When Ted Met Jane

People, March 29, 1991
Assignment: Ted Turner was said to be dating Jane Fonda. People's inquiring editors wanted the low-down from Atlanta.

Even as Donald and Ivana Trump implode in a spectacular, symbolic end to '80s-style romance, a new pairing hints at what celebrity relationships will be like in the '90s. Behind the hibiscus-lined hedges of Hollywood, 'midst the rolling plains of Montana, atop the concrete monolith of Atlanta's CNN Center...fact has again overwhelmed fiction. Media mogul Ted Turner, 51, and actress Jane Fonda, 52, have undertaken an unexpected but weirdly inevitable liaison.

"We see each other as much as we can, but it's difficult flying all the time," an obviously uncomfortable Turner admits. "Fortunately, I have a fair amount of business out there [in LA]....We've been doing a lot of different things -- going to the movies, hiking, bicycling, working out. We've done some fishing."

Whoooa -- Ted Turner is WORKING OUT? "Yeah, I've been working out some since I've been seeing Jane," says Turner. "It's true, the more vigorously you exercise the better you feel."

Good Lord, this is serious.

Captain Outrageous and Hanoi Jane. At first blush, the idea boggles the mind; on second thought, it drips a dippy sort of karma. Think about it: they're both blue-eyed, physically attractive, media-oriented, twice-divorced, politically active, environmentally concerned pedants with aborted Ivy League educations who have been accused of being Communists. Perfect!

Rumors of their ecologically-driven, socially-conscious coupling surfaced in Atlanta last spring. Turner, as he himself now confirms, had read in the newspaper of Fonda's impending divorce from California Assemblyman Tom Hayden. As business associates remember it, Turner put down the paper and said, "Now there's a woman I'd like to meet." He asked Dee Woods, his longtime lieutenant, to employ CNN's formidable resources in obtaining Fonda's phone number. Woods managed it, and Turner wasted no time making his pitch in a typically direct fashion.

Moral: you can't hide from an affectionate media mogul.

"We met years ago, when she was still married to Tom Hayden, at a showing of a documentary film. I never spoke to her or saw her until I read in the newspaper that they were splitting up," declares Turner. "I was the first person to call her."

At the time, Fonda laughingly told Turner he was only man with the nerve to ask her out since the divorce announcement. It was spring, when celebrity hearts turn lightly to thoughts of love and publicity, and Fonda agreed to two dates. The couple went out once in LA and once in Bozeman, Montana, where Turner owns an enormous ranch (more about that later).

But while Turner may have been the first to call, he was hardly the last. Italian soccor player Lorenzo Caccialanza (whose last name Turner can't or won't pronounce) appeared on the scene shortly thereafter and, says Turner, he and Fonda went their separate ways.

Well, sort of. It is true, gentle readers, that Turner and Fonda didn't exactly date again until this spring -- but they did see each other. Last August Fonda turned up alone in Bozeman (fast becoming the new Aspen) for a long vacation. She stayed a week at the Gallatin Gateway Inn just outside town, then moved in with brother Peter Fonda, who lives on a ranch in nearby Paradise Valley, for a few days. Unsurprisingly, she spent much of her time exercising. The staff at the Gallatin won't discuss Fonda's comings and goings, but residents claim Turner regularly sent flowers there.

At Turner's suggestion, Fonda enrolled in a four-day fly-fishing course at Montana Troutfitters Orvis Shop. An avid trout fisherman, Turner often buys flies at the store.

"It was no big secret that she and Ted Turner were seeing each other," says owner David Kumlien, who taught the class. "Some folks assumed she was doing this because Ted likes to fish, but I'm convinced that she was doing it just because Jane wanted to do it." According to Kumlien, Turner came down to wish Fonda luck on the first day.

Fonda was, says Kumlien, "very intense" but a little nervous at first. "It was just after the divorce, and I think that was a little disconcerting to her the first day, but the last three she was as much a regular student as she could be, a delight to have," he says. "She even organized the class picture."

One Saturday after class, Jane and Peter Fonda went out to Turner's ranch for some blue-ribbon fly-fishing practice...and lunch. They left together that afternoon.

Moral: The suitor of the '90s isn't waving forks at late-night Spago -- he's fly-fishing in a Montana stream with potential in-laws.

