By 1978, she was a fading Hollywood star of 54, the blond “tart with a heart” of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Oklahoma!” He was a 26-year-old Liverpudlian, just starting to make his way as an actor. Despite the nearly 30 years between them, Gloria Grahame and Peter Turner fell in love, their affair ending with her death three years later.
Turner’s name never made it into her obituaries, consumed as they were with Grahame’s films, four former husbands and the scandals in between. Unable and unwilling to forget her, Turner recalled their time together in a 1986 memoir, “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.” The book’s back in print, thanks to the new film of the same name — and Annette Bening, its star, was full of questions for its author.
“She wanted to know simple things like, ‘Did she like wearing nail polish?’ and ‘How much coffee did she drink?’ ” said Turner, now 65. “A week before they started shooting, Annette said, ‘Peter, I might not be the Gloria you know, but I will be the Gloria I know through you.’ ”
Speaking to The Post from England, Turner — a writer and director whose younger self is played by Jamie Bell — recalled the “Glo” he knew who, soon after meeting him at their London boarding house, hit him up for a loan.
“It was 4 pounds 75 [pence],” he said. “Why she needed that exact sum, I never knew, but she paid me back by check a few weeks later.” He never cashed it, probably because he couldn’t: She’d made the check out to “Peter Turner Star.”
Soon after, she asked him to dance with her in her room, to “Saturday Night Fever.” Weeks later, they were lovers. “It happened in stages,” Turner said. They’d go to kebab joints and pubs, concerts and the countryside, where she insisted on milking a cow. Ever the glamour girl on screen, off it she wore jeans, T-shirts and scant makeup, despaired of finding shoes large enough to fit her feet and smelled ever so faintly of apricot-scented perfume.
It was in New York, some 18 months into their affair, that she suddenly withdrew, Turner says. Though he didn’t know it then, the breast cancer she fought years before had metastasized. Rather than treat it or even discuss it, she shut him out. Heartsick, Turner flew home alone.
The next time he heard from her was nearly a year later, in late September 1981. She’d collapsed in a hotel in Lancaster, England, where she was performing. Refusing medical attention, she begged to be taken to his family’s home in Liverpool.
For the next three weeks, Turner, his parents and several of his eight siblings tended to her. He was in a play at the time, and when he told the stage manager why he was late getting to the theater, the man’s response became the title of Turner’s memoir.
True enough, the film star didn’t die in Liverpool. Grahame’s children took her back to New York, where she succumbed hours later. She was 57.
“I was devastated by how it ended,” Turner told The Post. “I’ve never married, but I have fallen in love [since] — and I’ve been able to take all the wonderful things about Gloria into my life.”