John Stompanato
Stompanato with Lana Turner
Nickname Johnny
Born (1925-10-10)October 10, 1925
Woodstock, Illinois, U.S.
Died April 4, 1958(1958-04-04) (aged 32)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Place of burial Oakland Cemetery
Allegiance 22x20px United States
Service/branch 20px United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1944–1946
Rank Private
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. In 1958, after a tumultuous relationship with actress Lana Turner, he was stabbed and killed by Turner's daughter, Cheryl Crane.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early years[edit | edit source]

John Stompanato, Jr. was born into an Italian-American family in Woodstock, Illinois. His father, John Sr., owned a barber shop. His mother, Carmela, was a seamstress. Both parents were born in Italy, but were married in Brooklyn. The family moved to Woodstock in 1916. Johnny was the youngest of four children and grew up with three older sisters; Grace, Teresa, and Carmine. Six days after John's birth, his mother died of peritonitis. Johnny's father soon remarried a woman named Verena Freitag.[citation needed]

Wartime service[edit | edit source]

In 1940, after Stompanato's freshman year at Woodstock High School, his father sent him to Kemper Military School for boys in Boonville, Missouri, from which he graduated at age 17. In 1943, Stompanato joined the U.S. Marines as a part of the marines service unit.[1] He saw action in the South Pacific theater, in Peleliu and Okinawa, and then landed in China with the Marines, in 1945.[citation needed] Stompanato left the military on March 1946.

First Wife[edit | edit source]

It was in China, while stationed in Tianjin that Stompanato met his first wife, Sarah Utish; a Turkish girl living in China, and converted to Islam in order to marry her. The two married on May 1946 and moved to Woodstock, where they had their first son, John III.

Son[edit | edit source]

Stompanato's son, John Stompanato III, by his sole legal marriage, was born in Woodstock. Stompanato worked as a bread salesman for a few months before leaving for Hollywood, California.[citation needed]

Los Angeles[edit | edit source]

In Los Angeles, Stompanato owned and managed "The Myrtlewood Gift Shop" in Westwood, California. He sold inexpensive pieces of crude pottery and wood carvings as fine art. The few shoppers who entered the store were either served by a part-time clerk or ignored altogether.[citation needed]

When he began dating Lana Turner, he wore a heavy gold-link bracelet on his wrist with "Lanita" inscribed inside. Turner's daughter Cheryl Crane described Stompanato in her autobiography, Detour: A Hollywood Story (1988):

... 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.

On one occasion, the jealous Stompanato stormed onto a movie set in the UK and pointed a gun at actor Sean Connery, her costar in Another Time, Another Place, only to have Connery take the gun from him and force him from the movie set. Stompanato was deported for this offense, as unlicensed handguns are illegal in the United Kingdom.[2][3]

Rumors flew after Stompanato's death that the mob held Connery responsible; the actor allegedly laid low until things blew over.[4][5][6][7]

Death[edit | edit source]

On April 4, 1958, Stompanato was stabbed to death at Turner's Beverly Hills, California home. Turner's then teenage daughter Cheryl Crane claimed Stompanato had been attacking her mother and that she had stabbed Stompanato defending her mother. The courts agreed, ruling the death to be justifiable homicide. After the ruling, Stompanato's family sued Turner for $7 million. The case was eventually settled out of court for unknown terms.[citation needed]

Lana Turner's former home in Beverly Hills where Stompanato was killed in 1958.

Stompanato is interred at Oakland Cemetery, in Woodstock, McHenry County, Illinois. His grave is at 42°19′5.66″N 88°27′44.59″W / 42.3182389°N 88.4623861°W / 42.3182389; -88.4623861. He is buried between his mother, Carmela (1890–1925), to the north, 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.

Sources[edit | edit source]

Brad Lewis, Hollywood's Celebrity Gangster: The Incredible Life and Times of Mickey Cohen (New York: Enigma Books, 2007) ISBN 978-1-929631-65-0

In popular culture[edit | edit source]

  • Stompanato makes an appearance in the 2011 video game L.A. Noire as an associate of gangster Mickey Cohen.
  • In James Ellroy's novels, The Big Nowhere, Stompanato is a minor character, 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 1979 Rene Ricard wrote one of his best-known known poems, The Death of Johnny Stompanato, published in Italian translation in 1981 and republished in Rene Ricard, Love Poems, CUZ Editions, 1999.
  • The backstory of Woody Allen's 1987 film September (1987 film), in which Lane (Mia Farrow) shot the abusive boyfriend of her actress mother, seems to have been suggested by Stompanato's death.
  • In November 2009 a BBC Radio 4 original play, A Night with Johnny Stompanato, was first broadcast.
  • In the new film Gangster Squad (being released in January 2013) Johnny Stompanato will be played by James Carpinello.
  • Parallels can be found between him, and the protagonist, Vito Scaletta in Mafia 2

References[edit | edit source]

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Detour: A Hollywood Story by Cheryl Crane with Cliff Jahr (Arbor House/William Morrow, 1988)

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