Tuesday, June 18, 2024 Jun 18, 2024
83° F Dallas, TX
Advertisement
Publications

QUEEN OF THE WILD FRONTIER

She turned down a nude scene, and Alec Baldwin. But somehow Janine Turner ended up a sex symbol on TV’s "Northern Exposure."
|

“Just tell me why,” Janine Turner insists. ? Her assistant producer, a bulky, rumpled man, merely smiles. He wants her to say “uh-huh” instead of “uhmmm” as she re-records part of her TV dialogue. ? Janine sips her Coke and chews a stick of Big Red gum. She is not pleased. “I just feel like the individuality of my performance is being taken out by these changes,” she flings back. ? On the video screen in front of her, Turner’s character, Maggie O’Connell, is frozen in midsentence, ready to utter that “uh-huh.” O’Connell, bush pilot to Alaska’s outback, is, like Turner, a sassy, sometimes exasperatingly feisty woman on what is arguably prime time’s hottest show. “Northern Exposure.” ? And Turner, who grew up near Fort Worth, is arguably its hottest star. Her face, framed by her trademark short do, peers out from the covers of magazines. In October, US magazine named her one of the ten sexiest people in America, for heaven’s sake. ? The actress, who turns 29 this month, is the proverbial overnight success-except that she’s been in the business almost all her life, ever since her mother got her a modeling job at the Dallas Apparel Mart when she was 3 years old. She’s been an actress since she was 17, when she was cast as Lucy Ewing’s friend on “Dallas”.

Even as a teenager, Turner had the kind of head-turning beauty that set her apart. It seemed just a matter of time before she would be a star. But instead of boiling, this Southern Baptist girl’s career merely simmered. Unwilling to strip for the camera, she lost the lead in Endless Love to Brooke Shields and Fast Times at Ridgemont High to Phoebe Cates.

Though determined to be an actress, she never mastered being, well, Hollywood. Good friend Derm” Moore got Bruce Willis and Ghost; Turner is still unmarried, after failed relationships with Alec Baldwin and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And though she was the right age, the Demi Moore-Charlie Sheen crowd left her in the dust. “Janine’s a really nice, decent person,” says her New York acting coach Marsha Haufrecht. “She’s not quite as aggressive as the Brat Packers,”

Translation: Unlike many actors, Janine Turner wasn’t willing to do whatever it took to advance her career. Inside she was always a good girl, instilled with what she calls Baptist purity. Two years ago it all got to be too much. She was disgusted with Los Angeles, ground down by New York. Desperate, disillusioned, with only $8 in her pocket, she almost abandoned it all to come home to Texas. She’d move to Athens, she thought, and work as a waitress.

Then came “Northern Exposure.” Now, Turner is a television star who is asked for autographs and recognized on the street outside the downtown Seattle sound studio where she comes every Friday. At the studio, she does “looping,” or re-recording dialogue, after a week of 16-hour days shooting the show in nearby Redmond, the location of the interior sets, or in Roslyn, the small town 90 miles east of Seattle that doubles for Cicely, Alaska.

On this particular show-“Animals ’R Us’-looping is difficult because she is acting opposite a dog. According to the script, her boyfriend-killed by a space satellite making its re-entry-is reincarnated as a dog. A dog who talks.

In Cicely, things like this make sense. It’s a benign but definitely weird universe, a “Twin Peaks” as inhabited by the characters on “Gilligan’s Island.” And to this universe, Janine Turner as Maggie O’Connell brings a feminist yet feminine sensibility-the little rich girl, the only daughter of the youngest CEO in automotive history (“Remember the hatchback? That’s my dad.”) who moves to Alaska to find her strength.

In addition, she finds a batch of oddball friends and neighbors: Chris “In the Morn-ing” Stevens, the radio DJ who was ordained via an ad in the back of RollingStone magazine, who quotes Jung and Shakespeare, and who seems to emit a strange odor that attracts women from miles away; Maurice, the former astronaut with a fondness for Ethel Merman show tunes and development schemes; Ed, an 18-year-old American Indian orphan who lives his life based on Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg movies; and Holling, the 63-year-old bar owner who is shacked up with 19-year-old Shelly Tambo, Miss Northwest Passage.

