Rivals turn out for Ted Turner’s ‘Call’

Mogul's memoir takes unconventional route

“Call Me Ted” is every bit as unconventional as the man whose life it chronicles.

Part memoir and part oral history, the book intersperses Ted Turner‘s own narrative with stories about him, occasionally offering multiple versions of the same event.

Bill Burke, Turner’s collaborator, suggested the unusual gambit as a way of preserving his former boss’s distinctive voice and amplifying the narrative in ways the Mouth From the South could not on his own.

Having worked for Turner, Burke already had a file of “Ted stories” that he’d compiled for a possible book project. With Turner’s blessing, he sought out friends, family and co-workers to get their take on Turner’s life, then used the interviews to prod his former boss on the main narrative.

The anecdotes, labeled “A Ted Story,” pop up throughout the book. Dick Parsons, for instance, relates the time Turner told him, “You were born black”; his aunt recalls how abusive Turner’s father could be.

On both occasions, “it would be pretty hard for Ted to tell the story,” Burke says.

Burke says nearly everyone approached agreed to be interviewed for the book, with the exceptions of former AOL topper Steve Case and the ailing Fidel Castro. Turner ex Jane Fonda, Gerald Levin, Bill Gates, Jimmy Carter and John Malone all supplied their two cents for the book.

Burke says Turner didn’t worry about the fact that these stories occasionally contradicted his own version. There are multiple conflicting accounts of Time Warner’s AOL merger, for example.

“We presented the way it happened to all of them, and leave it to the reader to decide,” Burke says.

In hindsight, he adds, “no one wants to say they supported that deal.”

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