My interview with Emmy and NAACP Image Award winner and actor/writer/director Glynn "Russell" Turman (Mr. Cooley High) was granted at the eleventh hour as I was on my way to the downtown Marriott hotel in Winston-Salem, NC, to attend the press conference for the opening of the biennial National Black Theatre Festival founded by the late Larry Leon Hamlin. I was at the Hawthorne Inn and Conference Center on High Street waiting to catch the Winston-Salem Transit Authority (WSTA) city bus (Furnished for the event) when I received the go-ahead from Mr. Brian McLaughlin, the festivals media relations contact. I was indeed ecstatic about this opportunity but that mood quickly faded into a minor state of panic as I had not prepared myself as usual. I did not prepare for this interview because I doubted that it would be granted. But as the good book says, "Ask and ye shall receive," so I quickly applied what I learned in the military which was to adapt and overcome.
The Hawthorne Inn and Conference Center was the greatest hotel in the world that day as they provided free access to the internet in their lobby area. I Googled Mr. Turman and located his bio on one of my favorite celebrity sites called IMDb. These guys seem to be in the know about just about every celebrity and movie ever made. I can remember while in college we had to make a trip to the library to access this type of accurate information. Thank God for the Internet! I had just enough time to gloss over Mr. Turman's bio and jot down some questions to ask coupled with what I already knew about the man who brought to the silver scream my favorite character - Leroy "Preach" Jackson - from my favorite movie, Cooley High (1975), and my favorite soundtrack that features one of my favorite songs -It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday by G.C. (George Curtis) Cameron. Boys to Men re-made this song in 1991 and did okay but their version does not come close to the original in terms of raw emotions. I feel the same way about the late Whitney Houston's (1963 - 2012) version of the Jazz guitarist George Benson's Greatest Love single released in November of 1985.
I arrived at the downtown Marriott 15 minutes late but did get a chance to squeeze my way into viewing position in the lobby. My goal was to locate Mr. Turman and never let him out of my sight. He was seated in the front row of the stage next to Ms. Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin - widow of the festival's founder Larry Leon Hamlin (1948 - 2007). Mr. Turman was on hand to receive the Sydney Poitier Lifelong Achievement Award that evening. He enjoyed his first real taste of acting success in 1959 -- at age 13 -- playing the role of Travis Younger on Broadway in Lorraine Hansberry's landmark play "A Raisin in the Sun" opposite Sidney Poitier. He has also served as the National Black Theatre Festival's celebrity host and starred in a one man play entitled Moving Man  there. I must admit that I was a bit star struck as it has been a long time being near them since my school days on Miami Beach where celebrities flocked on the regular. The energy in that lobby was quite electric and I was quite impressed. The media conference ended and I quickly made my way towards the stage to catch Mr. McLaughlin to set up my interview. At first I thought that he was going to shoot me some jive and keep me waiting around until I decided to leave. To my surprise and delight he kept his word and introduced me - without hesitation -- to Mr. Turman and directed us to follow him up to the media room on the second floor of the downtown Marriott. Of course he was stopped many times on the way by other star-struck fans but I had already put in my request for his time. Mr. Turman appeared to be in excellent physical condition for a man in his early sixties.
We were given the lobby area upstairs for the interview and my nerves started tugging at me which caused me to get off to a shaky start. I was finally - after 36 years - going to get a chance to get into the head of the man that was responsible for me feeling comfortable as an adolescent nerd/gangsta wannabe in high school. After breaking the ice with small talk I eventually settled down and cloaked into my professional interviewer's mode. I decided to record the entire interview to ensure that I did not mis-quote Mr. Turman; or if he saw me later in life he could not say "I didn't say that." So let's get started:
Jay - What keeps you coming back to the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC?
Turman - This festival is a wonderful tribute to theater and that's what keeps me coming back. Theater is my first love. I started in a play called A Raisin in the Sun [Starring Sydney Poitier] on Broadway and had ten years of theater experience before Cooley High .