It takes a scorecard to keep track of Lana Turner’s marital life. She tied the knot seven times, twice to actor-restaurateur Stephen Crane, father of Cheryl, who fatally stabbed the star’s lover, Johnny Stompanato.
But bandleader Artie Shaw was there before them all as husband number one. In the 1940s Big Bands (and Bandleaders) were as popular as movie stars. And one of the biggest Star Bandleaders was Shaw, a man who made it his mission to bed and sometimes wed movie stars.
The former Arthur Arshawsky, born in New York City in 1910 and raised in New Haven, Conn., had been playing saxophone and clarinet since his high school days. By the age of 19 he was freelancing at CBS and making recordings in New York. On July 24, 1938, his ensemble stepped into a studio and recorded its version of Begin The Beguine. It was a huge hit, and everything changed for Shaw.
By the time Begin the Beguine was recorded, he had already played his way through two marriages. Then came the bombshell third marriage, to Turner. She was 20, Artie was 30. It lasted from February 1940 until the following September. Short and not very sweet. (The most conceited, unpleasant man I ever met, Lana said later.)
The union cemented Shaw’s reputation as a notorious lady-killer. After Pearl Harbor, Shaw enlisted in the Navy, and wise-guy sailors would ask to “shake the hand that held Lana Turner’s tit.”