The girl pictured above created quite a sensation in 1937, was immediately dubbed “The Sweater Girl,” and was destined for stardom.
Hello Everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers here today to discuss one of the biggest and most flamboyant stars of the 20th Century, Lana Turner.
There’s always been a question as to Lana’s first appearance on film. We decided to ask Joe’s old pal, Lou Valentino, to settle the issue. We’re happy to report that Lou has graciously responded in generous fashion.
Lou is the author of The Films and Career of Lana Turner, and is the world’s leading authority on the subject of all things Turner. So it’s a pleasure to publish his findings. Here’s Lou’s Exclusive for Classic Movie Chat.
A STAR IS BORN THEY DEFINITELY WON’T FORGET by Lou Valentino
In the late 1940s when I was a young kid and even before I saw her on a movie screen I first got to know the name “Lana Turner” through radio comedians Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Fred Allen, who were constantly referencing her in their routines while I was doing my homework.
But I really got to know who Lana Turner was when my mother started to bring movie magazines into the house.
Movie magazines of that era were truly things of beauty. I loved looking at the pictures and I loved reading them. And I believed EVERY word I read. When they told me Lana Turner’s first screen appearance was in a 1937 Warner Brothers film called They Won’t Forget - I BELIEVED them.
By the late 1960s a new breed of magazine was born aimed at film “buffs”, know-it-all movie snobs who claimed to, well, know it all. Magazines like FILMS IN REVIEW, FILMS AND FILMING, CAHIERS DU CINEMA etc. featured such knowledgeable contributors as Gene Ringgold, Larry Quirk, DeWitt Bodeen and more, all of whom I got to know very well.
Through them I learned that prior to her “debut” in They Won’t Forget, Lana Turner appeared as an “extra” in a race track scene in the 1937 David O. Selznick production A Star Is Born.
Huh?? So much for movie magazines!
I had been writing to my favorite movie star since I was a young boy so Lana was very familiar with my letters. In 1966 I wrote her, and in between my usual adulatory comments, I slipped in a question as to whether she had worked as an extra in A Star Is Born. In about a month I received a lovely letter in return but there was no mention of the film.
Never one to give up easily, like most determined movie fans, I went a step further and wrote a letter to the famous Hollywood casting agent Henry Willson. He was Lana’s very first agent as well as being the guiding light for such stars as Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Guy Madison, Rory Calhoun and just about every other good-looking guy of the period. I told him I was working on an article for a magazine, and would he please verify the fact that Lana, then “Judy” Turner, had appeared in A Star Is Born. Henry did the casting for all the Selznick features, and here is his reply in a letter dated August 3, 1966:
Dear Mr. Valentino:
You are correct in the fact that Lana Turner (as Judy Turner) did a bit in Selznick’s A Star Is Born. I thought the scene, however, was around a swimming pool – not a race track. Lana’s next appearance was in the film They Won’t Forget. Solly Biano at the time was working as my assistant at the Zeppo Marx Agency and we took Lana to meet Mervyn LeRoy. She was signed to a contract with Mervyn LeRoy at Warners.
Hope this answers your questions. Good luck on the story.
Sincerely, HENRY WILLSON
Tomorrow more of Lou’s tale.