On Good Friday night, April 5, 1958, fourteen-year-old Cheryl Crane was doing her homework when she heard her mother, Lana Turner, in a violent argument with gigolo Johnny Stompanato. After she heard Stompanato threatening that, “I’ll carve you up,” Cheryl got a butcher knife from the kitchen and went upstairs to the master bedroom of the Beverly Hills house.
“He was coming at her from behind,” Crane writes, “his arm raised to strike. I took a step forward and lifted the weapon. He ran on the blade. It went in.”
Those few seconds were kept in the public’s memory by what Crane learned to call “the paragraph": Ever after, no newspaper mention of her name would be complete without reference to the scandal. In DETOUR, Crane reveals that the scandal went deeper: She suffered the same combination of public doting and private neglect that Christina Crawford detailed in MOMMIE DEAREST. Crane was also sexually abused by one of her many stepfathers, Lex Barker of Tarzan fame. For several years after the killing, which was ruled justifiable homicide, she was in and out of boarding schools, a reformatory, and a mental hospital.
Today, however, Crane is a successful real-estate developer in San Francisco, happy in a long-standing lesbian relationship and reconciled with her mother. She now regards her painful public years as “a detour that I was able to survive with only the tiniest scars to show for it.”
The problem with DETOUR is that this gossipy past, the book’s selling point, is so remote from Crane today that her telling of the story is dull despite the shocking facts. The reader looking for Hollywood sob-sister thrills may be glad Crane overcame youthful trauma so well, while secretly wishing she was still angry enough to make her book exciting.