SAN FRANCISCO — Children of stars do the best imitations. Lucie Arnaz can do Lucy Ricardo almost as well as the original. And Cheryl Crane can do her mother Lana Turner, and she knows it. "Our facial gestures and hand movements are alike," said the most notorious Hollywood child of the 1950s, before giving a demonstration. The tall, cool blonde bent over a coffee table in her Pacific Heights penthouse and stretched her long arms--reaching for something. "This was mother reaching for the sink, coming home late, determined to take off her make-up no matter what. "
There was Hollywood wisdom here, gleaned from five decades of on-and-off stardom: "Never go to sleep with makeup on!" Cheryl Crane's tremulous voice got husky as she said the line, adding, "It worked. You should see her skin today!"
It was early last New Year's Eve, and Cheryl Crane was on the brink of a three-week media tour for her memoir, "Detour" (Arbor House/William Morrow, written with Cliff Jahr, $18.95). Prominent among San Francisco society, Crane and longtime (18 years) lover Josh--formerly Joyce--LeRoy decided not to give this year's requisite "little New Year's Eve dinner," after all. "We're going to sit by the TV, and watch Guy Lombardo drop those little balls," said Crane.
"Cheryl--Guy Lombardo is dead," said LeRoy, a bright brunette who herself could almost double for a darker, younger Lana Turner.
Dead, too, is Johnny Stompanato, Lana Turner's lover, and once a bodyguard of gangster Mickey Cohen. ("Sometimes mother called him five times in a half hour," recalled Crane during the interview). Stompanato is the man that then 14-year-old Cheryl Crane stabbed in her mother's pink bedroom on Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills on Good Friday 1958. Louella Parsons called it the "greatest Hollywood tragedy of all."
Also dead is the I-hate-Mommy genre of star-daughter books epitomized by Christina Crawford's "Mommie Dearest," and finished off in 1985 by "My Mother's Keeper," by Bette Davis' daughter B.D. Hyman. In the late '80s, the celebrity books that sell--"Detour" enters the Los Angeles Times nonfiction list today at No. 5--feature more life-threatening elements than Joan Crawford's wire hangers. What's in demand now is the "survival" celebrity book: Suzanne Somers as a daughter-of-alcoholism ("Keeping Secrets"), Jill Ireland's mastectomy ("Life Wish"), Vivien Leigh as manic-depressive ("Vivien Leigh"). And now there's "Detour," the inevitable four-course feast of nostalgia and nightmare. Its features: Justifiable Homicide. Reform school. Rape. Suicide Attempt. Mental Hospital. Black Years in Leather Pants and Motorcycles. A mother who married eight times; a father who married six times. And now, full disclosure: "Larry King Live," "The Today Show," "Hour Magazine." And last week, Creative Artists agent Bill Haber was negotiating with CBS for a two-part miniseries for next season, to be produced by Allan Carr and Richard Cohen. (Lana Turner, who's read "Detour," but refuses interviews, through a spokeswoman called the book, "a powerful and devastating story.")
On the first ring of the doorbell to her apartment--in a building shared by the psychoanalytic Jung Institute--Cheryl Crane answered. Right up close the grooming shows; after 40 it's about good posture and real jewelry, and Crane has both. The penthouse is reached by a long stairway, and it is motion-picture-perfect; orchids and bromeliads vie for attention with a city view that's right out of Turner's 1960 Ross Hunter glamour-thriller "Portrait in Black." But there's no darkness here, and that's important to know: Cheryl Crane, blonded and wearing white angora, has sorted everything out. She's cleared away the victim-demons so she can talk about them; if the answers are repetitive, then so are the questions. If she sounds rehearsed, possibly she was. If you are going to discuss homicide and rape on radio call-in shows in Baltimore and Detroit, you better be ready.
The pop psychiatry Freud conclusions have already been drawn--that Cheryl Crane covered-up for her mother, that she became a lesbian because of mistreatment by men, that her mother's endless parade of lovers/studs/husbands turned the houses on Bedford and Mapleton into such unseemly homes that finally even Crane's grandmother moved out. Cheryl Crane has heard it all.
"Anytime my name was mentioned in print, it always finished with the paragraph, 'In 1958 . . . .' Finally, we got to calling it 'The Paragraph.' Once mother called me and said, 'I just read your name and--my God!--they left out the Paragraph! . . . So many people pretend to know my mother and me . . . there are so many misconceptions. Like about Stompanato."