Lana Turner is Turner Classic Movies’ "Summer Under the Stars" star today, Saturday, August 10, 2013. I’m a little — or rather, a lot — late in the game posting this article, but there are still three Lana Turner movies left. You can see Turner get herself embroiled in scandal right now, in Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life (1959), both the director and the star’s biggest box office hit. More scandal follows in Mark Robson’s Peyton Place (1957), the movie that earned Lana Turner her one and only Academy Award nomination. And wrapping things up is George Sidney’s lively The Three Musketeers (1948), with Turner as the ruthless, heartless, remorseless — but quite elegant — Lady de Winter.
Based on Fannie Hurst’s novel and a remake of John M. Stahl’s 1934 melodrama about mother love, class disparities, racism, and good cooking, Imitation of Life was shown on TCM in late July as part of a brief homage to Douglas Sirk. The 1959 version stars Lana Turner as ambitious actress Lora Meredith (the old Claudette Colbert role, with several key changes), whose daughter (Sandra Dee) falls in love with mom’s handsome boyfriend (John Gavin).
Meanwhile, Turner’s housekeeper, Juanita Moore (in the old Louise Beavers role, minus the entrepreneurial bit), finds herself at odds with her daughter (Susan Kohner), who tries to "pass for white." And she easily succeeds, which should be no big surprise considering that Kohner is white (in the original, actress Fredi Washington was part black). Get your hankies ready because when tragedy inevitably strikes there won’t be a dry eye in the room.
Now, despite a handful of parallels Imitation of Life doesn’t quite imitate Lana Turner’s own life. At the time, Turner was herself enmeshed in scandal, after daughter Cheryl Crane stabbed to death Turner’s handsome gangster lover Johnny Stompanato. But what takes place on screen is much tamer than that: Mother and Daughter merely love (lust after) the same man.
Lana Turner was eventually bypassed by the Academy Awards, but Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner were nominated for the year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Both lost to Shelley Winters in George Stevens’ The Diary of Anne Frank.
Susan Kohner, by the way, is the daughter of Mexican actress Lupita Tovar, who turned 103 years old a couple of weeks ago, and of producer-turned-agent Paul Kohner, among whose clients was Lana Turner herself. Susan Kohner also happens to be the mother of screenwriters / directors Paul Weitz (American Pie; About a Boy, with Hugh Grant) and Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig; The Twilight Saga: New Moon, with Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson; A Better Life, with Best Actor Oscar nominee Demián Bichir).
More Lana Turner (and more scandal): ’Peyton Place’
Much like Imitation of Life, Peyton Place was a major hit. Unlike the Ross Hunter-produced Imitation of Life, Peyton Place tries to take a more subdued approach to the illicit, immoral, inhospitable, unorthodox, unethical, and ungodly goings-on in Small Town America. Big mistake. There are some good (unintentional) laughs in the film, but not nearly as many as one would have hoped.
Much of the drama feels quite contrived, but Academy members were impressed all the same: both Peyton Place and director Mark Robson were nominated for Oscars. Additionally, no less than five of the film’s performers were shortlisted: besides Lana Turner (who lost the Best Actress Oscar to Joanne Woodward for The Three Faces of Eve), also nominated were supporting players Russ Tamblyn, Arthur Kennedy, Diane Varsi, and Hope Lange. Yet, my favorite Peyton Place performance is that of the non-nominated Terry Moore.
If you’re still up, TCM perennial The Three Musketeers is worth revisiting. It has great color cinematography, great sets, great costumes, and Lana Turner is great to look at. Just don’t get too near her Lady de Winter — or else.
Lana Turner movies: TCM schedule (PT) on August 10
6:00 AM DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1941). Director: Victor Fleming. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Donald Crisp, Ian Hunter, Barton MacLane, C. Aubrey Smith, Peter Godfrey, Sara Allgood, Frederick Worlock, William Tannen, Frances Robinson, Denis Green, Billy Bevan, Forrester Harvey, Lumsden Hare, Lawrence Grant, John Barclay, Hillary Brooke, David Dunbar, Mary Field, Brandon Hurst, Claude King, Doris Lloyd, Aubrey Mather. BW-113 mins.
8:00 AM JOHNNY EAGER (1942). Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Cast: Robert Taylor, Lana Turner, Edward Arnold, Van Heflin. BW-107 mins.
10:00 AM THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946). Director: Tay Garnett. Cast: Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway. BW-113 mins.
12:00 PM GREEN DOLPHIN STREET (1947). Director: Victor Saville. Cast: Lana Turner, Van Heflin, Donna Reed, Richard Hart, Frank Morgan, Edmund Gwenn, Dame May Whitty, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Owen, Moyna MacGill, Linda Christian, Bernie Gozier, Al Kikume, Gigi Perreau, Pedro de Cordoba, Lumsden Hare, Carol Nugent, Wyndham Standing. BW-141 mins.
2:30 PM ZIEGFELD GIRL (1941). Director: Robert Z. Leonard. Cast: Lana Turner, James Stewart, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, Tony Martin, Jackie Cooper. BW-133 mins.
5:00 PM THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952). Director: Vincente Minnelli. Cast: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame, Gilbert Roland, Elaine Stewart, Vanessa Brown, Paul Stewart, Sammy White, Leo G. Carroll, Ivan Triesault, Barbara Billingsley, Madge Blake, Steve Forrest, Ralph Brooks, Francis X. Bushman, Franklyn Farnum, Kathleen Freeman, Ned Glass, Stuart Holmes, Sam Harris, Kurt Kasznar, Wilbur Mack, May McAvoy, Pat O’Malley, Dorothy Patrick, Jeff Richards. BW-118 mins.
7:15 PM IMITATION OF LIFE (1959). Director: Douglas Sirk. Cast: Lana Turner, John Gavin, Juanita Moore, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner, Robert Alda, Dan O’Herlihy, Karin Dicker, Troy Donahue, Terry Burnham, Ann Robinson, Jack Weston. C-125 mins. Letterbox Format.
9:30 PM PEYTON PLACE (1957). Director: Mark Robson. Cast: Lana Turner, Terry Moore, Diana Varsi, Russ Tamblyn, Arthur Kennedy, Betty Field, Hope Lange, Lee Philips, Lloyd Nolan, David Nelson, Mildred Dunnock, Barry Coe, Leon Ames, Lorne Greene, Robert H. Harris, Erin O’Brien-Moore, Staats Cotsworth, Robert Adler, Wilbur Mack, Hank Mann. C-157 mins. Letterbox Format.
12:30 AM THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948). Director: George Sidney. Cast: Lana Turner, Gene Kelly, June Allyson, Van Heflin, Angela Lansbury, Frank Morgan, Vincent Prince, Keenan Wynn, John Sutton, Gig Young, Robert Coote, Reginald Owen, Ian Keith, Patricia Medina, Richard Wyler, Robert Warwick, Marie Windsor. C-126 mins.
Lana Turner movie schedule via the TCM website.