The goddess and the gangster
The sensational stabbing of Lana Turner's gangster lover, Johnny Stompanato, by her teenage daughter, Cheryl Crane, exposed the stars' dangerous liaisons. There are still questions about what happened that night in Turner's pink bedroom.
Writers Sam Kashner, Patricia Bosworth and Bryan Burrough, three of Vanity Fair's most celebrated authors, share their stories of one of Hollywood's most enduring mysteries.
Patricia Bosworth [reading her Vanity Fair article]:"April 4 1958. Rain pelted against the elegant white colonial mansion that movie star Lana Turner had just rented..."
Sam Kashner: "What made you think to do the story when you did it?"
Patricia Bosworth: Well first of all she's one of my favorite movie stars. She was glamorous. A sex symbol... She experienced everything. Her life was like a soap opera."
Cheryl Crane: "I'm Cheryl Crane. I'm the daughter of Lana Turner, who was Hollywood's biggest blonde star in the '40s, '50's, and '60s.
"My mother and I both had an extraordinary life, and quite a story in itself."
George Schlatter: "This is a lovely way to spend an afternoon, driving through Beverly Hills ... quite a colorful neighborhood. It looks calm and peaceful except when it's not [laughs].
"My name is George Schlatter. I'm a producer, director, a writer. Probably most, well known for 'Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In' which I created. I just hope you guys are nice to Lana, because she was a very nice lady..."
Cheryl Crane: "My mother's first movie called "They Won't Forget." One of the main scenes was her walking down the street in a sweater and skirt. ...And she bounces -- there became the legend, "The Sweater Girl."
George Schlatter: "The aura of what was in there was a very promiscuous, naughty [laughs) child."
Patricia Bosworth: "The Postman Rings Twice" may have been her most memorable movie. It really solidified her image as this incredible sex symbol."
George Schlatter: "The temperature rose when Lana walked into a room. ...She was a lady, but she was a rascal [laughs].
Cheryl Crane: "My mother loved love. My mother loved romance and the Hollywood ending. She never quite achieved it..."
Patricia Bosworth: "What she really loved were men. ...by the time she died, she was married 7, 8 times."
Cheryl Crane: "Oh my father was great. My dad's name was Steven Crane."
George Schlatter: "Steve Crane was a nice, simple guy. Who built this restaurant called The Luau in Beverly Hills and it was like a watering hole for all of the stars."
Cheryl Crane: "He and my mother continued to have after their divorce...a good relationship together."
Patricia Bosworth: "And then suddenly in 1957, there was this handsome, hunky guy saying, 'I'm Johnny Steele and I've always wanted to meet you.'"
George Schlatter: "He was a Marine. He was a tough guy."
Cheryl Crane: "...definitely her type -- dark, handsome."
Sam Kashner: "Wasn't he also kind of legendarily endowed?"
Patricia Bosworth: "Well I don't have to say that on TV or can I?"
Sam Kashner: "Oh, sorry."
Patricia Bosworth: "But yes, he was."
Cheryl Crane: "She didn't know until after she was involved with him that his name was not John Steel. It was John Stompanato."
Patricia Bosworth: "Johnny Stompanato was originally from Woodstock, Illinois."
John Ibrahim: "Very small, about 90 miles northwest of Chicago. My name is John Ibrahim and my father was John Stompanato.
"Heard about California, and 'wow, that's the place to go.' So he just up and left."
Patricia Bosworth: "He was Mickey Cohen's bodyguard. Mickey Cohen was a member of the L.A. mafia who had taken over from Bugsy Siegel when Bugsy Siegel was murdered."
Cheryl Crane: "She had no idea of what he did or who he was, other than he was attractive."
John Ibrahim: "Well he must've thought he hit the jackpot."
George Schlatter: "She really was crazy about Johnny Stompanato. However, she did not really want to be seen with him that much."
Cheryl Crane: "When the gentleman of the moment started getting too pushy is when my mother ended it."
Patricia Bosworth: "He would not take rejection. ...I mean he said, 'If I leave you, I will leave you but I will cut your face up.'"
Cheryl Crane: "He made gangster threats. You can't get away from me. You'll never get away from me."
George Schlatter: "It was 1958... She'd been nominated for an Academy Award for "Peyton Place.'"
Patricia Bosworth: She got dressed up in this beautiful skin tight dress with diamonds.
George Schlatter: "And Johnny Stompanato wanted to go with Lana."
John Ibrahim: "Feather in his cap, or whatever."
George Schlatter: And Lana said, 'No.' ...she refused to let Johnny Stompanato go with her to the Academy Awards."
Cheryl Crane: "She invited my grandmother and I to be her escorts. ...I had just turned 14."
George Schlatter: "So it was the Pantages Theater and every star tuned out."
Cheryl Crane: "And I noticed something I had never seen before with my mother. Her hands were trembling, she was terrified of John. He was so angry with her."
George Schlatter: "And up here is the house where it all happened. 730 Bedford right on the corner."
Patricia Bosworth: It was raining. And Johnny Stompanato came to the house. 'Get out! Get out! I don't want to see you anymore.' And that's when they started to having this terrible, terrible argument."
Cheryl Crane: "I could hear voices, but I couldn't hear what was going on. So I got up. I went down the hall to her bedroom door and I stood there and I listened. He was making threats. 'I'll cut your face, I'll kill your mother, I'll kill your daughter. You'll never work in this town again.' And 'you can't throw me out. You can't get rid of me."
