The Tragic Life Of Lana Turner's Daughter, Cheryl Crane

In 1936, actress Lana Turner was discovered at a drugstore in Hollywood (via Britannica). Nicknamed "The Sweater Girl" for wearing a tight sweater in the film "They Won't Forget," she quickly became a pin-up icon. Turner, however, proved that she was more than just a pretty face with noir films like "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Johnny Eager" (per TCM). Beyond her on-screen talent, the star is remembered for her various and often tumultuous marriages. According to Closer Weekly, Turner was married eight times, including twice to the same man.

The New York Times writes that she married bandleader Artie Shaw in 1940 when she was just 19. The pair, per TCM, divorced shortly after. Her next marriage was to Joseph Stephen Crane in 1942 (via Livingly). IMDb explains that he was an actor who later became an entrepreneur. In any case, the couple wed, only for Turner to discover that her new husband was already married. The marriage was subsequently annulled. Turner then discovered that she was pregnant, and they married once again.

She gave birth to their daughter, Cheryl Crane, on July 25, 1943, before divorcing for the final time (per All That's Interesting). Despite Turner's fame and status in Hollywood, Crane has gone on to say that her childhood was less than ideal. In her 1988 autobiography "Detour" she wrote that she was "enthralled" by her parents, "but I lived at a distance, their princess in a tower."

Cheryl Crane vied for her mother's attention

According to the Los Angeles Times, Crane (pictured above, far right) spent much of her childhood alone. She had no siblings or friends. Turner, who was too preoccupied with her flourishing career, put her daughter in the care of nannies and sent her to private school (per All That's Interesting). In a 1988 interview with People, Crane stated that when she would reach out to kiss or hug her mother, she was rebuffed. Turner's response was "Sweetheart, the hair" and "the lipstick." Crane longed for Turner's attentiveness and confessed that she would often go into her mother's closet when she was gone to "inhale her essence" (via People).

Even so, Crane admits that she is well aware of her privilege. In an interview with the Idyllwild Town Crier, Crane described Hollywood as having a "small town" feel where everybody and everyone knew each other. In her memoir "Detour," she recounts stories from her youth which included spending time at MGM studios, partying at Marlon Brando's home, and of course, the life that came with having a movie star mother (via the Los Angeles Times). Recapping her early years, Crane, per the Idyllwild Town Crier, stated that overall, "It was wonderful," but added that it was "a bit lonely, but basically I enjoyed my life."

She was molested by one of her mother's husbands

All That's Interesting writes that Crane grew up witnessing Turner's numerous dalliances with famous men. As she later put it, "Mother's first five husbands I don't really remember because I hadn't started kindergarten yet" (per the Los Angeles Times). In 1953, Turner married Lex Barker (above), an actor known for playing Tarzan in a string of popular films. This was the actress's fourth marriage and Crane was a flower girl at their wedding. Things, however, quickly went awry. In "Detour," she wrote that her new stepfather molested her from the ages of 10 to 13 (via People). Crane also revealed that Barker first exposed himself to her in a sauna.

Not long after that, she claims that Barker began coming into her room at night to sexually assault her. People reported that the abuse was so brutal that Crane needed stitches. At one point, she attempted to resist Barker's attack and he responded by nearly suffocating her. Turner was unaware of her husband's actions. Crane, however, confided in her grandmother, Turner's mother, who informed Turner of the sexual abuse.

Crane later stated, "It was a kind of a double whammy, mother finding her daughter abused — and her husband being the abuser. We were both victims" (via the Los Angeles Times). Turner reportedly held a gun to Barker's head and thought about killing him, per People. Instead, she divorced him and kept the reason behind the split out of the press.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The murder of Johnny Stompanato

Per All That's Interesting, Turner's next romance was with Johnny Stompanato. According to Birth.Movies.Death, Stompanato was charming, but was also a thug. His claim to fame was being bodyguard to Mickey Cohen, a well-known Los Angeles mobster. Crane and Stompanato actually had a good relationship, until he began to abuse Turner. History 101 writes that Turner was unaware that Stompanato had a criminal past. Once she discovered the truth, it was too late; her new beau refused to let her go, no matter how many times she tried to end it. Turner continued to endure acts of violence and threats to her and Crane's livelihood.

In 1957, Turner starred in "Peyton Place" (via Slate). The critically acclaimed film received nine Academy Award nominations and Turner herself was nominated for best actress. Instead of taking Stompanato to the 1958 ceremony, Turner took Crane, an action that threw him over the edge. On April 4 of that year, Turner was determined to end things for good with Stompanato (per All That's Interesting). She informed Crane that she was breaking things off and told her to wait upstairs inside of their Beverly Hills home.

Crane obliged, but heard the pair's arguing escalate. At one point, Stompanato threatened to mutilate Turner and have her mother and Crane killed. Frightened that Turner's life was in danger, Slate reports that 14-year-old Crane ran downstairs, grabbed a knife, and plunged it into Stompanato. His last words were reportedly "My God, Cheryl, what have you done?" (per Slate). Stompanato fell to the floor and died.

The case didn't go to trial

History 101 writes that Stompanato's murder caused an uproar and Crane was subsequently locked up at a juvenile detention center. Famed columnist Louella Parsons referred to the murder as the "greatest Hollywood tragedy of all" (per the Los Angeles Times). All That's Interesting states that many believed that Turner was actually Stompanato's killer and that Crane had taken the fall for it. However, Crane has confirmed time and time again that she was the one who stabbed Stompanato. As she explained, "You want to protect your mother, I was the only one there and I had to do something" (via People).

Despite being a minor at the time, Law Library explains, Crane was facing murder charges and a possible life sentence if convicted. Days after the killing, People reports that Turner was called to the stand to discuss the events that unfolded on that fateful night and her relationship with Stompanato. Per Calisphere, Turner tearfully spoke for 62 minutes. She divulged that Stompanato was a violent man who had threatened her numerous times.

Turner also added that she thought that Crane had only "hit him in the stomach" (per People) and didn't realize that he had been stabbed until it was too late. Ultimately, Turner's testimony allowed Crane to walk free without a trial; an inquest determined that Stompanato's death was justifiable homicide. The D.A. decided against charging her with murder (via Slate). 

Cheryl Crane's life after the murder

After her release, History 101 states, her family never spoke of the murder. Crane became a ward of the state and lived with her grandmother. According to People, Crane became rebellious. She partied hard and was sent to a reform school. When she was still a teen, Crane attempted to kill herself and was institutionalized at a mental hospital. She was released before her 18th birthday only to begin abusing drugs and again attempt to kill herself. Crane survived and later stated, "That woke me up" (per People). She picked up the pieces and opted to work for her father at his famed Los Angeles restaurant, called Luau.

The Idyllwild Town Crier reports that Crane went decades without publicly speaking about Stompanato's murder. However, in 1988, she decided to release "Detour," to give her side of the story and to discuss her life being Turner's daughter. Another article from People states that in the book, she confessed that Stompanato was allegedly sexually abusing her. Nevertheless, Crane stated that writing the memoir brought her and her mother closer. Turner told her that she was "proud" and a "gutsy lady" for publishing the book (via people).

Crane has gone on to write a series of mystery novels, as well as a biography of her mother. She's also had a successful real estate career and has been with her partner, Joyce "Josh" LeRoy, for several decades. The pair married in 2014 (per People). Slate writes that Turner made her last film in 1980. She and Crane remained close until Turner's death in 1995 from cancer.