skip navigation
Marriage is a Private Affair
Remind Me
Marriage Is a Private Affair

Marriage is a Private Affair

Marriage Is a Private Affair (1944) marked Lana Turner's return to the screen after an 18-month absence during her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter. The story of an impulsive wartime marriage between a pilot and a glamorous society girl, and the adjustments they have to make, probably had some resonance for war-weary audiences. But no war bride in those days of rationed fabric ever had such a dazzling wardrobe of 20 Irene creations, including a fantasy satin wedding gown. Marriage Is a Private Affair gave Turner solo star billing for the first time, and she was onscreen for virtually all of the film's 116-minute running time.

Playing Turner's much-married mother was Natalie Schafer, a New York theater actress, who had only recently begun acting in films. Later, Schafer would play Turner's mother in the 1970 TV series, The Survivors. And Turner had not one, but two handsome leading men in Marriage Is a Private Affair, John Hodiak (replacing Gene Kelly), and James Craig. Among the uncredited scriptwriters on the film were Ring Lardner, Jr., and Tennessee Williams, who wrote to his friend Gore Vidal, "I am currently embroidering a cinematic brassiere for Miss Lana Turner."

In spite of her glamorous appearance, however, Turner's health was fragile. The pregnancy and birth had been difficult, complicated by an Rh factor that necessitated blood transfusions for the baby, and left Turner anemic and underweight. She was still gaunt and exhausted when production began in January of 1944. MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer reportedly saw some early footage, and was shocked at her appearance, saying, "If we can't photograph Lana Turner, we might as well close the studio."

Emotionally, too, Turner was in bad shape. The onscreen marital conflict mirrored the troubled state of her real-life marriage to restaurateur Stephen Crane. The couple had impulsively eloped in July of 1942, after knowing each other just a few weeks. But they later found out that Crane's divorce from his previous wife hadn't been final when they wed, so the marriage was annulled. Soon after, Turner discovered she was pregnant. She hastily re-married Crane, and gave birth to baby Cheryl in July of 1943. By that time, the relationship was already on the rocks and after the production ended on Marriage Is a Private Affair in April, Turner's marriage was over too. There were rumors that she was involved with co-star John Hodiak, but in her autobiography, Turner claims she lied to her husband, telling him that she was in love with Hodiak so Crane would agree to a divorce.

None of Turner's personal turmoil showed up on the screen, however, and the MGM publicity department went all out to welcome her back to the screen. Turner was a favorite G.I. pin-up, and when a group of her soldier fans overseas wrote the studio asking them when they could see the film, MGM arranged for concurrent world premieres of Marriage Is a Private Affair in all theaters of war. Turner filmed a special prologue to be shown to the troops.

While critics mostly dismissed Marriage Is a Private Affair as a glamour-drenched love letter to Lana, some were pleasantly surprised at the level of the film's honesty about marriage. Time Magazine noted, "There are moments when boredom, adultery, too many cocktails, too much work and other marital liabilities get almost candid treatment." Variety added, "[Director] Robert Z. Leonard injected many intimacies of first-year marriage along the way." A few even suggested that Turner had demonstrated some acting ability. Or perhaps, given her own marital woes at the time, she was demonstrating her own version of Method acting, but without the Hollywood happy ending. Turner would marry and divorce five more times. Two years later, she would show how much she'd grown as an actress in one of her best films, The Postman Always Ring Twice (1946).

Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay: David Hertz, Lenore J. Coffee, based on the novel by Judith Kelly
Cinematography: Ray June
Editor: George White
Costume Design: Irene
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Hubert Hobson
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Lana Turner (Theo Scofield West), James Craig (Capt. Miles Lancing), John Hodiak (Lt. Tom West), Frances Gifford (Sissy Mortimer), Hugh Marlowe (Joseph I. Murdock), Natalie Schafer (Mrs. Selworth).
BW-117m. Closed captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri