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange.
Director: Tay Garnett
Cast: Lana Turner, John Garfield, Leon Ames, Hume Cronyn, Audrey Totter,
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Turner shines in a sharp portrayal of moviemaking and climbing the Hollywood ladder. Told in flashbacks from the point of view of an actress, a writer, and a studio executive. Old Hollywood hands Vincente Minnelli and John Houseman provide plenty of backstage detail.
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Cast: Lana Turner, Vanessa Brown, Leo G. Carroll, Kirk Douglas, Gloria Grahame, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Gilbert Roland, Paul Stewart, Barry Sullivan,
The Rains of Ranchipur (1955)
A rich and markedly promiscuous Englishwoman (Turner) arrives in a small Indian town with her husband (Michael Rennie) and pursues the handsome local Hindu doctor (Richard Burton). After some resistance, they eventually end up in each other’s arms and Turner finds herself in love for the first time. But the seasonal rains and a devastating earthquake cause the dam to overflow, flooding the city, leaving thousands homeless and prompting a change of heart for both Burton and Turner. Academy Award Nomination for Best Special Effects. Remake of The Rains Came (1939), based on the novel by Louis Bromfield.
Director: Jean Negulesco
Cast: Lana Turner, Richard Burton, Joan Caulfield, Gladys Hurlbut, Eugenie Leontovich, Fred MacMurray, Michael Rennie,
Peyton Place (1957)
Based on the scandalous and biggest best-selling book of its time, this glossy adaptation set the standard for movie soap and spawned a sequel and a long-running prime-time TV series. Lust, deception, scandal, and murder lurk beneath the surface of a picture-perfect New England town, where personal dramas and intrigues are hidden from view by deceptively quaint clapboard and shuttered houses. A murder trial brings a writer back to her small town, spurring revelations and reconciliations. Academy Award Nominations: 9, including Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress: Lana Turner; Best (Adapted) Screenplay.
Director: Mark Robson
Cast: Arthur Kennedy, Hope Lange, Terry Moore, Lloyd Nolan, Lana Turner
Imitation of Life (1959)
Douglas Sirk’s beautifully composed remake of the 1934 Claudette Colbert melodrama. If anything, Turner makes a more icily perfect star for the story of a driven actress whose passion for the stage drains her of time and affection for her daughter (Sandra Dee), who grows up mostly in the company of her warm maid (Juanita Moore) and the maid’s daughter (Susan Kohner). Both mothers come into conflict with their daughters: Turner and Dee compete for the attention of John Gavin, and Moore finds that Kohner has been passing as white. No one else in Hollywood handled this kind of material as well as Sirk. Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress: Susan Kohner. Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actress: Susan Kohner.
Director: Douglas Sirk
Cast: Lana Turner, Sandra Dee, Juanita Moore, Susan Kohner, Robert Alda, John Gavin, Mahalia Jackson, Dan O’Herlihy,
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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