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Stompanato with Lana Turner
October 10, 1925|
Woodstock, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||April 4, 1958
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
|Place of burial||Oakland Cemetery|
|Service/branch||United States Marine Corps|
|Years of service||1944–1946|
|Unit||Service Battalion, 1st Marine Division|
|Battles/wars||World War II
*Battle of Peleliu
*Battle of Okinawa
|Other work||Mob Bodyguard|
John "Johnny" Stompanato (October 10, 1925 – April 4, 1958), also known as "Handsome Harry", "Johnny Stomp", "John Steele", and "Oscar", was a former United States Marine who became a bodyguard and enforcer for gangster Mickey Cohen and his crime family.
In the mid-1950s he began an abusive relationship with actress Lana Turner. In 1958, he was stabbed to death by Turner's daughter, Cheryl Crane, who said she did it to defend her mother from a vicious beating by Stompanato.
John Stompanato, Jr., was born into an Italian-American family in Woodstock, Illinois. His father, John Sr., owned a barber shop and his mother, Carmela, was a seamstress. Both parents were born in Italy but were married in Brooklyn. They had moved to Woodstock in 1916. Stompanato was the youngest of four children: he had two older sisters, Grace and Teresa; and an older brother, Carmine. Six days after his birth, his mother died of peritonitis. Johnny's father soon married a woman named Verena Freitag.
In 1940, after Stompanato's freshman year at Woodstock High School, his father sent him to Kemper Military School for boys in Boonville, Missouri. In 1942 he graduated at the age of 17. In 1943, Stompanato joined the U.S. Marines serving with the 1st Service Battalion, 1st Marine Division. He served in the South Pacific theater, in Peleliu and Okinawa, and then served in China. Stompanato left the Corps in March 1946, being discharged in China.
Stompanato met his first wife, Sarah Utish, a Turkish woman, while stationed in Tianjin, China. Stompanato converted to Islam in order to marry her in May 1946. They returned to Woodstock, where they had their first son, John Stompanato III. During this time, Stompanato worked as a bread salesman. However, after his wife walked out on him (she would later remarry and live in Hammond, Illinois), he moved to Hollywood, California in 1947.
After moving to Los Angeles, Stompanato owned and managed "The Myrtlewood Gift Shop" in Westwood. The business sold inexpensive pieces of crude pottery and wood carvings as fine art. Through connections to the LA underworld, he became a bodyguard for gangster Mickey Cohen and as well as an enforcer for his crime family. Stompanato also established himself within Hollywood society. In 1948, Frank Sinatra asked Cohen to tell Stompanato to keep away from Ava Gardner. But the mob boss instead told Sinatra to go back to his wife and children because he never got between men and their “broads”. In the same year Stompanato married for a second time, to 33-year-old actress Helen Gilbert. In August 1949, Stompanato testified at a coroner's inquest into the shotgun slaying of Edward "Neddy" Herbert, an associate of Cohen. Within a year Gilbert had filed for divorce. She said of Stompanato "[he] had no means. I did what I could to support him.”
In October 1952 Stompanato left Cohen and started dating Helene Stanley, a former 20th Century-Fox contract player. By December he was working as her manager. The following year she became his third wife; however, they divorced two years later. Throughout the 1950s he was arrested seven times by the LAPD for various criminal charges ranging from vagrancy to suspicion of robbery.
By 1957 Stompanato was in a relationship with actress Lana Turner (who had split up with her fifth husband Lex Barker). She had also just lost her MGM contract after a series of box office flops. Turner saw the ruggedly handsome Stompanato as someone who could help her through these tough times. In recognition of their relationship, he wore a heavy gold-link bracelet on his wrist with "Lanita" inscribed inside. Turner's daughter Cheryl Crane described him as:
B-picture good looks... thick set ... powerfully built and soft spoken ... and talked in short sentences to cover a poor grasp of grammar and spoke in a deep baritone voice. With friends, he seldom smiled or laughed out loud, but seemed always coiled, holding himself in ... had watchful hooded eyes that took in more than he wanted anyone to notice .... His wardrobe on a daily basis consisted of roomy, draped slacks, a silver buckled skinny leather belt and lizard shoes.
