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Charles Turner - Grandson of William Dodge, Madison, Indiana
The Museum of Modern Art's Department of Film and Video paid tribute to Charles Turner of Riverside, CT, on October 8, 1999. Born in 1915, Charles L. Turner was educated in drama and English at George Washington, Yale, American and Harvard University. He is the grandson of William Dodge, who was born in Madison Indiana in 1846 and was a proofreader for the Government Printing Office in Washington, DC. Charles is married to Joan Freemont Hull, the daughter of actor Henry Hull and granddaughter of John Charles Freemont. In 1935, while still a student, he was put in charge of the Yale Sound Archives of the Theatre, and began his professional career in 1939 with the publicity and production departments of National Broadcasting Company working in radio and early television. Enlisting in the army in 1941, he was assigned to the Film Training Production Laboratory in Fort Monmouth, N.J. He served as a technician and assitant editor before moving up to supervising editor and eventually into film production when the U.S. Government purchased Paramount Pictures East Coast studio in Astoria, Queens.
In the 25 years between 1940 and 1970, Charles directed over 300 films for business, military and personal interests. His work for the U.S. Army and Navy resulted in his directing the first screen apppearances of Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Jack Lemmon and Sidney Poitier. As vice-president of Owen Murphy Productions and executive producer at Video Pictures, Inc., both studios located on Manhattan’s West Side, Charles produced and directed “industrial” fillms for RCA, Beneral Motors, Firestone, Bell Telephone, IBM, Dupont, Disney Records, Life Magazine, the Pennsylvania Railroad and other corporations.
Charles had a part in shaping the film culture of New York City. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, he was a member of an informal group of film professionals, buffs, and scholars. This group included many people who are famous within the motion picture industry. Their association provided an invaluable forum for film appreciation in the the city through three related activities: film and memorabilia collecting; private and semi[public film screenings; and critical writing for magazines such as “Films in Review.” They influenced the development of the repertory cinema movement in the city, and contributed to auteur and genre study of the medium. It was to this group, for instance, that director Stanley Kubrick’s earliest work was exhibited, and to whose resources the German scholar Siegfried Kracauer turned for the publication of “From Caligari to Hitler.” Wherever Charles Turner worked he took part in the creation of a “society” for the exhibition of film (frequently in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art’s Circulating Film Library). Between 1936 and 1940, he was involved in the founding or governing of the Yale University Film Society, the Washington Film Society, the Federal [Government] Film Society and the NBC Film Society. In 1951 with Theodore Huff, he established The Film Circle, a society of film professionals and collectors that eventually became The Theodore Huff Memorial Film Society.
Charles Turner has been a friend to the Department of Film and Video since the 1930’s when he attended the Columbia University courses given by Iris Barry, the first curator of the Museum of Modern Art’s Film Library. Through the years he has been a generous donor to the Department’s film archive and documentation collections. Examples of his works that were shown during the “Tribute” include:
MANHATTAN MOODS. 1940-1942. Manhattan Pictures. As a G.I. who aspired to direct, Charles assembled this documentary from color home movie footage of midtown Manhattan, for the purpose of adding another title to his filmography. He remarks, “it simulates the poetic, but does not escape its origins to achieve that aim.”
YOU ARE THERE TOO. 1953. Owen Murphy Productions Inc. for the Prudential Insurance Company of America. With Tony Randall, Grace Albertson. This film is representative of the corporate sponsored shorts Turner made in New York. “Industirals” regularly featured a better known performer, and in this period Charles also directed Arlene Francis, Jocelyn Brando, and Anita Gillette. Tony Randall’s ad man in this short anticipated his role four years later in WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER?. Made as a training film for Prudential Insurance agents, the film incorporates a radio spot, an animated TV commercial and an excerpt from the CBS-TV series YOU ARE THERE (1953-1957). Like ONCE TOO OFTEN, its gentle domestic comedy recalls MGM’s “Pete Smith Specialties” and Columbia’s “Blondie” features. Shot on location in Greensich Village.
BYWAYS TO BROADWAY. 1953. Universl Pictures. “A Popular Variety View” series. With Constance Ford. In production from 1945 to 1952, the film was originally shot at the Ivoryton Playhouse during a stagin of SPRINGTIME FOR HENRY starring Edward Everett Horton. When Horton objected to the use of any footage in which he appeared, Charles reconceived the film around aspiring actress Constance Ford and shot new scenes on the original location and in the Broadway theater district during the 1952 season. The opening and closing sequences of the film feature shots of Summer Stock theaters on Cape Cod, in Newport, Rhode Island, and in Monomoy, Massachusetts. Charles Turner’s Universal shorts were produced independently by him and picked up by the studio in post-procudtion for its “Popular Variety Views” series. It was standard practice for Universal to prepare Charles’s final cut for release by providing narration, music and a title. For BYWAYS TO BROADWAY, it was Charles who commissioned Sidney Michale’s narration. TV SPOTS. 1955-1956 Video Pictures, Inc.: PALL MALL. OLDSMOBILE EIGHTY-EIGHT. With Bill Hayes, Greta Gray, Parker Fennely. During the late 1950’s and 1960’s, Charles was the studio manager and television commercial producer at Video Pictures, a studio located on West 57th Street in Manhattan.
JOURNEY TO REALITY: OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY FOR ACUTE PSYCHOTICS. 1950. Army Training Film 5116C. With Flora Campbell, Bill McCutcheon, Abby Lewis, Calvin Thomas, Russell Ames, Harry Townes, Shelley F. Hull and Murray Hamilton. Made as a training film for medical professionals rather than for a general military audience, JOURNEY TO REALITY dramatizes six diagnostic sessions with psychiatric patients suffering disorder such as depression, paranoia and schizophrenia. Extras included Theodore Huff, and Harvey Lembeck. SCRIPT TEAS. 1946. Universal Pictures. “A Popular Variety View” series. With Henry Hull, Charles Turner, Joan Turner, Shelley Turner. Originally set to star Herbert Anderson, who later played the tather in the “Dennis the Menace” television series, Charles Turner was forced (with chagrin) to take over the part of an aspiring young playwright who hopes in interest the noted stage and film actor Henry Hull in his script. It features his wife Joan, their infant daughter Shelley , and his father-in-law Henry Hull.
ONCE TOO OFTEN. 1950. Army Training Film. With Jack Lemmon, Fichard Purdy, George Sheldon, Constance Ford, Jud Pratt, Jared Reed, Leo Needham, Bert Remsen, Tom Aherne. The film was inspired by government statistics which showed that millions of dollars were paid by the military each year in benefits to enlisted men injured in careless accidents while on leave. Charles directed Jack Lemmon in his screen debut here. Due in part to the stardom Lemmon achieved later, ONCE TOO OFTEN unlike most other Army Training Films, was still in circulation ten years after its release.