Barely a week later, Jane Fonda's nephew Justin also appeared on Turner's property, working with a film crew shooting a movie for TNT.

"Justin was teased constantly," laughs a member of the crew. "It was always, 'Hey, isn't Jane around here somewhere?'" Fonda herself is scheduled to star in an upcoming TNT production.

Ahh, but those lovely summer days don't last. September arrived, and Fonda returned to LA to play footsie with her soccor star. Bozeman merchants say Turner, harkening back to a familiar modus operandi, appeared in local establishments with three other dates during the winter ski season. In Atlanta, Turner frequently was seen in the company of Katherine Leach, age 38, an interior decorator who worked for TBS's planning and development office and decorated his new penthouse atop CNN Center.

At least nobody was lonely.

Around the beginning of the year -- Turner says he can't remember precisely when -- he heard it "from a relative of hers" (Peter, one presumes) that Fonda had broken up with Caccialanza. Turner again let his fingers do the walking. He and Fonda had a few secretive dates, mostly in LA, where her appearance at the local CNN studio prompted a flurry of coast-to-coast phone calls. "Jane Fonda just walked past my office," said one caller to a friend in Atlanta. "What do I do?" Look environmentally concerned and politically aware, that's what you do.

On the night of March 8, Fonda materialized like an apparition at CNN Center in Atlanta. Security guards say Turner himself lugged her bags into the building -- see, this is serious -- before giving her a tour of the studios. The couple paraded past a host of bug-eyed staffers, then went downstairs to Jeanne Youmans' City Athletic Club, where trainers were having an unusual chicken-wing dinner before closing.

Youmans didn't recognize the blonde in heels, jeans, and leather jacket. "I thought she was just another one of Ted's girlfriends," she says.

Then Youmans realized she was looking at the patron saint of workout clubs everywhere. "I thought 'Oh God, there's Jane Fonda and here I am with a chicken wing in my hand,'" laughs Youmans. "But frankly, I was more surprised to see Ted. He doesn't ever work out."

And he didn't this time. After some idle (but loud) chat about business, Turner and Fonda headed downstairs. Youmans is not sure why they wanted to tour the club, but patrons later told her that Fonda kept saying "This would be perfect" and said that they seemed to be discussing a movie.

Whatever the reason, the couple weren't seen again until the next morning, when they had a bleary-eyed breakfast together in the CNN cafeteria. Then, as mysteriously as she appeared, Fonda vanished. Sigh.

But not for long. Two weeks later Fonda arrived at the People's Choice Awards in LA with Turner in tow. The next night, Turner picked up the Glasnost Award at a Volunteers of America dinner at the Beverly Wilshire -- with you-know-who hanging on every word of his acceptance speech. Then Fonda, in a low-cut, blue-sequined gown, and a tuxedoed Turner showed up at the Oscars on March 26. "He's a friend, and he's out there waiting for me to get back," she told reporters. "He's funny. He has a sense of humor."

Turner is evasive about the couple's itinerary, but friends say he and Fonda have been together most of this month -- although apparently not in Atlanta. They did reappear briefly just last Sunday, when Turner introduced his eldest daughter, Laura, to Fonda over a quiet Easter dinner.

"I think they're appropriate for each other," says Laura Turner, 27, who runs an upscale Buckhead boutique -- and hasn't always approved of Dad's dates. "They're both independent and exciting, and they find that in each other. Dad gets bored quickly....

"This is not new. He's dated her before -- before that soccor player. More than anything right now, they're becoming good friends."

Turner's friends and associates are quick to point out that this relationship would not have been possible ten years ago. A little history:

Robert Edward "Ted" Turner 3rd hails from the obscenity-obsessed city of Cincinnati. His mother, Florence, still lives there. When Ted was nine, his father, Ed Turner, bought an outdoor advertising company in Savannah, Ga., and moved the family there. (Ted had a sister, Mary Jane, who died of complications related to lupus.) Often in trouble -- "He sure looks good to be so bad," a family cook once said -- young Turner attended military schools in Georgia and Tennessee, winning the Tennessee state high-school debating contest when he was 17. He had an interest in the classics and ancient history. Although he wanted an appointment to the Naval Academy, his father insisted that Ted go to Brown University (also attended, incidentally, by Fonda's daughter, Vanessa Vadim). Turner's parents divorced while he was in college.

