To commemorate CNN founder Ted Turner’s 75th birthday on Nov. 19, the 24/7 global cable news network will air a new documentary, Ted Turner, The Maverick Man, hosted by Wolf Blitzer on Sunday night at 7. CNN reps sent Atlanta magazine an advance peek at the special. Here are 12 things we learned from the doc.
1. Ted’s wildlife conservation efforts began early in life.
His relatives reflect on his mischievous childhood, growing up in Cincinnati thusly: “Ted once brought home an alligator and put it in the bathtub.”
2. Ted’s father, billboard advertising executive Ed Turner, could be a real SOB.
In the doc, Ted reads a letter his dad sent him after he selected a major at Brown University: “My Dear Son, I am appalled, even horrified, that you adopted Classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on the way home today. I think you are rapidly becoming a jackass. Devotedly, Dad.”
3. Ted made Jane Fonda cry on their second date.
“He told me about his childhood,” Fonda recalls. “Tears were pouring down my face. He asked me, ‘Why are you crying?!’ I knew what it meant in his development as a person to have had such a difficult early life.”
4. Ted, who once considered missionary work, lost his faith after the death of his sister Mary Jean from Lupus.
“I still pray a little bit,” he tells Blitzer in an interview filmed at his Montana ranch.
5. Ted’s relationship with Jane brought him closer to his five children.
“I don’t think he told me he loved me until I was 30,” discloses son Teddy. “He’s not great with ‘Atta Boys!’”
6. After purchasing the Atlanta Braves in 1976, Ted put on a uniform and managed the team for a day.
Recalls Dale Murphy: “Ted came into the clubhouse and yelled, ‘Murph, don’t worry about that slump you’re in. You’re saving me hundreds of thousands of dollars in our next negotiation!’ I was like, “Wait a minute. That’s not how it works, Ted.’” Braves Hall of Famer Phil Niekro puts it more succinctly: “It may have been the shortest career as a manager in the history of the game.”
7. When CNN signed on the air on June 1, 1980, Ted was typically understated about the cable news network’s mission.
“Barring satellite problems, we won’t be signing off until the world ends. And from beyond, we’ll cover it live!”
8. For the first decade of CNN, Ted lived on a couch in his office.
Recalls former CNN president Tom Johnson: “He was one of us. He’d be in his housecoat in the morning, having breakfast down in the Hard News Café.”
9. The Reagan administration denied the fledgling the network, dubbed Chicken Noodle News, White House press credentials.
A decade later when bombs started falling in Baghdad and Turner ignored George W. Bush’s request to yank CNN correspondents Bernie Shaw, Peter Arnett and John Holliman out of danger, CNN had its first global scoop.
10. When Ted married Jane at his Avalon Plantation property in Florida, he didn’t exactly follow the minister’s instructions when informed he could kiss the bride.
In the couple’s never-before-seen wedding video, a grinning, necktie-free Ted clearly interpreted the signal as “You may now exchange tonsils with the bride.” Eeew.
11. Ted contemplated suicide after being fired from Time Warner and his 2001 divorce from Fonda.
Recalls son Beau of the advice he gave his father (whose father Ed Turner committed suicide) on that dark night Ted spent alone at his Montana ranch: “Don’t disappoint yourself by taking this deeper, darker.”
12. Ted can see CNN Center from his Luckie Street penthouse kitchen window.
“I watch CNN all the time,” he tells Blitzer. “I’m not happy with every bit of it but I watch it. If you need me, put a white flag on the roof and I’ll be there in five minutes.”