Turner repeatedly courts disaster and comes out a winner. He turned an obscure UHF channel into Atlanta's major sports and movie station. He started Cable News Network when others said he was nuts. He won the America's Cup against great odds. But others paid tolls on his climb to greatness. He was reportedly a monster to work for, sail for, and have babies for. The hours were long, the wages ridiculous. When Republican friends complained of Turner's fondness for Fidel Castro, Turner replied, 'Hell, he's no communist; he's a dictator, just like me.'
Ironically, it was Turner's legendary philandering that helped shift his politics toward contemporary consciousness. One of his extramarital flames (his pilot) began opening his eyes to environmental issues, feminism, and New Age living. He left his long-suffering wife and kids for her, but it didn't last. Jane Fonda enters stage left to shape him up, physically and politically.
But could progressive pillow-talk alone overcome his military schooling, or his tough-love Dad's legacy, or his thick-skinned entrepreneurialism, and turn Turner into a patron of the Goodwill Games, and now Wowuka, savior of the buffalo? What makes the billionaire creator of a worldwide network that revolutionized both broadcasting and diplomacy give a damn about nuclear arms and bison? What is it about male egotists that fits as easily with building corporate empires as with saving the world (in both cases, often leaving a trail of carnage on the personal front)? It is the paradox of the transformed Ted Turner that still eludes analysis. For now, this well-written account of Turner's rise to power in broadcasting is worth the read. If nothing else, it may make you glad you don't have what it takes to be a tycoon.
Citizen Turner: The Wild Rise of An American Tycoon
by Robert Goldberg and Gerald Jay Goldberg
(Harcourt Brace, $27)