Turner's official bio says he graduated from Brown but that, gentle readers, falls short of the more interesting truth. Although he was indeed vice president of the debate club and "commodore" of the yacht club, Turner actually was booted from Brown in January 1960. Classmates remember with particular fondness the time Turner set fire to his fraternity's homecoming float, as well as his continuing success with women. He was suspended once for a wild party at a nearby women's college, then asked to leave a year later when it was discovered that a girlfriend had taken up brief residence in his dorm room.

"Generally, he really was a wild kid," recalls a classmate. "He pulled off sexual pranks at Brown that were just unbelievable for that day and age. Who would have predicted he'd become one of the 20 most powerful men in the country?"

Certainly not officials at Brown. The university humbly conferred a honorary degree on Turner just last November.

After a brief stint with in Coast Guard, Turner wound up as an account executive in the Macon office of his father's outdoor advertising business, which by that time had spread to other cities. But Ed Turner overextended himself buying into a large Atlanta company, and by early 1963 he was faced with selling the business he worked so hard to build. Over son Ted's objections, Ed Turner initiated the deal. Then on March 5, 1963, a miserable Ed Turner committed suicide with a pistol in the bedroom of his South Carolina plantation.

Ted Turner, then 24, immediately halted sale of the family firm, opting instead to raise necessary capital by selling two plantations. Over the next seven years, he made an enormous success of his father's company.

Savannah entrepreneur Irwin Mazo was chief accountant for Ed Turner and then his son. "Ted has always been difficult," says Mazo. "He likes to manage things for himself. He's brilliant but difficult to get along with. I doubt Ted has many friends outside his business."

To this day, say present and former associates, Turner has few friends outside the office; it's not always a comfortable position to be in.

"Ted is not as soft as his father," says Mazo. "[Working for Turner] is a tough way to make a living. He's completely dominating."

But Turner did have an unlikely flair for business. Against the advice of all who knew him, Turner in 1970 bought an unprofitable UHF station in Atlanta and, shortly thereafter, another in Charlotte, NC.

"Whatever he did, he put down all the chips and threw the dice," says Mazo.

It paid off. Turner wrecked the competition in Atlanta, then took to the air in Charlotte with appeals for -- oddly -- contributions to his failing station there. Even stranger: people responded, sending in $25,000. Turner kept a record of the donations, and when the station became profitable he sent each and every contributor his money back.

Then Turner sold the Charlotte operation for an estimated $20 million.

"He probably has less fear in business than anyone else out there," says Jim Roddey, president of the Turner Communications Group from 1968 to 1971, now managing general partner of Allegheny Media. "He doesn't pay a lot of attention to details and administration, and he doesn't make that easy for others. But in terms of concept, there's nobody better. He's always on the leading edge."

Not long ago, Turner called Roddey at his office in Pennsylvania. "Roddey, did you know I'm worth $500 million?" Turner asked.

"That's interesting, Ted. Is that why you called?" said Roddey.

"No," said Turner. "I called to tell you I made $400 million of it doing things you advised me not to do." It's notable, says Roddey, because ordinarily "Ted doesn't have much of a sense of humor, like you'd think he would."

Roddey recalls the time in 1971 that Turner called him at a motel in the dead of night and asked him to manage the Braves. Roddey, who knows nothing about baseball, declined. Turner allowed as how he'd do it himself; and the next Roddey saw his boss, Turner was on television, chewing tobacco in a dug-out. (After one game, the baseball commissioner ordered Turner out of the dug-out.)

Many in Atlanta still remember the early Channel 17, with its unlikely reruns and, well, unusual production values. In one particularly memorable spot, Turner appeared on-air live to show people how easy it was to install UHF antennae. (He had a theory at the time that more people would watch UHF if they had the right antennae, which was undoubtedly true.) But Turner had trouble with the installation kit, and eventually he resorted to turning the box upside down, peering up into it, and shaking it. Screws and wires fell everywhere. "Well," Turner concluded, "all the parts in your kit will be there." Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

In December 1976 the driven, obsessive pitchman began his first nationwide network, Superstation TBS, by bouncing the Atlanta station's signal off a newly launched satellite. By 1978, Channel 17 was reaching well over 2 million homes.

