“The last time I checked, I owned the films that we’re in the process of colorizing,” said Ted Turner. “I can do whatever I want with them, and if they’re going to be shown on television, they’re going to be in color.”

The mercurial Atlanta media magnate took advantage of a $250-a-plate Beverly Hills fund-raiser Tuesday night to state his case in the controversy enveloping his efforts to color classic black-and-white films from Hollywood’s golden era. Turner’s plans have provoked at least two legal proceedings and a flurry of protests from film makers and critics.

“All these guys are like Chicken Little, saying the sky is falling on their heads,” Turner said during an impromptu press conference after a speech at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel to the Pitzer College National Issues Forum. His formal remarks contained no reference to the colorization controversy. Instead, he limited his speech to superpower relations, the nuclear arms race and world population.


But here in Hollywood, the concerns are rather more specific. Directors Woody Allen and Billy Wilder have sharply condemned computer colorization, and commentators from Boston to San Diego have called the process a sacrilege. The Directors Guild of America has asked the U.S. Copyright Office to investigate the legality of coloring old black-and-white movies. In addition, RKO Pictures Inc. filed suit Monday in Los Angeles to prevent Turner from coloring some of the studio’s products of yesteryear. The suit names Color Systems Technology Inc., developer of the coloring technology, and alleges copyright infringement for the “unauthorized reproduction and adaptation through colorization” of 10 of the company’s black-and-white films from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s.

Calling the current consternation over colorizing classic black-and-white films “a tempest in a little old teapot,” Turner waved aside protests aimed at Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc. and Marina del Rey-based Color Systems Technology.

“All I’m trying to do is protect my investment in MGM,” said Turner, who earlier this year paid more than $1.2 billion for the studio’s 3,650-title library of movies. He has announced plans to color such seminal black-and-white films as “Casablanca,” “The Maltese Falcon” and the John Garfield-Lana Turner “The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

Turner reiterated his stand that colorization is necessary because television advertising rates for black-and-white movies are lower than those for color movies. He insisted that colorization is a financial issue and not, as the protesters argue, an aesthetic one.

“I’m really shocked at the fuss,” he said. “I personally don’t think it makes that much difference in the end. I think editing these movies makes a hell of a lot more difference in how they look, especially when they’re chopped up by 20 or more minutes in order to fit into the time slots. Why aren’t people making a fuss about that?”

“Besides,” he said, “I like things in color. We see in color. Why didn’t they (the protesting film makers) make ‘The Sting’ in black- and-white if they’re so concerned about historical authenticity? I don’t see their point.”


Turner appeared to relish the controversy. After giving a brief interview for his own Cable News Network--at one point he asked his interviewer-employee, “Why don’t you ask me something about colorization?”--Turner grinned and added to the departing camera crew, “I’m colorizing ‘Casablanca’ just for controversy’s sake. Once people start watching the colored version, they won’t bother with the original.”