And there’s Joel Fleischman, the cute but irritating Jewish doctor who can’t wait to return to New York where he can get egg drop soup at 2 a.m. The percolating passion between O’Connell and Fleischman is the fuel that drives the show. To Turner, there’s an exhilarating irony in the fact that only days before she auditioned for “Northern Exposure,” she almost abandoned the profession she spent all of her life working toward. In a way, Turner was working so hard, so early, she missed her own childhood.

“I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE PERFECT,” SAYS Janine Turner. She was raised to be a good girl, to be beautiful, to be a star. And she was. One of her earliest memories is standing inside a jet engine, dressed in an outfit from Martha’s Miniatures. She was posing for an ad for American Airlines. “I was terrified,” Turner says. “I can’t believe my mom let me do it.”

She was only in the first grade, but she had been working as a model for two years. Her career started when her mother, who modeled at the Apparel Mart, took Janine along on a job. Model-meister Kim Dawson saw the little girl with the green-blue-hazel eyes and luxurious long dark hair. “Kim just said, ’Put her in the fashion show,’” says Janice Gardner, Janine’s mother. “lShe was a natural.” (Janine’s last name was then Gauntt; she later changed it to Turner her father’s first name, when she discovered there was another Jan Gauntt working as a model in New York.)

Living in Euless, Janine and her brother Tim, who is several years older, both worked as models. (Tim quit during junior high after being asked to model underwear. “Not for a million dollars,” he told his mother. He is now a corporate headhunter in Dallas.)

Janine’s mom also signed her young daughter up for beauty pageants. AH Janine remembers about winning the Little Miss Euless title when she was 5 was that it was stressful. “I didn’t have a clue,” says Turner. She then won the Little Miss La Petite Arlington pageant, then Little Miss La Petite Texas. She was poised for the princess pinnacle of them all-Little Miss World-when she lost her two front teeth. Needless to say, she didn’t win. “But she got all these national commercials after that,” says her mother. “Before that, she was almost too pretty.”

By high school, Janine had studied dance at Dallas’ Metropolitan Ballet and appeared in Casa Manana musicals. Her poise and carriage made her seem years older. “She was just gorgeous,” remembers W.E. Bos-well High School counselor Mike Williams. “You’d pick her out-like, ’Wow!’” Her hair was long and dark, her eyes large and expressive, her makeup expertly applied. She was chosen “Most Beautiful” her freshman year. At the end of the year, Janine tried out for cheerleader; she won the only slot set aside for a sophomore. “I was so proud,” she says. “’Course, I didn’t get to do it.”

That’s because from then on, Janine’s whole life was geared toward becoming a star. During the summer after her freshman year, she went to New York to model for the Wilhelmina agency-as their youngest model. Her mother and father, a pilot for Braniff based in New York, lived in New York during the week and flew home to their house on Eagle Mountain Lake on the weekends. Janine attended New York’s Professional Children’s School, which she loved. She appeared in magazines like Teen, Seventeen, and Mademoiselle, and in national commercials selling cosmetics, skin care, clothes.

When her father was transferred back to Dallas, Janine reluctantly moved back with them. Enrolled again in Boswell High, she attended school half-days and worked local modeling jobs. There were plenty. She posed for the Neiman Marcus catalog, for the cover of The Dallas Morning News Fashion! Dallas section, for store ads. Despite her success, the other students liked her, says Williams. “She was a regular kid. She always fit in.”

IN THE 1980S, EVERY ACTRESS IN TOWN WAS auditioning for TV’s “Dallas.”

Janine tried out for the recurring role of Lucy Ewing’s friend. “She came in with green fingernails and too much makeup,” says casting director Rody Kent. “I sent her home to change. She did, and she got the part.”

With a couple of “Dallas” episodes under her belt, Janine knew she wanted to be an actress rather than a model. She enrolled in a private school, crammed her entire senior year into two months and set off for Hollywood.