From those humble beginnings -- and a $568 million bailout from 31 cable operators in wake of Turner's nearly fatal $1.4 billion purchase of MGM Entertainment -- has risen a $5 billion empire, of which Turner's personal stake is estimated at $1.39 billion. Turner's company now comprises four of cable's most-watched networks (TBS, CNN, Headline News, and the new TNT), two sports teams (Atlanta's Hawks and Braves), downtown real estate valued at $165 million, and a library of vintage MGM movies and television programming worth $1 billion alone. Turner owns two plantations in South Carolina, an island off the state's coast, a plantation in Florida, over 120,000 acres of land in Montana, 19 acres in Big Sur, a farm in the Atlanta suburb of Roswell and, of course, the penthouse on top of CNN Center.

But cable king's private life hasn't always paralleled his commercial success. He's been divorced twice, most recently in October 1988 from Jane Smith Turner (called Janie) after 23 years of marriage. While the Trumps quibble over a $20 million settlement, Turner quietly agreed to pay his wife $40 million, the largest divorce settlement in state history. Turner eldest two children, Laura and Ted Jr., 25, issue from his first marriage to the former Judy Nye, now living in Michigan. They divorced in 1964, the year before Turner married Janie Smith.

Ted Turner Jr. works at a television station in Nashville. Younger brother Rhett, 24, (yes, named after Rhett Butler) works for CNN in Tokyo. Beau Turner, 21, attends the Citadel in South Carolina, and Jennie Turner, 20, attends the College of Charleston.

By all accounts, there has never been just one woman in Turner's life. "I've seen them, the groupies," Janie Turner once told a reporter. "They're always there....It's kind of pathetic, frankly, because they're young and that's all they can get."

She said then it didn't bother her; $40 million says otherwise.

"Things haven't changed a bit," says Mazo. "He's a swinger. The girls have always liked Ted. Women think he's romantic."

Sighs one veteran of the Atlanta social scene: "Ted's been a womanizer for years....but until now they've always been younger and smarter than him."

After the second divorce, Turner took up with J.J. Ebaugh, now 33, a free-spirited, leggy blonde who has sailed competitively, raced cars, and was a licensed pilot. They actually met before the divorce, in the summer of 1980 during America's Cup trials at Newport, R.I. Ebaugh, barely 23, was dating a crew member on the Clipper, which shared a dock with Turner's Courageous. (Turner successfully defended the Cup in 1977 -- he is, in fact, one of a half-dozen best sailers in American history -- but lost the trials to Dennis Conner that summer.)

Turner ultimately hired Ebaugh as his pilot...although, typically, he had no plane at the time. She moved to Atlanta in early 1981 for a job ferrying Turner to various meetings and engagements during the week, often flying the family to weekends at one of the plantations.

Ebaugh says now they were only friends those first two years, but this contradicts common sense and interviews she gave at the time. Clearly, though, they began dating in earnest in 1983 and officially moved in together in 1986, when Turner and his wife separated. In November 1988, Atlanta Magazine called her "the woman who tamed Ted Turner."

"He gave up $40 million and a whole harem," Ebaugh said back then. "That's a hell of a lot."

Anybody who knows Turner that well...should know better. The relationship ended in January 1989, although Ebaugh still works on programming development for Turner and still lives on his farm in Roswell. The two remain close: they reportedly attended a White House dinner together last July.

Ebaugh and TBS employee Barbara Pyle -- whom he met at the same time in Newport, where she was photographing the America's Cup trials for Time, and later hired to produce environmental documentaries -- were instrumental in Turner's decade-long evolution from daredevil entrepreneur to would-be world savior. Ebaugh is, says one former business associate, "sort of a cheerleader with a social conscience. She does a good imitation of a bimbo, but she's really very bright."

"Ted and I were environmentalists long before JJ arrived on the scene," says Pyle. "But she was instrumental in keeping him focused on these issues....He cares more the environment, about the future of the planet, than he does about sailing anymore."

"Ted has changed in many ways," says Roddey. "He used to be an arch-conservative right-winger. Now he's sort of the world's liberal. I never heard much about that during the first half of his life."

