Article Archive/March 2013
Updated February 28, 2013
Award-Winning Actor of Stage and Screen -- Mr. Glynn Turman
Mr. Cooley High!
By Jay Whipple/Trend Magazine Online™
My interview with Emmy and NAACP Image Award winner and actor/writer/director Glynn “Russell” Turman (Mr. Cooley High) was granted at the eleventh hour as I was on my way to the downtown Marriott hotel in Winston-Salem, NC, to attend the press conference for the opening of the biennial National Black Theatre Festival founded by the late Larry Leon Hamlin. I was at the Hawthorne Inn and Conference Center on High Street waiting to catch the Winston-Salem Transit Authority (WSTA) city bus (Furnished for the event) when I received the go-ahead from Mr. Brian McLaughlin, the festivals media relations contact. I was indeed ecstatic about this opportunity but that mood quickly faded into a minor state of panic as I had not prepared myself as usual. I did not prepare for this interview because I doubted that it would be granted. But as the good book says, “Ask and ye shall receive,” so I quickly applied what I learned in the military which was to adapt and overcome.
The Hawthorne Inn and Conference Center was the greatest hotel in the world that day as they provided free access to the internet in their lobby area. I Googled Mr. Turman and located his bio on one of my favorite celebrity sites called IMDb. These guys seem to be in the know about just about every celebrity and movie ever made. I can remember while in college we had to make a trip to the library to access this type of accurate information. Thank God for the Internet! I had just enough time to gloss over Mr. Turman’s bio and jot down some questions to ask coupled with what I already knew about the man who brought to the silver scream my favorite character – Leroy “Preach” Jackson – from my favorite movie, Cooley High (1975), and my favorite soundtrack that features one of my favorite songs –It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday by G.C. (George Curtis) Cameron. Boys to Men re-made this song in 1991 and did okay but their version does not come close to the original in terms of raw emotions. I feel the same way about the late Whitney Houston’s (1963 - 2012) version of the Jazz guitarist George Benson’s Greatest Love single released in November of 1985.
I arrived at the downtown Marriott 15 minutes late but did get a chance to squeeze my way into viewing position in the lobby. My goal was to locate Mr. Turman and never let him out of my sight. He was seated in the front row of the stage next to Ms. Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin – widow of the festival’s founder Larry Leon Hamlin (1948 - 2007). Mr. Turman was on hand to receive the Sydney Poitier Lifelong Achievement Award that evening. He enjoyed his first real taste of acting success in 1959 -- at age 13 -- playing the role of Travis Younger on Broadway in Lorraine Hansberry's landmark play "A Raisin in the Sun" opposite Sidney Poitier. He has also served as the National Black Theatre Festival’s celebrity host and starred in a one man play entitled Moving Man  there. I must admit that I was a bit star struck as it has been a long time being near them since my school days on Miami Beach where celebrities flocked on the regular. The energy in that lobby was quite electric and I was quite impressed. The media conference ended and I quickly made my way towards the stage to catch Mr. McLaughlin to set up my interview. At first I thought that he was going to shoot me some jive and keep me waiting around until I decided to leave. To my surprise and delight he kept his word and introduced me – without hesitation -- to Mr. Turman and directed us to follow him up to the media room on the second floor of the downtown Marriott. Of course he was stopped many times on the way by other star-struck fans but I had already put in my request for his time. Mr. Turman appeared to be in excellent physical condition for a man in his early sixties.
We were given the lobby area upstairs for the interview and my nerves started tugging at me which caused me to get off to a shaky start. I was finally – after 36 years – going to get a chance to get into the head of the man that was responsible for me feeling comfortable as an adolescent nerd/gangsta wannabe in high school. After breaking the ice with small talk I eventually settled down and cloaked into my professional interviewer’s mode. I decided to record the entire interview to ensure that I did not mis-quote Mr. Turman; or if he saw me later in life he could not say “I didn’t say that.” So let’s get started:
Jay – What keeps you coming back to the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC?
Turman – This festival is a wonderful tribute to theater and that’s what keeps me coming back. Theater is my first love. I started in a play called A Raisin in the Sun [Starring Sydney Poitier] on Broadway and had ten years of theater experience before Cooley High .
Jay – Speaking of Cooley High (My favorite flick), how much of
you is like your character [Preach] and was your adolescence similar to his?
Turman -- I came up in New York City and know the projects; I spent quite a bit of time in the Smith and Chelsea projects. I had aspirations of going on to Hollywood like Preach.
Jay – Was Preach your favorite character to play?
Turman – My character [Preach] was a great character to portray. He gave us a good glimpse of what our culture was like coming up. It was like that for me in New York; we used to do that [bus thing] going down 7th Avenue. And the music was phenomenal, the top Motown hits, you could not afford a score like that today. I got a chance to meet those guys [Back then] and I ran into Smokey Robinson (Cruising) at a celebrity golf tournament recently and mentioned to him during breakfast that we had worked together. He said “I don’t recall working with you,” and I had to remind him about the Cooley High soundtrack.
Jay – I ran across this question on the internet; where is Cynthia Davis [The cutie Brenda from Cooley High]?
Turman – I knew you were going to ask me that. Actually, somebody recently contacted me on Facebook – I guess – and said that they were her cousin and that she is doing fine. It was the first time I had heard anything concrete on her since Cooley High .
Jay – What is your take on the Blaxploitation film era in the 1970’s?
Turman – It was because of those movies that others were able to sneak through the cracks; movies like Cooley High , Cornbread Earl , River Niger , and Sounder  [To name a few].
Jay – Your character in JD’s Revenge  was quite the contrast to your Preach character in Cooley High . What was that experience like?
Turman – JD’s was a stretch, a very challenging role, another well written piece. I was glad I was able to show a completely different side of my acting capabilities.
Jay – You re-surfaced years later as Colonel Taylor in the hit sitcom A Different World [1987 - 1993] after being away for a while. Where were you?
Turman – I hadn’t been underground, I had done several movies [Minstrel Man (1977), Attica (1980), Gremlins (1984)] over the years.
Jay – I have seen How Stella Got Her Groove Back [Angela Bassett, Taye Diggs, and Whoopi Goldberg, 1998] once but don’t quite remember your character. Who did you play?
Turman – I was the father, he [Taye Diggs] got everything from me.
Jay -- You have been in many movies over the years, what is your favorite role to date?
Turman – My favorite role was a character named Thornwell . It was a true story about a brother in the military that was experimented on to find out the effects of LSD. He ended up suing the U.S. Government, it took him 17 years but he won.
Jay – I read somewhere that you were working on your autobiography. Do you have a projected completion date?
Turman – No, you are a writer, you know how that is.
Jay – What do you want the readers of Trend Magazine Online™ to know about you that most people do not know?
Turman -- I have been doing this so long I think everything about me is already out there. Know that I am still doing what I love, entertaining people. It’s been 50 years now and I’m just getting started. I write, I direct, I do everything.
Jay – Is there going to be another Cooley High?
Turman – [Abruptly] NO. How can you improve on what you have already seen?
Jay – I have some ideas!
Turman – I know you have, everybody does!
To be continued…
Click below for the entire unedited interview.
Part 1 of 3
Part 2 of 3
Part 3 of 3
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