Before Sean Connery, Hollywood lore has it that Lana Turner, the iconic actress, pinup model and sex symbol, was discovered while she sat at a diner counter drinking a glass of soda. Lana would figure in newspapers both for the roles she took and the scandals that trashed her name in tabloids.
Her involvement with Johnny Stompanato — a fiercely possessive gangster, his name also associated with Los Angeles mob boss Mickey Cohen — is perhaps more famous than most movies she did.
Turner started seeing him in 1957, the same year she divorced her fourth spouse, Tarzan of the Apes actor Lex Barker. In the beginning, Stompanato showered Turner with flowers and excessive gifts such as diamonds. But soon his jealous persona prevailed and Turner battled troubles every step of the way. Even on movie sets.
That same year, the bombshell actress traveled to England for filming Another Time, Another Place, a British melodrama where Turner stars as an American journalist alongside ten-years-her-junior Sean Connery, who plays a war correspondent. The film is set in London at the end of World War Two, and the two of them have an affair.
The liaison on screen between Turner and Connery was alarming enough for jealous Stompanato. Not to mention other rumors that quickly flew from London to L.A. The two were supposedly seen together hanging out and dining at fancy restaurants downtown.
That was more than enough for Stompanato to bring his troublesome aura to the film set. He showed up one day, uninvited and carrying his gun.
Stomapnato threatened to shoot Connery, and the future-Bond guy was perhaps lucky to stay alive. But Connery acted out a real-life Bond moment — in one swift move, he grabbed the gun from Stomapnato’s hands and twisted his wrist.
After this disturbing scene, and with the little help of Scotland Yard, Lana Turner had her crook boyfriend deported from England on a one-way ticket back to America. As you might easily imagine, her troubles with Stompanato resumed as soon as she flew back home. Knowing his temper, Stompanato was nowhere near ready to sit still.
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He was violent and abusive with Turner. On several occasions he also threatened to murder close members of her family. She didn’t soothe his anger either on Oscar night in 1958. She had earned a nomination for Best Actress for her role in Mark Robson’s Peyton Place and attended the ceremony accompanied only by her mother and her 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane.
A little over a week after the Oscars, Stompanato showed up at Turner’s place at Beverly Hills. It was April 4, 1958 and the two started quarreling loudly. Turner’s teenage daughter was at home; she was listening to the quarrel from her room and feared that Stompanato would do something to hurt her mother.
Next thing you know, Cheryl grabs a knife and steps in to protect her mom. She stabbed and killed Stompanato. Or so the story goes. There were rumors that perhaps it was Lana who carried the homicide. Both of them were cleared of charges however, as the court ruled the homicide was justifiable.
Meantime, Connery flew to Los Angeles as well, having signed a contract with Disney. He was staying at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel when he received a threatening phone call one evening from an associate of Mickey Cohen.
The message to Connery was simple. He should leave Tinseltown or he dies. Was the mafia gangster seeking vengeance for his now dead pal Johnny Stompanato?
Maybe, or perhaps he just wanted to mess with Connery. Just to be on the safe side, the Scottish actor did check out of the hotel and accommodated himself at a modest-looking house in the vicinity of L.A..
And Lana Turner? There was much sensational reporting in the aftermath of her abusive boyfriend’s death, but not for a moment did this threaten her career. In fact, this was around the time she starred in one of her greatest films, Douglas Sirk’s romantic drama Imitation of Life, alongside John Gavin. The film grossed $6.4 million.