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(Kaarlo) Ilmari Turja (1901 - 1998)


Finnish playwright and journalist, who worked as the chief editor in several major magazines. After establishing his fame as a sharp-penned conservative columnist, Ilmari Turja gained recognition with his plays with a strong political or historical message. Turja came from Ostrobothnia, a province in the Western Finland, which is known for its independent, outspoken, and more or less parochial people.

"Lehtimiehen ammatin paras puoli on se, että siinä pääsee matkustamaan – joko lehtensä, vieraan valtion tai molempien kustannuksella." (from Ei kukaa oo mikää, 1975)

Kaarlo Ilmari Turja was born in Isokyrö into a farmer/merchant family. His mother was Eveliina Turja and father Jaakkoo Turja, who moved to Vaasa from his family estate, after a fight with another son-in-law, Juha, who hit him with a knife in the chest and back. Jaakkoo survived and in Vaasa he started a succesfull career in lumber business. At school Turja proved to be a good essayist, although he never learned punctuation rules. His favorite writers were James Fenimore Cooper, F.E. Sillanpää, and Victor Hugo. In 1922 he graduated from the lyceum of Vaasa. He served in the army and in 1923 he moved to Helsinki. There he studied law at the University of Helsinki.

From the mid-1920s Turja contibuted under the pseudonym 'Teini' to the student magazine Ylioppilaslehti, where opposed all kinds of elitism. The magazine was edited by Vilho Helanen, who was active in the right-wing Academic Karelia Society and later gained fame as a novelist. Helanen was followed by Urho Kekkonen, a rising politician also active at that time in AKS. Kekkonen's was elected President of Finland in 1956. In the newspaper Ilkka Turja published columns under the pseudonym 'Sameli'. During the summer of 1925 he was employed as a reporter at Ilkka. Turja received his Master of Laws degree in 1932, but he soon dropped his career in law and devoted himself to journalism.

From 1929 to 1934 Turja edited the magazine Kansan Kuvalehti. He was a staff member of Suomen Kuvalehti from 1934 to 1936 and its editor between the years 1936 and 1951. Turja did not tolerate poems but intellectually sound and clear argumentation. A noteworthy exception was Kaarlo Sarkia's translation of Rimbaud's Le Bateau ivre. At the age of fifty Turja left the magazine more or less voluntarily and was followed by the writer Ensio Rislakki. From 1952 to 1963 Turja was the editor of Uusi Kuvalehti, a serious sensation magazine. It had among its contributors best writers of the time – Vilho Helanen, Olavi Paavolainen, Matti Kurjensaari, Yrjö Kivimies, Martti Wallenius, and Eino S. Repo, who became in the 1960s the managing director of the Finnish Broadcasting Company.

While Suomen Kuvalehti was conservative, Turja opened Kansan Kuvalehti for leftist writers, such as Arvo Poika Tuominen, a former Communist, and Hella Wuolijoki. Erkki Tantu's comic strip Rymy-Eetu, about a pipe smoking strongman, became highly popular. During the war years, Rymy-Eetu fought against the Soviet Union in the Hakkapeliitta magazine. Financially – or with writings – Turja's magazine was supported by Martti Haavio, Kustaa Vilkuna, Urho Kekkonen, and Jalmari Jäntti from the publishing house WSOY.

Under Turja's direction Uusi Kuvalehti did not hesitate to touch politically explosive subjects. It revealed among others the legally questionable execution of Emil Hytti in 1944 and embezzlement at the Mannerheim League for child welfare. However, the most famous story was the great margarine war about suspicious animal fats ("cats") used in the manufacture process. "Suurissa laitoksissa on tavallisesti asiat kunnossa, mutta miten lie pienten laita, joihin on päättynyt monen Heluna-vainaan, Musti-vainaan ja Mirri-vainaan matka. Tilapäisesti. Sieltä ne ovat reissanneet uudessa muodossa maailmalle." (from Uusi Kuvalehti, 17. February, 1961) The magazine won the margarine war in court but lost advertisers.

