The Mouth From The South: Ted Turner is Born

Ted Turner once said, “Life is a game. Money is how we keep score.” If that is true, then Turner is one of the best players and the biggest winners of all time. Worth an estimated $7 billion at the peak of his career in the 1990s, Turner used his outspoken and often controversial persona to create a media empire that would revolutionize the television industry. He also used his wealth to become one of the most generous philanthropists in history. Although Turner’s attention has now shifted away from the business world, his legacy endures and he remains committed to making the world a better place.

Born on November 19, 1938 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Robert Edward ‘Ted’ Turner was a rebellious child who had little appreciation for the rules. While his father, Edward, had made a small fortune working in the billboard industry, he also suffered from bipolar disorder and would frequently beat his son with coat hangers. After the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, Edward enlisted in the navy and took his family with him to his post in the Gulf Coast – that is, everyone but Ted, who was sent to a boarding school.

When he was nine years old, Turner was sent to his second boarding school, the elite McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but with its military-oriented nature, he found it difficult to flourish. He was given the nickname ‘Terrible Ted’ for his propensity to break the rules, including growing grass in his dorm room and practicing amateur taxidermy. School rules stated that for every demerit a student received, he had to walk a quarter mile. By the end of Turner’s term there, he had acquired over 1,000 points and so the school struggled to find another, more realistic means of punishing him.

Turner was a ‘C’ student and although he never excelled academically, he had dreams of attending the U.S. Naval Academy. This, however, was not a decision that his family supported, who instead wanted their son to go to Harvard. Rejected by Harvard, Turner got into Brown University and, again to the dismay of his parents, began pursuing a degree in the classics. But, Turner would not last long at Brown; he was expelled in 1969 for having a woman in his room with him. Turner’s parents divorced that same year and his 12-year old sister developed terminal lupus.

While his life seemed to be falling apart, Turner met and married fellow sailing enthusiast Judy Gale Nye the next year. Soon thereafter, Turner took on a branch manager position with his father’s company, Turner Advertising. He proved to be so successful in sales that the branch’s revenues doubled in his first year on the job. The father and son duo continued to expand their operations, all the while taking on a significant amount of debt. In 1963, the pressure proved too much for Turner’s father to handle and he shot himself in the head.

Turner immersed himself in his work and, despite the distraction of his father’s suicide, his own divorce and a second marriage he managed to make Turner Advertising the largest advertising company in America’s southeast by 1970. He soon began noticing the inroads that radio and television were making into his business and it wouldn’t be long before Turner was setting his sights even higher.

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