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starhart.gif (5675 bytes)Even Ted Turner deserves better than this attempt

By: HART WILLIAMS Contributing Reviewer
Date: 08/06/95

Turner has been called ``The Mouth of the South,'' ``Captain Outrageous'' and several other, unpublishable, nicknames.



















This eye never sleeps

Citizen Turner: The Wild Rise of an American Tycoon
by Robert Goldberg and Gerald Jay Goldberg (525 pages; Harcourt Brace; $27)

The three questions to ask of a biography are ``Is the subject worthy of such treatment? '' ``Is it readable? '' and ``Do I believe it? ''

Citizen Turner certainly succeeds in two of these points; the third is questionable.

Unlike many subjects of celebrity biographies, Robert Edward Turner III is someone who will ``be remembered as somebody who made a difference. '' Outspoken and out front, Turner has been called ``The Mouth of the South,'' ``Captain Outrageous'' and several other, unpublishable, nicknames.

Owner of CNN, TBS, TNT, the Atlanta Braves, the Atlanta Hawks, cable pioneer and innovator, winner of the America's Cup, current husband to Jane Fonda, Turner has lived his life on the public stage. A biography is certainly overdue.

Certainly this book is readable - perhaps suspiciously so. The first two chapters are fashioned in a manner that harkens back to the days of the pulp bio. Chapter 1 begins, ``It was usually warm when Ed Turner got out of bed, and the dove-gray clouds hung ominously low over the old plantation. '' It may have been a dark and stormy night, but this is a man's life we're supposed to be reading about, not a melodrama.

Citizen Turner remains in this mode, as the authors dredge up every pulp cliche imaginable to propel the narrative.

Example: ``In a way, the sea was just big enough to drown Ted's loneliness. '' Or, ``Turner could be penny-wise and pound-foolish, but contradictions are typical of the man. '' The biography is written as a potboiler, obsessed with framing the life of this modern iconoclast in the hoariest of platitudes.

The reading itself goes down easy, much like the magazine articles cited in the nearly 42 pages of reference at the end. This is popularization and novelization, but the authors' desire to entertain, to trot out dancing bears and ballerinas, to chronicle Turner's sexual and public peccadilloes begins to raise serious questions as to the final question: Do I believe it?

No. Robert and Gerald Jay Goldberg have done their homework, but, repeatedly, they state as fact their idea as to what was in the mind of Ted Turner. Can they possibly know this? Of course not.

``Ted seemed to be stressing the innocence of the man and the pathos of his fate ... All of these were very much on Turner's mind in his last year of high school. '' Or: ``Today, Turner has a newfound stability. He has finally settled comfortably into his own skin, making peace with himself, his kids, his demons. Perhaps Lithium has made the difference. ''

In one particularly odious bit of pseudopsychoanalysis, the Goldbergs quote a passage from a book by Turner's former analyst on womanizing and speculate that this is his veiled diagnosis of Turner.

There is something repellent in being this judgmental about Turner's life (just as it is odious that the Goldbergs familiarly and often refer to him as ``Ted'') that strikes the reader as an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

Turner is worthy of biography but this isn't it. It's an airport paperback, waiting to kill time for travelers between flights.

Hart Williams is a writer who lives in Eugene, Ore.

1995 Hart Williams


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