Cheryl Crane, Lana Turner’s only child, opens Eduardo Santiago’s third Author Series. She’ll discuss her autobiographical book, “Detour: A Hollywood Story” (Arbor House, 1988). The book offers a look inside her storybook youth as the child of one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and a single incident that dramatically changed the story.
Crane remembers Hollywood in its post-war heyday and the exuberant glamour and excitement of the restaurants, clubs and nightlife of which her mother was such a public part. She recalls enjoying the privileges that came with being the child of a movie star. “It was wonderful,” she said, “a bit lonely, but basically I enjoyed my life.
“It was a company town, a small town where you knew everyone in the business. The studios ran the town,” Crane related. “They could kill a photo or a story, they had that much power.”
But one story the studios could not kill was one that overnight thrust Crane and her mother into the glare of the tabloid and mainstream press. Crane’s life changed when, at the age of 14, fearing for her mother’s life, she stabbed to death Turner’s then lover, small-time gangster Johnny Stompanato.
Crane had overheard Stompanato threaten to kill her mother. Although the court ruled the action justifiable homicide, Crane was still sentenced to juvenile hall.
In her book, Crane talks about how the stabbing changed her life and launched a detour of negative behavior that could have ended very badly for her. Instead, at 18, she began working for her father, restaurateur Stephen Crane, owner of the famed Luau Restaurant on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and worked her way into a managerial position. Ending the long detour that followed the stabbing, Crane went on to fashion a career as a high-end real estate agent.
For many years Crane would not publicly discuss April 4, 1958, the night of the killing. But in an interview, she admitted to reading so many inaccuracies and stories about that night and her actions that she felt she had to tell her story. Writing the book, published in 1988 with author Cliff Jahr, provided Crane both a personal release and closure. “I needed to write the book to close that door,” Crane said. “It was tremendously cathartic and kind of put the cap on that part of my life.”
“Detour: A Hollywood Story” was on the New York Times bestseller list for 18 weeks. “It was much bigger than I expected,” she remembered. “I was interviewed on the Today Show, by Bryant Gumbel, for three days in succession. I was terrified. I guess I expected a lot of negativity.” But she recalls the interview as kind and respectful, which is also how she characterized reader response, as evidenced by the many letters she received after its publication. “They thanked me for writing the book,” she said. “One even said she gave it to her mother and that it brought them closer together.”
As to the successful life she built in business and with her partner Joyce “Josh” LeRoy, Crane said, “I’m optimistic and try to see the best in people. I’m not the type who holds onto the dark. I am a survivor.”
Crane wrote another book about her mother, with pictures of and vignettes about her organized around things her mother liked — homes, hats, pets, cars and personal friends. “Lana, the Memories, the Myths, the Movies (Running Press, 2008),” features hundreds of never-before-seen photos from Crane’s private collection. Questioned about what she meant in the title by myths about her mother, Crane said, “She was really spectacular. Some said she was cold. She wasn’t. She had a fabulous sense of humor and loved to play practical jokes. She would go to elaborate lengths to put them [the practical jokes] together.” Crane said that in public Turner was always the star, well dressed and coiffed as part of the studio star system, but at home she was down to earth and great fun.
Crane has authored two mystery novels and is now finishing the third in her Nikki Harper series, due to be published in August. “You write what you know,” said Crane of her mysteries that feature a movie star mother, a real estate agent to the stars, and authentic restaurants, nightclubs and settings in Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
Crane appears at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 19, on the upper deck of Café Aroma.