Feature

Call Me Ted by Ted Turner, with Bill Burke

Ted Turner once told friends that he wanted to become “the world’s greatest sailor, businessman, and lover all at the same time.”    

Call Me Ted
by Ted Turner, with Bill Burke
(Grand Central, $30)

Ted Turner never lacked ambition. Now 70, the loudmouthed media pioneer once told friends that he wanted to become “the world’s greatest sailor, businessman, and lover all at the same time.” At 39, he skippered the yacht that won the world’s premier sailing race. At 52, he was named Time’s “Man of the Year” because CNN, the 24-hour news network he had founded, heralded the arrival of the new “global village.” That same year, he married Jane Fonda, one of the most prominent Hollywood sex symbols of his pre–baby boomer generation. But was he satisfied? Fonda, the last of Turner’s three ex-wives, says no. “He can’t sit still,” she told the co-author of Turner’s new autobiography. For Ted, Fonda says, “if you sit still the demons catch up with you.”

Call Me Ted doesn’t shed much light on the sources of those demons, said Michael S. Roth in the San Francisco Chronicle. Turner had a sister who died young, he was sent away to a boarding school at age 4, and his alcoholic father, a man he refers to as his best friend, committed suicide a few days after 24-year-old Ted called him a quitter. Though Turner mentions each of these wrenching events in the new book, he doesn’t dwell on them. “That’s a problem when writing an autobiography.”

The voice on the page starts to sound like the fiery visionary we know only after he takes over his father’s Georgia-based billboard business, in 1963, said Phil Kloer in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Unfortunately, sounding like Ted also means” relating a lot of tedious accounts of old sailing races. So let’s be thankful that he was brave enough to invite his ex-wife and other intimates to add emotional depth to his larger story. That story can be seen as a sad one, of a man who built a media empire and then suffered a humbling fall, said David Hiltbrand in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Turner sold his company to Time Warner in 1996, but when Time Warner in turn made the ill-advised decision to merge with America Online, he watched his personal fortune shrink by $8 billion. Again, though, Turner glosses over the gory details. It’s surprising that a man so voluble can be “so restrained.”

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