Jerry Turner: 1927-2004

By Boyd, Kirk | American Theatre, November 2004 | Go to article overview

Jerry Turner: 1927-2004


Boyd, Kirk, American Theatre


Jerry Turner was known for his intellect and conscience, his passion for Ibsen and Strindberg, and his storytelling--instead of giving a stage direction, he often told the actor a story and let him figure out what it meant.

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From its founding in 1935, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival had been led by a "shining star," the charismatic Angus Bowmer. When Turner (who had worked at the festival since 1957 as an actor and director) succeeded Bowmer in 1971, he found his own way to step into that role, becoming a brilliant, and apparently extemporaneous, speaker (his hours of effort never showed). Thousands of us OSF company members will never forget his inspirational addresses, delivered in his widely imitated rough-edged voice; we always went back to the scene shop or the box office or the rehearsal hall with the burning conviction that we were part of something far bigger than any individual, and infinitely worthy of our love and hard work.

Jerry always wrote on a yellow legal pad. His translations of Ibsen began with a word-for-word equivalent of the text, which he then rendered in accessible American English. He was tickled when Ibsen turned out to be popular. One summer, he called me to look out the window of his office. An Enemy of the People was sold out, and a woman was sitting in front of the box office with a sign--"Need Ibsen Tickets." "We've got to get a picture of that," he said. "You just don't see that."

Jerry accepted the festival's special Tony Award for excellence in regional theatre in 1983. In 1990, the festival's grant from the National Endowment for the Arts came with strings attached--recipients had to sign a pledge not to produce "obscene" art. …

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