Not long after she began going on auditions in Los Angeles, Janine was flown to New York to meet director Franco Zeffirelli, who was casting Endless Love and wanted an unknown, a new Olivia Hussey.

“Where haf you been?” was Zefferelli’s response to her audition tape. When he asked her mother to sign a paper saying Janine would do nudity, Janice put her foot down. Brooke Shields got the part.

For the next two years, Janine and her mother commuted back and forth from Eagle Mountain Lake to L.A. Her first show was a short-lived, late-night soap called “Behind the Screen.”

“General Hospital,” a daytime soap, came next. Cast as Laura Templeton, Demi Moore’s sister, Janine “played an airheaded bimbo, an idiot,” she says. She had to bleach her long hair blond for the part. Demi’s character was the serious brunette. The two actresses shared a dressing room and became good friends. Though the producers wanted a five-year contract, Janine agreed to only one year. “At 19, I wanted to go to Juilliard,” Janine says. “Dad said, ’Don’t do it, you’re working. People would kill to be doing what you’re doing.’”

Still, in many ways, she felt uneducated because she missed her senior year in high school. “I have a recurring dream,” she says. “I’m in Boswell in front of my locker and I go, ’My God, I never went to math class.’” In L.A., she enrolled in courses at Pepper-dine University. Though she made excellent grades, every time she got a part, she’d have to drop out temporarily.

Janine was living the dream-working on television, living on her own and making money unheard of for someone with only a high-school diploma. But early on, the realities of show business took a toll; though always thin, by the time she left her teens she had had several bouts with anorexia, a condition that would ultimately lead to her being taken to the hospital for emergency treatment.

LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD MEANT MEETING stars, near-stars and soon-to-be stars.

At age 20, Janine met an unknown actor named Alec Baldwin at an audition for a TV show called “Cutter to Houston.” He pursued her, begging her for a date. But after she agreed, he stood her up three times. “He always had some excuse, like his car had a flat,” she says. “I went out with him, but I wasn’t convinced.”

During the same period, Janine’s parents had divorced, remarried and were going through a second divorce. It was a traumatic time, and Baldwin, despite his irresponsibility, was supportive. “He was there for me. He was so macho and charming and funny and he wanted to be the president of the United States.”

They fell in love and planned to get married. It seemed a perfect match. Baldwin understood the pressures of being an actor. But while he was being sent on auditions for meaty, heavy roles, Janine was trying out for “Knight Rider” and other Damsel-in-Distress-of-the-Week parts.

She came to loathe Los Angeles. It seemed she didn’t fit; she wanted to do serious work, but she was sent on auditions with a bathing suit and told to do a “360,” to show off her body. Though she had shed her Texas accent, her Baptist upbringing stuck like a shadow.

Though Janine no longer needed her mother’s approval, she still wasn’t willing to do nudity; she refused to go topless for Fast Times at Ridgemont High. What made it worse was that Demi’s career was taking off. “We’ve gone about our careers in very different ways,” Janine says. “She was full of abandon. She was willing to do anything. I’ve always had this drive to get beyond the beauty part of it.”

Still, Janine worked constantly; she went to China for eight weeks for a role in the film Taipan, she did theater, she did guest shots on TV shows.

Only days before her planned wedding to Baldwin, with her white dress purchased and the invitations engraved, they had called it off. Their lives were too turbulent. Though Janine says she has never touched drugs, she realized she was drinking too much (she now eschews alcohol, but she has a major addiction to Coke Classic). She was depressed , angry at the way the system ground down actors. “L.A. nearly destroyed me,” she says.

At age 23, she decided to move to New York; that’s where her real education began. “I was definitely Miss Cultural,” she says, laughing a war whoop kind of laugh that starts high and spirals down. Turner went to the theater, the opera, the ballet, the museums. She read Russian novels and wrote poetry. She enrolled in courses at New York University. And she found acting coach Marsha Haufrecht, a member of Lee Stras-berg Actors Studio.

“When I left L.A. I was disgusted with acting,” Janine says. “I had no respect for it as a profession. She kept me going artistically.”

