It was December 20, 1991, and my wife Marlisa, her sister Beatrice, and I were alone in the compartment of a night train leaving Paris for Zürich, when we became acquainted with Lana Clarkson as a result of a series of somewhat unusual events.
That evening, the train had left Paris and shortly after departure, our party of three was all asleep. Suddenly, an obese, rude, and loud French conductor abruptly awakened us. He spoke first to Beatrice and me; since neither of us spoke French, we put on our most innocent-looking face and pointed in unison to Marlisa, our French interpreter. Marlisa and her sister are both Swiss, however, only Marlisa speaks French fluently.
The conductor spoke gruffly; he complained that ‘yet another American’ had tried to ride his train without paying. The man remembered that I had an American passport and asked if we wanted to help another American on the train who was in ‘bad’ trouble. Marlisa, who is always kind, compassionate, and ready to help a traveler in distress, volunteered to determine the nature of the problem.
She found the American-in-trouble, to be a beautiful young woman dressed in an eloquent evening dress, crying pitifully into a handkerchief. The woman was of such striking beauty, that Marlisa had remembered seeing her board the train dressed in jeans and casual clothing. Marlisa sat down beside the weeping American and asked the woman what had happened to her. The sobbing woman introduced herself as Lana Clarkson, a name Marlisa had never heard before. Lana then poured out her story.
LANA CLARKSON, ACTRESS
It seems that Miss Clarkson was traveling from Paris to meet friends in Zürich, where they would then proceed to travel on to St. Moritz, Switzerland, the famous ski resort. She was traveling, First Class, and on a Eurail pass that expired on that particular day and that she believed was still valid.
When the French conductor came to take tickets, he informed her that the Eurail pass was not valid, on the day of expiration, and she would have to pay the fare. Lana then produced a credit card to pay the fare and the conductor informed her that payment must be in cash, either French francs or Swiss francs, and Lana did not have that much cash with her.
At that point, the conductor told her that if she could not pay, he would notify the police and they would put her in prison.
The sobbing Lana was caught in an impossible situation. She had credit but no French cash, she was in a foreign environment where a foreign language was spoken, and she believed the cruel conductor was going to have her imprisoned.
“My grandmother,” Lana told Marlisa, “whose name is also Lana, like mine and Lana Turner’s (the famous movie actress), once told me that if I ever had to go to jail that I should dress in my best clothes, just like Lana Turner did in one of her movies.”
“My grandmother was a big fan of Lana Turner’s. So, when the conductor told me I had to go to prison, I went to the rest room and changed into these clothes,” she said, adjusting her lovely evening wear.
Marlisa was impressed by Lana and her story of the conductor’s rude behavior. Graciously, Marlisa offered to loan her the money for the ticket. Lana was stunned and could not believe that this Swiss stranger, who had never heard of her, would offer to help her out of her predicament. .
“Keep my passport till I repay you,” she told Marlisa and handing her passport to her. “My friend will meet me in Zürich,” Lana explained, “and if she does not have enoough money with her, I promise you that we will bring it to your house, in Zürich!”
When Marlisa did not return right away, Beatrice and I went to look for her and found her sitting with Lana. Marlisa introduced us and told us that she would sit with Lana for a while, until Lana had regained her composure from her recent ordeal, now resolved.
After a while, Marlisa returned to our compartment and showed us Lana’s passport. Marlisa said that Lana had told her some bizarre stories, about being an American actress, living in Hollywood California, and being in Paris to discuss making a Fellini film.
None of us recognized the name, Lana Clarkson, on the passport, and were somewhat skeptical of her story about being a famous actress.
LANA CLARKSON AS BARBARIAN QUEEN II
“Lana is a very nice young woman,” Marlisa told us, “and she had a very bad experience in a foreign country that speaks a foreign language, through no fault of her own. I feel sorry for her and want to help her. I like her”
“Lana showed me pictures of her home in California and her horse. She gave me her address and invited me to visit her there.”
“What I told her was that I was helping her because I was also a woman and that we women had to stand together and help each other, when we have problems. I told Lana that I wasn’t helping her because she was a Hollywood actress.”
Interestingly, when the train reached the Swiss border, a much more polite Swiss Conductor, who had taken charge of the train, notified Lana that the French conductor had only collected the fare for the train traveling in France; the fare from the Swiss border to Zürich had not been collected. Again, Marlisa, in shining armor, came riding to Lana’s rescue.
When the train arrived in Zürich, all of us left the train together: Lana, Marlisa, Beatrice and I. It was snowing. To get to the station, we had to walk outside, in the snow, for the length of the train.
Now that she wasn’t going to prison, Lana was dressed in a miniskirt, fur jacket, and high heels and was pulling a huge suitcase through the snow on a leash. It made an interesting picture.
In her triumphant arrival as a heroine in Zürich, Lana led a parade. Lana was leading, followed by Marlisa, who was followed by Beatrice and me bringing up the rear. We had the distinct feeling that the eyes of the crowd were on Lana’s entourage. Near the end of the train at the doors to the station, stood another beautiful blonde woman, dressed in a white miniskirt, white fur jacked, and heels, and holding a leash with a white miniature poodle at the end.
“Guess which one is Lana’s friend,” I discreetly whispered to Marlisa.
“Oh! I am so glad to see you!” Lana told the lady who had been waiting for her, hugging the woman.
Taking Marlisa’s hand, Lana told her friend dramatically, “This is my fairy godmother! She saved me from going to prison!”
Then with a great deal of emotion, Lana related the story of the nasty conductor and Marlisa coming to save her from a fate worse than death!
Lana’s friend quickly repaid Marisa for the train fare and both women thanked Marlisa profusely.
We left the train station, never to see Lana again. Over the years, we told the story, over and over, about how Marlisa had saved a Hollywood actress, who no one recognized as an actress. It was a wonderful story that we enjoyed telling and Lana had become a real friend, a nice young woman that truly appreciated Marlisa’s generosity and compassion, and really believed that she was a Hollywood star. We would never forget that name, Lana Clarkson, although we never saw it in print or heard of it for over a decade.
In 2003, while visiting the USA, I picked up a ‘Vanity Faire’ magazine. On the cover was a murder story highlighted, “Lana Clarkson, Hollywood Actress, Murdered in the Hollywood Mansion of Phil Spector”
PHIL SPECTOR, THE MURDERER
To me, Lana’s death was a horror story. When I informed Marlisa, she wept. Beatrice was stunned. Until the moment that we heard of her death, Lana Clarkson had played the lead in our often-told story of, ‘The Train From Paris.’ Now, our shining star had gone out!
The Lana Clarkson that we knew was a charming, warm, and gracious human being. Coincidently, we now knew that Lana really was a Hollywood actress. However the void in our lives, left by her death, is the absence of the Lana Clarkson that we knew!
NOTE: When I published this on my blog, Quixotic Tales, I received this comment on my post:
“Very interesting article showing the good character of a lovely human being that has graced human society and our world. You are fortunate to have met her. Thank you for sharing this story of Lana Clarkson. It is a change from the usual meaningless rants from hiding bloggers and the occasional meaningless media talking heads.”
Edward Lozzi, former publicist and longtime friend of Lana Clarkson