Flashback: Lana Turner Went From Hollywood High School to Star in 1937

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Turner outside Hollywood High School circa 1937 (she completed her studies at MGM’s studio school).

She was discovered at 16 by THR founder Billy Wilkerson while she was skipping class to enjoy a Coke at the nearby Top Hat Malt Stop.

There was once a glamorous myth that you could attend Hollywood High School, get discovered and become a movie star. Lana Turner was the girl who turned that myth into reality.

The Hollywood Reporter's part in this was founder Billy Wilkerson, then 47, doing the discovering. In early 1937, Judy Turner (director Mervyn LeRoy later encouraged the change to "Lana") skipped typing class to have a Coke with friends at the nearby Top Hat Malt Shop. Wilkerson had walked from his THR office for the same reason. He saw Turner, a stunningly beautiful and by all accounts self-possessed 16-year-old, and told the cafe manager that he'd like to speak with her.

Turner was suspicious, agreeing only reluctantly and telling the manager, "Well, if you say so. But stay close." (That this happened at Schwab's Pharmacy is persistent fiction.) A meeting with Turner and her mother was arranged at Wilkerson's office; later he sent a recommendation note to agent Zeppo Marx and, just like that, a star was born.

By 1938, Turner was making movies with LeRoy under a $100-per-week contract ($1,700 today).

"At 16, my mother's ambition was to be a dress designer," says daughter Cheryl Crane. "But being a movie star fit better with her personality."

This story first appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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