The Girl, Part 2: The Bad and the Beautiful

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Lana Turner is another Golden Age star who fascinates me. Whereas Monroe seems approachable, warm; Turner is, by comparison, aloof, cool. Both women endured substance abuse issues but Turner’s were made far more public, her image tainted and darkened by partying and recklessness. In the beginning, Turner was a wholesome sex symbol, sold to the public as a ‘girl next next door’. In the media, she was The Sweater Girl – a moniker bestowed upon Turner due to the alluring tightness of her sweater across her chest. She despised this idiotic name and sought to shake it. She refused to be the clown, she rejected being accessible, touchable. But it was Louis B Mayer who is credited with transforming her into pure glamour; furs, diamonds, cashmere. However, he was just restoring her image, much like how a beautiful antique needs a layer of grime removed at times.

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Turner was seen as disagreeable and stubborn; she was trouble. She was married eight times.  She went out often with men and did not sleep with them. Throughout her life, she endured long periods of celibacy, she saw sex as uninteresting and trivial – she preferred courtship and romance. She was intensely private…yet there was a darkness within her that we can relate to, a trembling desperation for excitement and danger. Her connections to the Los Angeles underworld, via her relationship with the violent and jealous mobster Johnny Stompanato and its grisly ending with her daughter stabbing him, were scandalous and reveal much about how Turner lived.

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Film historian Jeanine Basinger notes that Lana was not a popular baby name in that period – and as much could be said for Lana herself. Her brooding beauty wrapped in lush furs intimidates men and women alike, she is an incandescent goddess on top of a baroque ice throne. I am sure Lana relished the soft silky furs, the cool weight of pearls against her skin and the fragrant champagne filled nights – but I wonder…how alienating must it have been for her? Behind the impenetrable beauty, she must have endured indignities, minor or major, intrusions, prying…media, men, the studios…the only comfort for her was the liquid paradise of the bottle.

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Lana herself said, “A gentleman is simply a patient wolf”. I feel that this reveals a glimpse of the woman she was. She was cynical, brilliant, stiletto-sharp. The unpopular and stubborn woman knows that people will talk. She does not care; she sees the double standards and hypocrisy within society. I am pleased to see that most pictures of Lana are unsmiling. I always want to know…why do they want us to smile?

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