Tonight: Robert Taylor and Lana Turner, with Edward Arnold and Van Heflin in the crime drama Johnny Eager.
Lana Turner once said, “Sex is not that important to me.”
But it was certainly important to her fans and to her studio, MGM, who groomed her as their next blonde bombshell–as a replacement for the recently deceased Jean Harlow.
On another occasion, Lana said, “I expected to have one husband and seven babies.”
Instead, she had seven husbands and one child, a lesbian daughter who killed Lana’s mobster boyfriend.
Lana’s unfortunate taste in men is reflected in tonight’s film that involves the seduction of a sexy socialite by the suave, unscrupulous gangster (not unlike Mickey Cohen’s henchman, Stompanato, who she later dated in real life.)
And what went on behind the scenes during the making of this film is even more sensational than the film itself.
Handsome, debonair Robert Taylor was one of the hottest young stars in Hollywood, but he had a secret.
Robert Taylor was bi-sexual, and he had a bi-sexual wife, Barbara Stanwyck.
A marriage of convenience arranged by the studio.
In the middle of making Johnny Eager, Taylor told Stanwyck he had fallen in love with Lana Turner and wanted a divorce.
In her ghost written autobiography, Lana later said she flirted with Taylor, “But I wasn’t in love with him, not really!”
But Stanwyck held a grudge against Lana forever. Really!
Lana Turner’s career began in 1936 when she was discovered by Billy Wilkerson of the Hollywood Reporter, as legend has it, sitting sipping a soda at Schwab’s drugstore.
Actually, she was discovered at Currie’s Ice Cream Parlor, across the street from Hollywood High School on Sunset.
She was 15 years old and her name was Judy Turner.
Wilkerson took her to Warner Bros. and the casting director introduced her to Mervyn LeRoy.
Producer-director LeRoy just happened to be looking for “a girl who is sexy, but innocent at the same time,” for a small part in a picture titled They Won’t Forget made in 1937.
LeRoy changed her name to Lana. Pronounced ‘Lana,” not “LANA,” her mother would later explain, as in “La De Da.”
Lana Turner’s appearance in that film–particularly an extended walk down main street in a tight sweater–made a powerful impression.
It also gave rise to the term “sweater girl.” Lana Turner was the original sweater girl.
When Meryn LeRoy left Warner Bros., he arranged to take Turner with him to MGM.
At the start, she was under personal contract to him, not Metro.
By 1941, Turner was being groomed for stardom at Metro. She played opposite Clark Gable in Honky Tonk, and their steamy love scenes provoked anger in Carole Lombard, who informed Miss Turner that she, not Lana, was Mrs. Gable.
Lana was then in the process of obtaining the first of her many divorces from bandleader Artie Shaw.
After Gable and Honky Tonk, Mervyn LeRoy suggested teaming Lana with Robert Taylor–the studio’s other top matinee idol.
Taylor and Turner were promoted as “T‘n’T–“Together They’re Terrific!”
Also cast in tonight’s film were the always reliable Edward Arnold, Robert Sterling (then married to Ann Southern) and Diana “Mousie” Lewis (then married to William Powell).
Fourth billed was Van Heflin, who stole almost every scene he was in, and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this picture.
Production began on September 2 and concluded October 28, 1941. Johnny Eager was shown to the trades in L.A. two days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December.
The Motion Picture Herald wrote: “Inflammable combination of Taylor and Turner means action for men, romantic appeal for women.”
The Hollywood Reporter enthused: “Smash box-office attraction. A top grosser.”
Boxoffice predicted: “The Taylor-Turner starring duo is marquee voltage for profitable business.”
The picture really was TNT!
On a budget of $650,000, the film grossed $2.6 million–with a net profit of $1.1 million for the studio.
In re-release, it earned another $300,000 in 1949-50.
And now–from 1942–
Taylor and Turner in