Her agent abandoned her after the move, telling her it would ruin her career. It didn’t, but work definitely slowed to a crawl. She did a part in the George Romero thriller Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear, and played Miss Merry Christmas, again blond, in the movie Steel Magnolias. She refused to do soaps or episodic TV, holding out for stage and film work. She signed on as a member of an avant-garde group, The Common Ground Theatre, which performs only new works.

But the work was not coming. Early in 1990, she had dinner with Demi Moore, who was being inundated with offers. Janine couldn’t even get a major agent to represent her, She offered to show one a tape of her work in Monkey Shines. “It wouldn’t help,” he sniffed.

She lost a part in a Tom Selleck TV pilot; Janine had pinned her hopes on that job. It was the 28th of the month, and the $1,800 rent was due on the first.

Literally down to her last $8, Janine says she gathered up everything of value: her leather coat, her mink, the ring from her engagement to Baldwin, who was just coming off his success in The Hunt for Red October. She asked him to buy it all, to help her pay her rent. He was less than enthusiastic. “He said he had to ask his business manager,”’ Turner says.

She then turned to another former lover. She’d met dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov five years earlier at his New York restaurant. “It was one of those looks across a crowded room,” she says. Nothing happened that night; the two didn’t meet until three months later. But when they got to know each other, Janine says, there was a deep and real bond. Baryshnikov and actress Jessica Lange had broken up. Janine says she and “Misha” had a four-year on-again-off-again relationship. Both worked and traveled; they saw each other when they could. But the relationship ended abruptly with the announcement by another dancer that she was pregnant with Misha”s child. “That broke my heart,” Janine says, with a wry smile, “But I believe in marriage and honesty and birth control.” Now, desperate, broke. Turner asked Baryshnikov for a favor. Not money; she simply wanted a job in his restaurant. None was forthcoming.

Humiliated at having to ask Baldwin and Baryshnikov for help, she was devastated when neither stood by her. After almost 13 years in the business-much more if you count the modeling-Janine was ready to quit. If Los Angeles was insulting. New York was hostile. She was tired of auditions where she tried her hardest only to see casting directors looking at their watches. After so many years devoted to becoming a success, to being perfect, she sat down and re-evaluated her life. Was it all worth it?

“For so many years, I had been saying, *I can do this.” ” Now, she desperately wanted to run away. “I was going to disappear. I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

Janine took her toy poodle, Eclair, and went to the airport and rented a car to drive to Texas. She had a plan: She’d move to Athens, Texas, where her father grew up. She’d be a waitress in a diner. No one would know who she was. Or care.

But she got lost before she got out of New York. She finally drove back to her apartment. Her brother. Tim, his wife and her best friend from Fort Worth came to New York to help her through her depression. Though they encouraged her to come home to Texas, Janine decided that whatever it took to stay in acting. she”d do it. She hadn’t in-.. vested almost all of her life in this profession to quit now. At that point, she says, she was willing to do anything-a soap, a commercial , a guest shot on the stupidest sitcom ever written.

The next week, she went on two auditions. One was for a soap opera. The other was for something actually interesting: a TV pilot, set not in a law office or a police department, but in a small town in Alaska. She loved the quirky script of “Northern Exposure.” ’’You write like I think,” she told the producers. During the audition, there was an obvious chemistry between her and Rob Morrow, who plays Fleischman.

Over the years, Janine had been cutting her long hair shorter and shorter. During the audition, it was cropped to the chin. Before, Turner was attractive in a Jaclyn-Smith-almost-too-pretty way. The shorter hair gives her a sassy, feisty, fiercely intelligent look. Maggie’s look.

But producer Josh Alan came out and pointed at the long skirt and riding boots she was wearing and groaned, “Why didn’t you wear jeans? They can’t get past the skirt.” She panicked. She looked around, trying to find someone she could strip of their pants. Then, she stopped. ’This isn’t about what she wears,” Janine said in her best Maggie voice. “This is what she’s about on the inside.”

When her agent called and told her she had gotten the part, Janine cried. “If I hadn’t gotten it, I know I would have come home.”

