Actor Janine Turner has published a book about living through despair and is planning a Broadway musical about Belva Lockwood, a pioneering 19th-century attorney and presidential nominee. (Photo by Amy Kris, used with permission)

‘The Pivot Principle’: Actor Janine Turner describes finding strength in adversity in new book

Share this


In the late 1980s, Janine Turner’s acting career was hanging by a string bikini strap.

After a dozen years in New York City posing for the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency, she was getting roles consisting of wearing skimpy swimwear and “being kidnapped and the damsel [in] distress for the week on ‘The A Team’ or ‘Knight Rider’ and whatnot,” she recalled in an interview.

She wanted something more creative, more challenging, more substantive — more meaningful. And a bit more profitable, too.

“I had $8 left before ‘Northern Exposure,’” Ms. Turner said, referring to the quirky, acclaimed CBS comedy-drama that put her on the path to stardom in 1990. “An agent wouldn’t even represent me.”

“I was in a puddle of tears on the floor, and I didn’t think I could go on,” she said. “I believe in God, so having the faith to give my will over to God [I said] ‘OK, God, $8 left, I tried to come to New York City, whatever. What do you want me to do?’”

Ms. Turner got an answer. She said she felt God tell her, “Don’t let anybody put out your flame.”

She then went to a “Northern Exposure” audition, where a casting director’s assistant remarked, “I don’t know what we were thinking. We saw all of New York City’s best talent last week.”

She “did the audition and then cried all the way down Park Avenue” afterward.

But that assistant didn’t have the last word: Ms. Turner’s embodiment of Maggie O’Connell, a debutante-turned-Alaska-bush-pilot not only brought her Emmy and Golden Globe nominations but also helped her land film roles opposite Sylvester Stallone (“Cliffhanger”) and Richard Gere (“Dr. T & the Women”).

Now she’s out with a motivational book, “The Pivot Principle: Finding Joy in Despair,” and is in New York City prepping the Broadway premiere of a musical that features her talents as playwright, lyricist and lead actor. “Just Call Me Belva!” spotlights the challenges and determination of Belva Ann Lockwood, one of America’s first female attorneys and the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court.

“It’s telling a story of going through a deep crisis of humility, a deep crisis [in which] I realized that humility is a virtue to me,” Ms. Turner said. “And that is through humility, that true genius is really generated, and how to become enlightened, to become aware, to live out my purpose.”

With thousands of social media followers, the Nebraska-born model-actor-writer can add “influencer” to her multiple hyphenates, but she says today’s emphasis on “likes” has a downside.

“We’re sort of in a social media society today, where everyone has to put this wonderful face forward, and it’s not really genuine, and it doesn’t represent life,” Ms. Turner said. “I think it’s causing a lot of confusion.”

Daughter Juliette’s departure for college and law school and the COVID-19 pandemic resurfaced “this linear experience of trauma throughout my life … it was a rough go for me,” she said.

“I had to figure out how am I going to deconstruct or reconstruct — what’s the choice here? Just like any other challenge I’ve had in my life, I always just reach up, you know, for the higher inspiration, for the stair step of enlightenment.” Ms. Turner said.

“If I can share this book and help other people get through, even understand, the science of what goes on in the brain in the middle of panic and anxiety, then I can be of service, to help somebody else.”

Her interest in pioneering lawyer Lockwood grew from a perceived bond as single moms. Ms. Turner featured the 19th-century trailblazer in her 2008 book, “Holding Her Head High: Inspiration from 12 Single Mothers Who Championed Their Children and Changed History.”

Lockwood battled sexism to acquire her legal education at what is now The George Washington University School of Law. To secure her law degree and gain admission to the D.C. Bar in 1873, she sent a letter to President Ulysses S. Grant, who was president ex officio of the National University Law School, to demand her sheepskin. She got it a week later, at age 43.

Lockwood then waged a five-year struggle for congressional passage of legislation allowing women to be admitted to the Supreme Court’s bar, where she successfully argued a landmark case involving the Cherokee Nation and won a massive settlement for the lands the indigenous people had lost.

During the pandemic, Ms. Turner wrote the book and lyrics for “Just Call Me Belva!” and remotely found a composer to set her words to music. With two performances in New York City under her belt, she’s working to get the show to Broadway, mustering the same determination that got her “Northern Exposure.”

“I’m 60, so I can go sit at the ranch and knit, or I can just go for it,” said Ms. Turner, who owns a longhorn cattle ranch near Dallas. “I mean, it’s on my bucket list to dance and sing on Broadway. I know Belva wants it to happen, so I have no doubt.”

You may also like this articles.