Sultry big-screen siren
Joseph A. Wapner
Cranky small-screen jurist
The dyspeptic presiding officer of The People’s Court, Joseph Wapner, didn’t always want to be a judge. As a student at Hollywood High in the 1930’s, he dreamed of becoming an actor. Then one of his theater teachers told him he had no talent. Jettisoned from the senior play, Wapner put aside his dreams of stardom and pursued a legal career instead.
Long before he started arbitrating picayune disputes on television, however, Wapner did get a taste of Old Hollywood glamor in the form of two dates with a young classmate named Julia “Judy” Turner—better known to the world as Lana. In true Hollywood fashion, the two “met cute.” Wapner was knocking about the school library with one of his buddies one Friday afternoon when the beautiful sixteen-year-old Turner—the future star of such classics as The Bad and the Beautiful and The Postman Always Rings Twice—walked in. Immediately appraising her as “the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen,” Wapner was too timid to ask her out himself, so his wingman handled the approach.
“That’s Joe Wapner over there and he’d like to meet you,” the friend told Turner, using a line that one imagines became a pick-up staple for the curmudgeonly TV judge in decades to come.
“My name is Judy Turner,” replied the aspiring starlet. And with that, a flimsy urban legend that the pair had once been “lovers” was born.
In truth, Wapner and Turner would go on only two dates. They reconnected again a few days later, when Turner blew off a gaggle of leering schoolboys to renew her acquaintance with Wapner. He asked her out, and when class let out that afternoon, they headed across the street to the Top Hat Café on Sunset Boulevard—the same café where Turner would be discovered by a Hollywood talent scout just a few months later. They drank some Cokes and got to know each other, but when the bill came Wapner found himself strapped for cash. Turner was forced to pick up the tab. The following Saturday, she gave him another chance, agreeing to a double date at a school dance. But their love was not to be and Turner—perhaps still stung by the café check debacle—pulled the plug on their budding romance.
“She dropped me,” Wapner later told the New Yorker. They never saw each other again.