The Kid Stays in the Picture
BY Greg Archer
November 26 2008 12:00 AM ET
Crane’s life is like a classic Hollywood movie. Even
when it swerves wildly off track every now and then,
ultimately it heads right back toward a happy ending.
Crane is the lesbian daughter of the late Lana Turner,
one of film's most iconic women. In her new memoir, Lana:
The Memories, The Myths, The Movies, Crane
reveals untold stories of her life with her mother and
publishes never-before-seen photographs. The book
reveals Crane as a strong woman too -- someone
who endured a life shrouded by melodrama only to
emerge an LGBT advocate and ultimate survivor.
father, Stephen Crane -- Turner’s second spouse
-- was the famed restaurateur who put Luau in
Beverly Hills on the map in the 1950s. He and Turner
were already divorced when Cheryl was born in 1943 --
they later remarried and divorced again -- but she remained
extremely close to both of them. And as a daughter of
the Hollywood elite, she led a privileged life. Judy
Garland and Liza Minnelli lived next door; Art
Linkletter and Bing Crosby were also neighbors. Frank
Sinatra was called “Uncle Frank.” She
was even given the proverbial pony on one of her
But all of that
couldn’t keep the emotional storm clouds from blowing
in -- and staying put -- for more than a decade.
In 1953, Crane
was sexually molested by her stepfather, onetime
Tarzan portrayer Lex Barker. Several years later,
when Turner discovered the truth, Crane says that her mother
held a gun to Barker’s head and sent him
packing. But even with Barker gone, Crane was
unsettled. She ran away when she was 13.
“I think I
rebelled against the whole fishbowl life that we were
living,” she revealed on Larry King Live
in 2001. “You know, every move was fodder for
somebody ... and I resented it. I just wanted to be
Crane was found
in downtown Los Angeles and immediately sent back home.
Afterward, life became better -- for a while. Then
everything went south. Suddenly, Crane was the central
figure in an incident that shook Hollywood, spawned
endless headlines, and found her confined to a
detention cell for killing her mother’s boyfriend at
the time, mobster Johnny Stompanato.
On the night of
Good Friday, 1958, Crane was in her bedroom when she
overheard Stompanato arguing with her mother down the hall.
Turner, attempting to sever her ties to Stompanato,
wanted to kick him out of the house, Crane recalls.
The argument escalated and Stompanato began a series
of vicious verbal attacks. When Crane overheard the man
threatening her mother’s life -- he also said he
would harm Crane and her maternal grandmother, Mildred
Frances Cowan -- the 14-year-old panicked.
The next thing
she knew she was downstairs in the kitchen reaching for a
knife. She made her way back upstairs and found herself
standing several feet from the door to her
mother’s bedroom. Moments later Stompanato
suddenly emerged, his hand high in the air. Frightened,
Crane took a step forward and stabbed him. Unbeknownst
to Crane, Stompanato’s hand was raised because
he was carrying clothes on hangers over his shoulder.
hysterical,” Crane says of the event. “It was
a great shock.”
was put in custody for three and a half weeks until a jury
ruled that the incident was justifiable homicide. From
there, Crane was whisked away to a home for problem
girls. In 1960 she escaped to live with her
don’t think one ever could forget something like that
completely,” says Crane of the stabbing, her
voice drifting off. “But it’s not a
driving force in my life. It’s something, thankfully,
I lived through, with the help of both of my parents.
It makes me who I am today but it’s not
something I dwell on.”
the incident in her 1988 bestseller Detour: A Hollywood
Story, but 20 years later, she addresses it again
in the new memoir, coauthored with Cindy De La Hoz
(Lucy at the Movies and Marilyn Monroe:
Platinum Fox). She refers to the tragedy as