Cheryl Crane Tells Us Why the Bad Always Die Twice

By Diane Anderson-Minshall

Originally published on Advocate.com October 26 2011 2:38 PM ET

Mystery author Cheryl Crane’s
new novel, The Bad Always Die Twice,
is already garnering rave reviews, even from the likes of crime writer James
Ellroy who called it asuperb mystery...a
veritable primer on why people read and love crime fiction.” But at book
signings this fall, Crane, the daughter of Hollywood legend Lana Turner, is
most likely to get asked about what she and her mother called “the paragraph”
of their lives: the stabbing death of Johnny Stompanato when Crane was just a
teen.

That frightening accident (Crane ran to defend
her mother, Stompanato ran into her knife — a story she’s never wavered from)
has been much debated in Hollywood, with some conspiracy theorists suggesting
Turner was the real knife-wielder (“Do you think that I, as an adult, with my
mother and father gone, that I would continue to perpetrate a lie if I didn’t
do it?” Crane asked Midnight Palace host Gary Sweeney in 2008).

That moment was one part of an illustrious
childhood that began with Crane and her mother, the star of The Postman
Always Rings Twice
, living on Beverly
Hills’ star-studded Mapleton Drive (Liza Minnelli was her playmate) and ending
in juvenile hall (fun fact: many of California’s rules for dealing with
juvenile offenders were written in reaction to the Crane case). None of that
interests Crane now.

After authoring two books — a memoir called Detour:
A Hollywood Story
and a biography of her
mother entitled Lana: The Memories, The Myths, The Movies — the lesbian author continues juggling her two careers: in real estate
and mystery writing. Oh, and a marriage, to former model Joyce “Josh” LeRoy,
which has lasted four decades. She talks to The Advocate about her new novel, and why her protagonist, the smart, tenacious
redheaded realtor turned amateur sleuth Nikki Harper, feels a little bit
familiar.  

The Advocate: There’s a lot of Hollywood insider stuff in your
novel. Rex March’s TV series sounds a lot like Gilligan’s Island
, for example. How careful were you to make sure
you didn’t get too real with your details?

Cheryl Crane: I was very careful
when it came to real living people, however it was very important to me to use
real places and streets, and real people in the background for color. As to Gilligan’s’
Island
, it is a classic example of
stars who were so identified with their roles that they had trouble working
again.

I love that In-N-Out, the famous California
burger joint, becomes a plot point in the novel. Did you wonder if In-N-Out
fans would figure it out before you had exposed the connection?


Well it is a clue, and that is part of a good mystery story to see if one
connects the dots. Also, I love In-N-Out. In fact I was at the opening of
the very first one in the San Fernando Valley. 

What made you want to become a mystery novelist?

It has always been my favorite style of reading and in some ways I have been a
mystery to people.

Nikki has a complicated relationship with her
mother. How much of yourself did you put into the character?


Nikki is the best of what I could wish to be, and the relationship with her
mother is based on the relationship I had with mine. 

Being the daughter of a star affords your main
character some access and privilege as a wannabe P.I. 


That’s true in my novel and true in real life.  Mother could get anything she wanted and knew how to use it
to her advantage.  She was very
generous in letting me do the same.

The story feels very old Hollywood noir. Nikki’s
mother is more Gloria Swanson than Angelina Jolie. Was that intentional? Did
you want to root the book in any particular time frame? 


The story is contemporary Hollywood, but the character of Victoria is based on
Lana Turner, who was larger than life and glamorous until the day she died.

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I have to ask about another parallel. Nikki is the
daughter of a star who disapproves of her daughter’s real estate career. How
did your own mother feel about your career choices? 


Nikki’s mother doesn’t disapprove of Nikki being a realtor; she just doesn’t
understand why she has to work at all. 
My mother, on the other hand, loved my career in real estate. In fact,
when we all lived in Hawaii she would sit on the beach in front of the Colony
Surf — where she had her penthouse — between Josh and I hustling clients and
handing out our cards.

You’ve been with your partner a long time. That’s
pretty amazing, especially since the experts always say that if you’re the
child of divorce you’re likely to divorce yourself. What’s your secret to a
long happy relationship?


Josh and I celebrated our 40th anniversary last May. I don’t feel
that being a child of divorce can stop you from having a lasting relationship
with the right person. As far as there being a secret, our life is filled with
love and laughter and not exploring the secret.

You fought cancer a decade ago. How much did that
impact your life and your work?


It has been 13 years this month that I have been cancer free. At the time that
I was diagnosed, they told me that I had only three months to live.  Well they were wrong. I think that it
showed me that the most important thing in my life was to live it the very best
way I could and to try and accomplish all the things that I wanted to try in my
life — and that includes writing.

Do you ever wish you could just be Cheryl Crane,
not the
Cheryl Crane,
daughter of Lana Turner who was involved in an infamous murder trial?  


No, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was not a murder trial, it was a coroner’s
inquest and it was ruled justifiable. As to being the daughter of Lana Turner,
she was a great mother and a great friend.

One question about your mom, if I may. Your
mother’s legacy always seems tainted by the scandals. Which of her performances
have endured for you?


I think the fact that she had a wild life has really kept her image alive
— so many stars have been forgotten. There are many films in which she showed
that she was really a very gifted actress. Some of my favorites are The
Postman Always Rings Twice
, Ziegfeld
Girl, The Bad and the Beautiful
and,
of course, Imitation of Life.

Your mother has a big old school gay following due
to the Douglas Sirk and Ross Hunter films. When you came out as part of the
LGBT community, was it difficult to constantly run into fans of your mother?


No, being my mother’s daughter has always had great advantages and it’s always
a pleasure to hear nice things about her.

Is Palm Springs far enough away from Hollywood
for someone infamous to live a normal life?


I have always lived a normal life as far as I’m concerned. Palm Springs has
become a suburb of Los Angeles and we are there all the time.

What’s next for you? Will Nikki be solving more
crimes? Will you be touring with this book? 


I have just returned from a book tour and I am working on the second Nikki
Harper mystery, Imitation of Death.

Crane's new novel is available from Kensington Books.