Turja's first book, Ruijanrantaa ja Ruijanmerta (1928), was based on his journey to the Northern Norway with Salli Alanen. Nudism had entered Finland and in one photo, not published in the book, Turja and Salli posed naked on a shore; they married in 1930. The book arose debade in Norway where the term Greater Finland, used in Finland's policy with the Soviet Union, was now interpreted from northern point of view, and was regarded as a threat. Ten years later Turja published his first novel, the autobiographical Johannes Renko, ylioppilas, set in the student world of Helsinki, and the play Tuomari Martta (Judge Martha), which takes stand on housewives having a paid job. The central character is the female lawyer Martta who nearly sacrifices his family for her career. Helsingin Sanomat praised the work as "exceptionally mature" for a first-timer. Tuomari Martta was adapted to screen in 1943 – "Mothers, do not leave your small children," she says at the end of the film, a message for all women who want something else from their lives than housework. The play Raha ja sana (1949, The Money and the word) explored the problems of freedom of speech.

During the Winter War (1939-40) and the Continuation War (1941-44) Turja served in the army at the information department. He was the director of the half-official Finlandia Uutistoimisto, which served in propaganda campaings and was in practice an authority for film censorship. The war years Turja recalled in his plays. In Päämajassa (In headquarters) Turja criticized the decisions made in general headquarters in 1944. Sotamiehen kunnia (1971) was also based on WW II events. The play explored the legal aspects of a true incident from the Continuation War, when Major S.O. Lindgren shot in 1944 soldier Emil Hytti, accusing him of cowardice.

After the war Turja's good connections and friendship with influential figures, among them President Urho Kekkonen, formed basis for the successful recruiting of visible contributors for the magazine Suomen Kuvalehti, such as the writer Mika Waltari. Kekkonen began to publish columns under the pseudonym 'Pekka Peitsi' in 1942. Marshall Mannerheim, who was a national hero, had appeared several times on the cover of the magazine during the war years. Mannerheim had offered Turja work as propaganda chief in the headquarters but Turja refused the offer – he wanted to keep his freedom as a journalist. Mannerheim was not Turja's great hero but General A.F. Airo, who is the protagonist of the play Päämajassa. Though Turja remembered Mannerheim as a fine person, he was not able to accept his Swedishness and Russianess. His encounters with high level politicians, civil servants, soldiers and other prominent persons Turja recorded in memoirs and numerous articles.

Uusi Kuvalehti was not financially successful – the magazine was closed in 1963. Turja then found work from the magazine Apu, where he wrote columns for 27 years. Ilmari Turja Association was founded in 1992. Salli Turja died in 1993, and Turja spent his last years in an old-age home. He died on January 6, 1998, in Helsinki, at the age of 96. His manuscripts are in the literature archives of The Finnish Literature Society.

Kun minä sanoin Kekkoselle, että kyllä minä annan vielä sille pankinjohtajalle, joka tekee ruotsalaisista rikkaimpia ja suomalaisista köyhimmistä köyhimpiä...
--Niin Kekkonen sanoi, että äläs vielä:
--- Minä annan poliitikon neuvon, älä nyt iske, jää odottamaan, kyllä toimittajalle tulee aina tilaisuus kuhahuttaa, homma vaatii pitkäjännitteisyyttä."

--(from Tarinoita Suuresta Urhosta, 1984)

Turja built his plays around contradictions and strong characters; he did not rely on plot. In Särkelä itte (1944, Särkelä himself), Turja returned to his roots and portrayed a stubborn Ostrobothnian brick manufacturer Särkelä, who wants to dominate all the others and lives by his own principles. "Särkelä: Maailmalle? Asia on nyt kerta kaikkiaan niin, että maailmalla ei ole mitään hyvää oppimista. Kyllä minä olen käynyt maailmanrannan kiertokoulua ja kyllä minä tiedän, mitä maailma antaa. Ja minä olen juuri sitä varten sen koulun käynyt, ettei lasten tarvitse. Kyllä se on nähty ja tiedetään, mitä nuoret maailmalla oppivat: turhaa kumartamista, itsensä piippaamista ja ruokottomia humoorivitsejä. Eikä mitää muuta." (from Särkelä itte) Partly the character drew on Turja's father-in-law Väinö Alanen, a known larger-than-life figure as Turja himself. The play was filmed in 1944, starring the popular character actor Aku Korhonen. Turja did not like the adaptation.