ISN’T SHE BEAUTIFUL?” JANINE CROW’S. She’s gripping some carrots and watching her palomino mare amble across a sun-dappled pasture a few miles from her Seattle apartment. Janine also has an apartment in Bedford; she’s given up her place in New York. Though Haufrecht, her acting coach, describes Janine as soft and feminine-not a rough-and-ready bush pilot by any stretch of the imagination-Janine says New York taught her how to be street-wise. Now, training and riding the horse is bringing out her “earthy toughness,” her Texas side.

Last June, on her way to Seattle to film another season. Janine came home to Texas, determined to buy a pickup truck and a horse.

During her search for a horse, she met Jay, a rodeo cowboy from Arlington. “He was engaging and refreshing,” Janine says. “It’s the first time I ever dated somebody who knew nothing about show business.” Jay helped her search for a horse. It was love at first sight with the palomino. And when she asked the horse’s name, the rancher said, “Maggie.” He had no idea who she was or the character she played. It was, Janine decided, fate.

In her freezer are tamales from Joe T. Gar-cia’s, her favorite Mexican restaurant in Fort Worth. Her big black GMC pickup with Texas plates is parked nearby. Her apartment is filled with pictures of her Texas relatives. She’s looking for land to buy near Dallas, a place to keep her horse, to retreat when she’s not shooting. “I want to build a house in Texas,” Turner says. “I want to raise my kids in Texas.”

Her parents, who are both in real estate, visit as frequently as they can. Each remarried other people. Janine admits that’s been hard on her. “I miss them being married,” she says. Last season her father was an extra sitting at Holling’s bar during the “circumcision” episode. He’s clearly thrilled with Janine’s success, but more thrilled that she’s still herself.

She’s also looking forward to the other offers the show has brought her, which are coming faster than mooseburgers at Hol-ling’s bar. A movie she made with Eric Roberts called Ambulance is scheduled for release next year, Success may have its downside-her new recurring dream has her wandering through her apartment, locking all the doors-but so far, she hasn’t seen it.

Janine thinks back over her career choices: Would anything have been different if her mother had agreed for her to bare all in Endless Love, if she had gone topless instead of Phoebe Cates? Maybe. Still, she; would do it the same. Those early Sunday school lessons stick with you. And though Janine has abandoned the Baptist concept of hellfire and brimstone for unbelievers, after-getting the part of Maggie, she went out and; bought a new Bible.

The show has given Turner a lot of confidence. She, like many actresses nowadays, is looking for properties to produce herself. Agents who snubbed her only two years ago are calling, eager to represent her.

“You go from people slamming the door in your face and saying, ’Next!’ to producers believing in you,” Janine says. Her face lights up with a smile that is simply beatific, as if she is marveling at the way it all really does work out. “I’ll be forever grateful.”

Other actors and actresses who got their start in Dallas are showing up on TV’s prime time this season. Look for these new faces:

REGINA TAYLOR, a graduate of SMU who grew up in Dallas, on “I’ll Fly Away,”a new NBC drama.

PERI GILPIN, who grew up near White Rock Lake in a family of actors, on NBC’s “Flesh ’N Blood.” Gilpin, now 30, started taking classes at the Dallas Theater Center when she was 8 years old.

JACOB PARKER, a 6-year-old Arlington resident who commutes to L.A. with his parents to shoot his episodes on the CBS series “Evening Shade “as one of Hurt Reynolds’ sons. He played the son of a murderer in the TV movie, “A Killing In a Small Town.”

LINDA GEHRINGER, a longtime favorite at the Dallas Theater Center and widow of DTC director Ken Bryant, on “Evening Shade.” She plays the town stripper.

CORINNE BOHRER, an Arlington native who attended the University of Texas at Arlington, in NBC’s James Garner vehicle, “Man of the People.”

JAY ROLAND FERGUSON, son of longtime Dallas actress Bobbie Ferguson, who stars as the oldest son on “Evening Shade.”Now 17, he started acting at age 10 in a USC student graduate film.

PATRICIA RICHARDSON, a graduate of Hockaday and SMU, as the wife on “Home Improvement,” an ABC

comedy. “I still have the accent from Texas,” Richardson says. She recently gave birth to twins.

Advertisement