Life Lessons From Lana Turner

I'll always remember Lana Turner. Certainly, she was one of the most beautiful actresses I'd ever seen, but her words during our first meeting years ago still linger in my thought.

It had been raining steadily all night, but I kept thinking that tomorrow it would clear up. It had to be a perfect day, for I was going to interview Lana Turner, the reigning glamour queen at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, for a national magazine. My sister, Reba, who was the other half of our teenage writing team, couldn't get the time off from work.

Reba rehearsed me on the questions to ask, but I still felt a tinge of apprehension.

By 2 p.m. the next day, the rain had changed into a full-blown storm. After two months of asking to do the interview, I wasn't going to suggest another date.

We lived 25 miles from the studio, which meant three bus transfers and waits in between. The family car was in the garage, but I only had my driver's learning permit, so I needed an adult in the car.

''Don't look so worried, Bonnie,'' my mother said in her soft Southern voice. ''I'm going with you.'' She put a peanut-butter sandwich, a soft drink, and a book into a paper bag and said, ''Okay, get behind the wheel.''

I'll admit her presence gave me comfort. The fact that she couldn't drive never occurred to us.

I parked a block from the studio, near an elementary school. ''It's okay,'' she assured, ''I'll be as dry as toast. You go on now, you don't want to be late.''

I ran down the street, jumping over puddles as only a 16-year-old can. Then I stopped. I came back to the car, grabbed my high heels, which I'm sure made me look at least 16-1/2, and put them on.

Fortunately, by now the rain was just a drizzle. I started to take the stairs two at a time to get to the office of Dorothy Blanchard, the head of the national magazine, but my high heels slowed me down.

''You're going to Lana's dressing room,'' Blanchard said in her throaty voice. ''It's only a short walk.'' The faster I walked, the harder it rained. I was drenched.

Opening the door herself, Lana greeted me with, ''Come in and dry off.'' She led me into an all-gray suite, which was her dressing room; it was larger than my house. The deep carpet came up to my ankles.

The actress had a book in her hand, and admitted, ''There's nothing like a good read on a rainy day.''

Running her finger over the book's edge, she added, ''When I find a line that stirs my thought, I write it down on a piece of paper and put it in my pocket.

I leaned forward; she could see I was interested. ''Like this,'' she said, unfolding a scrap of stationery and handing it to me. It read: ''You can succeed if you trust the power within.''

''Ever since I was Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner living in Wallace, Idaho,'' she confided, ''I was memorizing sentences from books. Lately, they've been more comforting than friends.''

I was surprised at her openness and friendliness, and also at the quote she had shared. My notebook, filled with questions I'd been rehearsing all morning, slid off my lap.

She leaned forward and handed it to me. Seeing the carefully numbered questions, she added, ''Now, what do you want to talk about?''

An hour later, after I had exhausted all my questions, I thanked her and got up to leave. A rumble of thunder seemed to shake the building.

''This rain doesn't want to stop,'' she said, looking at my pumps, which were turning up a little at the toes.

''You wear a small size, too,'' she said half to herself and disappeared into the next room. Returning, she handed me a pair of boots, ''Enjoy them, and keep them.''

I started to put one foot into the boot, but quickly drew it back. They were lined in mink.

''No, I couldn't,'' I said, handing them back, then explained, ''I have dry shoes in the car.''

''Well, take this, then,'' Lana Turner insisted and pressed a small piece of paper into my hand. I put it into my notebook and thanked her.

The magazine article seemed to write itself, for she'd frankly answered every question. Before I finished it, I looked into my notebook to check a fact. The piece of paper fell out. I unfolded it, and in Lana's writing were the words, ''When you write the truth, you touch the soul.''

I sat down for a moment and let the words sink in. She'd answered all the questions, but they were angled to the editor's theme. They weren't really what she was talking about.

I put the article I'd just written aside, and began again.

This time I included all the ''thought-stirring'' sentences that I had omitted from the first story.

It was different from other features I'd read about the actress. It was the truth; I sent it in. Later, the magazine came out with Lana Turner's picture on the cover, plus my first bylined cover story: ''The Lana Turner You Never Knew.''

Write the truth, touch the soul. I taped the words to my typewriter.

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