Patricia Bosworth: "At that point Cheryl ran down the stairs and went into the kitchen."
Cheryl Crane: "There's a knife on the counter. I picked it up ran back up the stairs. Her door suddenly flies open. I see John coming toward me. He's got his hand up... I raised the knife and he walks right into it. And he looked at me. And he said, 'My God, Cheryl, what have you done?'"
Patricia Bosworth: "And that was it. He was dead on the floor."
George Schlatter: "And Johnny Stompanato walked into the knife. Now if you believe that I've got some real estate I'd like to sell you."
Sam Kashner: "There's that famous photograph..."
Patricia Bosworth: "Yeah, the famous..."
Sam Kashner: "...of him sprawled out."
Patricia Bosworth: Sprawled out. No blood at all."
Cheryl Crane: "He, John Stompanato, walked into the knife I was holding."
John Ibrahim "He walks into the knife. No. It's not a likely story."
Cheryl Crane: "I picked up the phone and called my father ... I said 'Dad, dad come quick. COME QUICK. Something horrible has happened. ...You called the people that would surround you and protect you."
George Schlatter: "The saying was 'Get me Geisler.' Jerry Geisler was a brilliant criminal defense attorney. And he arrived and he said, 'Everybody stay cool, stay calm, and shut the bleep up.'"
John Ibrahim "For an hour-and-a-half, they didn't call the police. They didn't call the ambulance. They didn't call anyone. ...They had to get their stories straight."
George Schlatter: "They had all these people arrive before the police. That's interesting, right?"
Patricia Bosworth: "And then the police came."
Cheryl Crane: "I was charged as an adult with murder. ...I was locked in a cell for the night."
Patricia Bosworth: "It was the biggest scandal that ever happened in Hollywood."
Cheryl Crane: "I was terrified. ...There was a coroner's inquest. My mother testified."
Sam Kashner: "She famously wept on the witness stand."
Patricia Bosworth : "They said it was the best performance she'd ever given...I don't know. I mean, I think she was genuinely very upset."
Lana on the stand: "I'm absolutely finished. This is the end. And I want you to get out."
John Ibrahim: "She could have got an academy award when she testified. ...it was all lies."
Cheryl Crane: "She was not acting. She was terrified. I know my mother. ...she was fighting for her child. ...The jury came back with a verdict of justifiable homicide."
George Schlatter: "They then took him back East, where he lived. And that's where the funeral was."
John Ibrahim: "Yes, he came back, yes. Full circle. Way before his time."
George Schlatter: "So those of us who were on the periphery of this said, 'OK, matters closed.' But in many of our minds the matter was not closed."
John Ibrahim: "If I had a chance to meet Cheryl Crane. I would just ask her one question. Who did it?"
Cheryl Crane: "I have come up against this question hundreds of times. Didn't your mother do it? Isn't she really the one that did it?"
Patricia Bosworth: "The many friends of Stompanato's couldn't believe that a young girl could stab a guy who is strong and muscular. He's a big guy...They were skeptical."
Cheryl Crane: "I killed John Stompanato. ...And I didn't do it to cover it up for my mother."
George Schlatter: "The other story is that Lana had the knife in the room and Lana did it and they said to Cheryl, 'Help your mother,' 'cause Cheryl could not go to jail 'cause she was 14 years-old. They all thought it would be better for Lana if it was Cheryl."
Cheryl Crane: "What mother would do this to her child? To make her child live through her life knowing that she's killed somebody and have to live with it. Who would do that? Not my mother. Not the woman I know."
George Schlatter: "I don't disagree with Cheryl 'cause she was there. She's a respectable, bright, trustworthy lady. ... But I always thought that it might have been Lana."
Patricia Bosworth: "Years later, a drunken evening with Eric Root, a friend, she supposedly said that she had done it."
George Schlatter: "His story was that Lana one time told him that she killed the son of a bitch and she was glad that she did and she would do it again."
Eric Root, Hairdresser to the stars: Lana Turner told me that she killed Stompanato, 'And if I die before you I want you to tell the world.'"
Cheryl Crane: "DID HE LIE?!?! Please. It's too ridiculous to even address."
Eric Root: "Cheryl's claim to fame is being a famous murderess. [sigh] I thought I was doing Cheryl a favor."
Cheryl Crane: "Don't lie about a woman who's my mother that I am so proud of, and don't lie about me."
Patricia Bosworth: "I do believe that Cheryl did it."
Sam Kashner: "Yes?"
Patricia Bosworth: "Yes, I do."
Bryan Burrough: "Is there any credible evidence that she didn't?"
Patricia Bosworth: "Not to my mind. No."
Bryan Burrough: "So what finally happened to Lana Turner?"
Patricia Bosworth: "Well she died hideously of cancer when she was 75."
Bryan Burrough: "But she wound up alone."
Patricia Bosworth: "Yes she did."
Bryan Burrough: "I heard that Cheryl Crane was writing murder mysteries now."
Patricia Bosworth: "Cheryl Crane has just finished her first murder mystery. It's called 'The Bad Always Die Twice,' which is quite a title."
Sam Kashner: Art imitating life.
Patricia Bosworth: "Yes, art imitating life indeed."
George Schlatter: "I love this story. I love this story. This story is about what Hollywood is about. It's about mystery. It's about sex. It's about fights, about arguing. And about love. It's what the town was built on. It's what the industry is built on. That's what Lana was. She represented the mystery, the love, the passion, that is Hollywood."
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