It needs saying that Turner is absolutely sincere about making the world a better place. Says Laura Turner: "He's more focused on what he'd like to do for the future of mankind, as opposed to building specific businesses....Now he's using CNN to save the planet, basically."

Consider the new and improved Ted Turner of the '80s. He sank millions into the Goodwill Games because he felt they would broaden international understanding after two Olympic boycotts. He dispensed with all "freestanding" commentary on CNN because of a remark by weatherman Flip Spiceland he felt to be sexist. He banned the word "foreign" from the CNN Newsroom and has been fining staffers who use it when they should have said "international." He founded the Better World Society in Washington, which produces programming on environmental issues, and recently announced a $500,000 annual prize for the unpublished book that best addresses saving the planet. He sits on the boards of the Atlanta NAACP and the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. His company is cranking out environmentally oriented programs by the reel-full; the latest is a cartoon show under Pyle's supervision called "Captain Planet and the Planeteers." He's placed two enormous parcels of land, one in Montana and a plantation in South Carolina, under protective easement with the Nature Conservancy. Ebaugh has watched him pick litter off the streets of New York, Moscow, and Rome. The man worth $1.4 billion drives a Ford Taurus.

"He's always been sort of overwhelming, but he used to be more personally ambitious," says Ebaugh. "He was concerned with things that would personally benefit him, whereas now he's concerned with things that save the world. That's a momentous change."

Turner, says Ebaugh, has a strong streak of idealism and romance: "He lives for romance. He's a King Arthur type -- if he could be anyone, it would be King Arthur. Ted has set about unifying the world, like Arthur did, and all the virtues he lives by are the virtues of the Knights of the Round Table....

"That song Lancelot sang all the time, Ted goes around singing. You know, the one from Camelot -- '...'tis I, 'tis I, c'est moi, c'est moi...'"

Uh-huh. But Ebaugh also concedes that Turner is not the easiest boyfriend in the world. "He's very demanding, extremely demanding. He's very busy, very driven, but wonderful. After all those years, I don't have any complaints at all."

Somewhere along the way, Turner became a family man. "He's real good about spending time with his children," notes Laura Turner. "On weekends, we're always going out to where he is. He's a good father."

Says Ebaugh: "He's become an evermore sensitive father, considerate and supportive of his children. He's encouraged and inspired a lot of changes in his own family."

While Turner's agenda has changed, his personal style has mellowed only slightly. "He's very energetic," says Laura Turner. "It's difficult to keep up. He gets up at 6 a.m. and gets many things accomplished in a single day. He's a very good decision-maker."

In short, Jane Fonda may have stumbled onto a very changed Turner -- but, in some ways, not too changed. So...what's up with Katherine Leach?

"Both Jane and I are dating other people," Turner says carefully. "We are apart a good bit of the time." Friends, including Ebaugh, confirm that Turner and Leach are going out only infrequently. (Leach did not return People's phone calls.)

But that's about all the ammunition the skeptics need. Says a former classmate: "They probably have a lot in common, but somehow I just don't see Ted with a liberated woman....But she's the best evidence I've seen of him mellowing."

That's an oft-remarked change in Turner. "He used to be very hyper," says Roddey. "Now he's a lot more relaxed and confident. Inside, I think his guts used to be churning....Most people felt he was doomed to fail because he was too unorthodox and wild. But recently he's convinced his staunchest detractors."

Many near Turner are whispering that he may finally be -- softly now -- serious. Fonda is hardly the ribbon girl at the department store. Says a habitue of the party circuit who is familiar with Turner's doings: "It's been off and on for a year, but it's been intense the last three or four months. Ted has pretty much dropped the stable....Jane seems to have ascended to no. 1. She's occupying most of his time, even sitting in, talking about future projects. This has surprised a lot of people."

Says Ebaugh: "He's serious about this -- very serious. They have a lot in common, and they're crazy about each other. Both are very interested in each other's work. I'm praying it continues to work out."

But there are obstacles. "People in that position are going so hard, they need a partner to be there for nurturing and support and encouragement," says Ebaugh. "Ted and Jane are both very busy, and that's a hurdle for them."

Turner himself isn't speculating. "It's hard to have your dating life dissected," he drawls.

Ted Turner and Jane Fonda