Back when Wallace was a crowded town of dance halls, prize fights and rowdy miner bars, Julia Jean Turner danced on local stages and spent her days playing in one of the town’s “legitimate hotels.”
Her name later changed to Lana Turner, and she was the most famous person ever to come from Wallace, population now 1,010.
On Thursday, the 74-year-old movie star died at her Century City, Calif., home. She’d left Wallace at the age of 6. It had been decades since she’d visited her birthplace, but she’s still remembered by a handful of elderly locals.
“You just remember these people because you hear about them,” said Maxine Huguenin, 83.
She remembered watching Turner dancing and singing at Wallace’s Liberty Theater with Turner’s father, an amateur showman.
“She was only about 4 years old,” said Huguenin. “She wasn’t real blond, like she was in the movies.”
At his home two blocks away, 81-year-old Dominic Peretti recalled playing tag with Turner at the Pacific Hotel.
“I never did catch her, let’s put it that way,” he said, chuckling. He also remembers Turner tap dancing at the Liberty Theater.
Like Huguenin, Peretti followed Turner’s career. He made it a point to see her movies, and read about her in the newspapers.
“I really couldn’t say it surprised me,” he said. “She was pretty good. Her dad was a real good tap dancer.”
Turner was born at the long-gone Providence Hospital in Wallace. Her mother ran a beauty parlor. Her father drove a truck and reportedly worked as a miner.
In the late 1920s, the family moved to San Francisco, where Turner’s father, Virgil, was robbed and murdered leaving a card game. In 1936, Mildred Turner and her daughter moved to Hollywood.
Turner was apparently “discovered” in a malt shop while cutting class at Hollywood High School. (A Wallace-area myth put the location at the old Harwood Drug building in nearby Mullan.)
She was spotted by Billy Wilkerson, publisher of a Hollywood trade paper. Shortly after that, she made her tight-sweatered film debut in “They Won’t Forget.”
Over the years, Turner made many headlines. She was married seven times, and had well-publicized romances with with Howard Hughes, Tyrone Power and Fernando Lamas. Her daughter, Cheryl Crane, stabbed one of Turner’s husbands, mobster Johnny Stompanato, to death in 1958. Stompanato was beating Turner, Crane was 14, and the stabbing was ruled a justifiable homicide.
Turner returned to her hometown in 1942 on a war-bonds tour. Thousands crowded the street in Wallace.
“There was a real big crowd,” recalled Jim Farris of Osburn, 83. “It was quite a deal.”
Despite Turner’s departure at an early age, Wallace seems determined to hang onto her legacy.
“It’s something that the people enjoy being part of,” said R.C. Hayman, outside R.C.’s Book Barter.
At Fonk’s five-and-dime, owner Carolyn Rupp said
tourists occasionally ask about Turner. “She’s kind of like somebody who was bigger than life,” Rupp said.
But many locals, especially young ones, don’t know who the starlet was.
“There’s very few people around that even would’ve known her,” said Wallace Corner gift shop owner Dick Caron. “She left here at a very early age.”
Huguenin agreed. “People do forget,” she said. “It’s been a while since she was popular.”
She said a friend recently drove her children by one of Turner’s old homes.
“She said ‘Lana Turner used to play in this house,”’ said Huguenin, chuckling.
“They said, ‘Who’s Lana Turner?”’
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