Their relationship was stormy; it was often punctuated with frequent arguments and fights. In 1957 Stompanato became so jealous about Turner's relationship with future James Bond actor Sean Connery, he flew to Britain. He stormed onto the set of Another Time, Another Place threatening Connery with a gun. Unperturbed, the 6 ft 2 in Scotsman, who was a former body builder, bent Stompanato's hand back forcing him to drop the weapon. He was reported to the police and quietly deported from the United Kingdom. After Stompanato's death, it was rumored that at least one LA mobster held Connery responsible, leading the actor to go into hiding for a short time afterwards.
On April 4, 1958, Stompanato was stabbed to death by Turner's teenage daughter Cheryl Crane at her mother's home in Beverly Hills, California. She claimed that Stompanato had been violently attacking her mother, so she stabbed him. A coroner's inquest returned a decision of justifiable homicide. After the ruling, Stompanato's family sued Turner for $7 million.
Stompanato is interred at Oakland Cemetery, in Woodstock, McHenry County, Illinois. He is buried beside his mother, Carmela (1890–1925), to the north, who lies between him and his father John (1890–1952) and his step mother Verena (1901–1967) to the south. His brother, Carmine (1912–1961) is buried across a small road, to the west of Johnny.
- In 1979 Rene Ricard wrote one of his best-known poems, The Death of Johnny Stompanato, published in Italian translation in 1981 and republished in Rene Ricard, Love Poems, CUZ Editions, 1999.
- In James Ellroy's novels, Stompanato is a minor character in The Big Nowhere, and in L.A. Confidential Stompanato plays a key role in the conspiracy at the center of the story. At the novel's conclusion, Ellroy weaves many of the real-life details of Stompanato's death into the otherwise largely fictional plot.
- In the 1997 movie L.A. Confidential (1997), Stompanato is portrayed by Paolo Seganti, and is seen sitting in a booth with Lana Turner, portrayed by Brenda Bakke, at West Hollywood's Formosa Cafe.
- In November 2009 a BBC Radio 4 original play, A Night with Johnny Stompanato, was first broadcast.
- Stompanato is played by James Carpinello in the 2013 film Gangster Squad.
- Stompanato makes an appearance in the 2011 video game L.A. Noire as an associate of gangster Mickey Cohen and is voiced by Andy Davoli.
- Babcock, Richard. "American Gigolo - Chicago magazine - April 2008 - Chicago". Chicagomag.com. Retrieved 2013-02-07.
- p.203 Turner, Lana Lana-The Lady, the Legend, the Truth Dutton, 1982
- "Helene Stanley Profile". Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen. Retrieved November 27, 2015.
- "How Sean Connery seduced a movie legend and faced the wrath of the Mafia". Daily Mail. 12 August 2008.
- Stephen Schochet (2004-08-26). "Who Is James Bond?". total-movies.com. Archived from the original on November 14, 2006. Retrieved 2014-08-03.
- Gaby Wood (July 15, 2004). "In Lana Turner's Bedroom". Granta. ISBN 1929001169. Archived from the original on April 23, 2006. Retrieved April 23, 2006.
- "All about Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato, by Mark Gribben". crimelibrary.com. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
- Doug Smith, "In a 1958 Inquest, Killing of Lana Turner's Boyfriend Was Detailed," Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2015
- Lewis, Brad (2007). Hollywood's Celebrity Gangster: The Incredible Life and Times of Mickey Cohen. Enigma Books: New York. ISBN 978-1-929631-65-0.
- Cane, Cheryl & Cliff Jahr (1988). Detour: A Hollywood Story. Arbor House.