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:
- What keeps you coming back to the National Black Theatre Festival
in Winston-Salem, NC
- 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 .
- What is your take on the Blaxploitation
film era in the 1970's
- 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].
- Your character in JD's Revenge
 was quite the contrast to your Preach
character in Cooley High
. What was that experience like?
- 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.
- 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
(1984)] over the years.
^^^Great Article Huh?
- I have seen How Stella Got Her Groove Back
, Taye Diggs
, and Whoopi Goldberg
, 1998] once but don't quite remember your character. Who did you play?
- I was the father, he [Taye Diggs] got everything from me.
-- You have been in many movies over the years, what is your favorite role to date?
- 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.
- I read somewhere that you were working on your autobiography. Do you have a projected completion date?
- No, you are a writer, you know how that is.
Click here to plan a group visit to the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC!
- What do you want the readers of Trend Magazine Online™
to know about you that most people do not know?
-- 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.
- Is there going to be another Cooley High
- [Abruptly] NO. How can you improve on what you have already seen?
- I have some ideas!
- I know you have, everybody does!
Click below for the entire unedited interview.
Part 1 of 3
Part 2 of 3
Part 3 of 3
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