Looking at Lana: Where was Lana Turner Discovered?

First off, huge thank you to Moriah Ferguson for looking up this with me. You can follow her on Twitter at @_daisykenyon. For those who don’t follow Moriah, she’s basically a Lana Turner encyclopedia. I couldn’t have done this piece without her help.

The story of Lana Turner’s discovery is one of the most commonly recited stories in Hollywood lore. Sipping on a soda at Schwab’s Pharmacy in 1936, director Mervyn LeRoy discovered her. In actuality, she was discovered by William Wilkerson, publisher of The Holly(wood Reporter (reportedly) at the Top Hat Cafe.


Legend claims Lana’s discovery happened at Schwab’s Pharmacy or Top Hat Cafe. In actuality, Lana was discovered at Top’s Cafe and Cocktail Lounge.

Daily News
Los Angeles, California 16 Jan 1936
The Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles, California 25 Oct 1936
Daily News
Los Angeles, California 19 Jan 1937

In mid-1937, the Top’s Cafe appears to have moved to a different location roughly 10 miles away:

The Southwest Wave
Los Angeles, California 21 May 1937

In 1939, the building was sold:

The Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles, California 11 Jan 1939
1930s The Tops Menu (Yes, I realize there is a top hat in the logo)
Credit: https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/1930s-menu-top-hat-cafe-sunset-blvd-1539394659

The Top Hat Cafe (trust me when I say there were A LOT of places with Top in their name) was just under a mile away from Hollywood High School:

Los Angeles Evening Citizen News
Hollywood, California 18 Jan 1936

Schwab’s was just under two miles away:

The Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles, California 25 Feb 1938

This photo of Lana ran in 1937, erroneously labeling Lana’s location as the Top Hat Cafe:

Manuel Hernandez, the soda jerker who sold Lana Turner the soda which she was sipping a year ago when “discovered” by the movies and given a contract, preparing another soda for Miss Turner at the 17 year old beauty’s “Discovery Anniversary” party at the “Top Hat Cafe Soda Fountain” located at 6750 Sunset Blvd, across the street from the Hollywood, High School, which she was then attending.
Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/33455118@N08/5500737758/in/photostream/

However, newspaper clippings clearly show the 6750 Sunset Blvd address was the Top’s Cafe and Cocktails in 1936 when she was reportedly discovered. It’s likely MGM did not want to disclose their latest find was 15-years-old at a cocktail lounge, instead opting to make it the more family-friendly Top Hat Cafe. I do want to note that it’s possible the Top Hat Cafe opened a second location at the 6750 Sunset address before the building was forced to close in 1939; however, I don’t have any proof to support that idea.

Today, the Top’s Cafe and Cocktail Lounge is a Chick-Fil-A:

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