Glynn Turman may be best known for people of a certain age as the “Peyton Place” soap actor Lew way back in the mid-1960s. Or for the next generation or two, Turman was known for his role as “Preach” in the classic “Cooley High.” No? What about Major Clarence Royce on “The Wire?” You know him. You’ve seen him on TV, in movies and for theatre aficionados, on Broadway.
Now, with Aretha Franklin gravely ill, it’s his marriage to the Queen of Soul some may be recalling. The couple were married for six years, albeit separated after four.
In a gushing 1978 People magazine spread, Franklin and Turman talked about how they met; at a 1977 benefit for needy kids in L.A., her son Clarence set them up, their wedding; The Four Tops sang, she wore a dress embellished with 7,000 pearls, and she had 12 bridesmaids and Glynn had 12 groomsmem, it was televised, People reported. After the wedding, the new living arrangements had he and his three kids move into her sprawling Encino estate where she lived with her 8-year-old son. It was reported she’d never been happier. The couple were on the cover of Essence and Jet magazines and were oft interviewed.
But four years later they’d separate and then two years after that, they divorced.
The real inside of their breakup, indeed Aretha Franklin’s whole backstory, which she has worked hard to keep out of the spotlight at least if not completely out of public view, has been fodder for gossip sites opening rattling closet doors, and the occasional subject of Detroit-area newspaper articles, like when her son Edward was implicated but never charged in a mansion fire, or tabloid scoops sans on-the-record sources. So the reason isn’t confirm-able during a cursory search but is nonetheless suggested to be untoward.
And Turman was appearing on the TV series’ ‘Fame,’ and ‘The Greatest American Hero,’ and playing in the prison action flick ‘Penitentiary II.’
While together they had no children. Their divorce was final in 1984. And both their careers moved right along.
Here’s what you need to know about Glynn Turman:
1. Turman’s First Role Was on Broadway
Born in New York in 1947, Turman started his career at age 12 in the Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark Broadway production of ‘A Raisin in the Sun,’ with Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee; he played Walter Lee (Poitier) and Ruth’s (Dee) son Travis. What a way to kick off a career. Five hundred and thirty performances the young boy played as the heralded show ran from 1959 until the summer of 1960.
When ‘Raisin in the Sun’ went from stage to screen in 1961, Turman didn’t go with it and so continued studying dramatic arts at the New York City High School of Performing Arts and then went on to work as a stage actor in regional and repertory theatre companies.
Turman went west to Los Angeles and earned a LA Critics Award nomination for his performance in the play “The Wine Sellers.” Turman earned his first of three NAACP Image Award’s for the play “Eyes of the American.” He also directed and was honored with an image award for a play performed at the Inner City Cultural Center in L.A.
2. From Stage to the Big Screen, Turman Has Appeared in Major Movies & in One That’s Been Banned for Decades
In 1977, the year before marrying Aretha Franklin, Thuman starred in a film that would be banned called “Minstrel Man.”
It’s opaque why, how and who is responsible, but the film was removed from distribution. Thuman was the star of the controversial film about African-American men who wanted to crack into show business and did it by joining minstrel shows.
As is explained in the promo before the film, “slaves trying to ease the xxx of their lives with the songs they wrote and the stories they made up” using song and dance to escape and cope were stolen by whites but done in “woolly” wigs and blackface. Set after the Civil War, the characters “sold themselves as the genuine article; they imitated the white man who was imitating them.” The voice-over says white minstrel acts were done to “show the black man better off and happy in slavery.”
It was banned, it’s been reported, because of the subject matter and because it depicts a lynching, and while previously a rare find, it’s now, not surprisingly, on YouTube.
Turner Classic Movies fans reviewed the film all calling for its release and declaring it brilliant and Turman’s work “powerful;” indeed, he won an NAACP Image Award for this performance.
Calling it a “movie that should be seen” and “educational and riveting (and) in this day and age, it would be a good place to start the conversation,” reviewers lamented its then-inaccessibility: “I was 10 when I saw this movie. I have never been able to forget it. Glynn Thurman was powerful.”
Here’s the film, so be forewarned that while it’s not content never seen before, think ‘Birth of a Nation,’ it nonetheless was pulled for the content. It’s considered a landmark if elusive and controversial film today. Note in the comments, one of the actors, Stanley Bennett Clay, comments and thanks people for sharing and watching.
But back to the mainstream. Turman has appeared in scores of movies with major roles though he is known as a character actor. But his breakthrough roles were in blaxploitation flicks of the 1970s including “Five on the Black Hand Side,” “Together Brothers” and the cult classic “Cooley High” in 1975.
Turman starred “Gremlins,” “Deep Cover,” in J.J. Abrahams ans Steven Spielberg’s “Super 8,” and said that he was supposed to be Hans Solo in Star Wars. In an interview he said, “That was in George Lucas’ book. Apparently George Lucas had me in mind for the role, and then thought that there might be too much controversy between a white Princess Leia and a black Han Solo – because those were the times – and he didn’t want to get into that. At the time, I had no idea. I just went to the audition, did it and got out of there.”
3. A Very Familiar Face to TV Watchers Even if His Name is Not a Household One
The list is voluminous.
His recurring role as Major Clarence Royce on ‘The Wire,” was big. So were his roles on a slew of shows form ‘Matlock” to “Hawaii 5-O,” “Fame,” “Scrubs,” “Southland”, “Flash Forward”, “CSI,” “The Bernie Mac Show”, “Law and Order, CI” and “In Treatment” for which he won the Emmy.
And then there was “A Different World.”
In 2012, he starred in Showtime’s “House of Lies,” (he was the father of the characters played by Don Cheadle and Larenz Tate); was the dad in “Queen Sugar” and recently appeared in “Suits.”
The question is what hasn’t Turman been in.
4. Turman & His Wife Jo An Created Camp GID-D-Up in 1992
Turman’s IX Winds Ranch Foundation gives “inner-city and at-risk disenfranchised” kids the chance to “attend a free western style summer camp on a real 20 acre ranch. The youth learn to ride horses, rope, swim, toss horseshoes, do arts and crafts, hike, ride a Bucky, archery, sleep under the stars, enjoy nature, and breathe fresh air …”
Turman, whose son Glynn Jr. was stabbed to death during a fight about a girl in Santa Monica in 1986 at just 21, has devoted himself to the camp and foundation.
His camp for at-risk kids offers a western style summer camp, a riding club, ranch retreats, rodeo events, employment and educational scholarships.
5. Turman is a Real Life Cowboy
Turman is a cowboy and rodeo champion who, in 2000, placed in the National US Team Roping Cowboy Finals in Oklahoma City.