For further reading: Ilmari Turja sodan ja rauhan töissä, by Ilmari Turjan seura (2002); Turja: kriivari by Tapani Ruokanen (2001); Kolmen Kuvalehden Turja by Kai Häggman (1996); Turja tutummaksi, Ilmari Turja Seuran julkaisuja 1 (1994); Turja jo eläessään, ed. by Aino Räty Hämäläinen (1986); Arkisto auki by Ilmari Turja ( 1986); Ilmari Turjan näytelmät by Aino Räty-Hämäläinen (1981); Ei kukaa oo mikää by Ilmari Turja (1975); 'Kulosaaren talonpoika' in Kansakunnan kaapin päällä by Matti Kurjensaari (1969); Suomalaisten kirjailijain elämäkertoja, ed. by Toivo Pekkanen & Reino Rauanheimo (1947) - Other Ostrobothnian writers: Vaasan Jaakkoo, Hj. Nortamo, Artturi Järviluoma

Selected works:

  • Ruijanrantaa ja Ruijanmerta, 1928
  • Ässä-Tee-Römperi ja Kee-Römperi, 1935 (play, with Ensio Rislakki)
  • Lapatossu, 1937 (sceenplay with Ensio Rislakki)
    - film 1937, prod. Suomen Filmiteollisuus, dir. Yrjö Nortia and T.J. Särkkä, starring Aku Korhonen (as Lapatossu), Laila Rihte, Eino Kaipainen, Siiri Angerkoski, Jorma Nortimo
  • Johannes Renko, ylioppilas: romaani, 1938 (novel, also adapted into play, prod. 1958)
  • Tuomari Martta: näytelmä, 1938 (play)
    - film 1943, prod. Suomen Filmiteollisuus, dir. Hannu Leminen, screenplay by Martti Larni, starring Helena Kara, Uuno Laakso, Elsa Rantalainen, Aku Korhonen, Kaarlo Kartio
  • Nokkosvihta, 1943 (radio play)
  • Särkelä itte: nelinäytöksinen huvinäytelmä, 1944 (play)
    - film 1947, prod. Suomen Filmiteollisuus, dir. Orvo Saarikivi, screenplay Orvo Saarikivi, Toivo Särkkä, starring Uuno Laakso (as Julius Särkelä), Aku Korhonen, Hillevi Lagerstam, Aino Lohikoski, Siiri Angerkoski. "Sillä Suomen kansalle jo vallan rakkaaksi käynyt näytelmä olisi toki sietänyt muuntaa filmiksi arvonsa mukaisella tavalla ja ennen kaikkea niin, että Särkelän keskeinen hahmo olisi saanut sekä tilaa että tilaisuutta osoittaa filmin runsain keinoin luontonsa, minänsä mittaa ja kehitystä. Nyt tuntui miltei siltä kuin olisi koko ja menestys jätetty yksinomaan Turjan mehevien repliikkien varaan eikä vaivauduttu itse filmistä tekemään paljon mitään." (P. Ta-vi in Helsingin Sanomat)
  • Maakunnan hartiat, 1946 (play)
  • Lapikkaat, 1947-48 (play)
  • Raha ja sana: näytelmä, 1949 (play)
  • Se kuusi ja se kivi, 1951 (illustrated by Pauli Soisalo)
  • Voi hyvät ihmiset, 1953
  • Kuiva juusto, 1955
  • Juttua piisaa: parhaita pakinoita, 1955
  • Suuressa maassa ja pienessä, 1957 (illustrated by R. Westrén-Doll)
  • Rintatasku, 1961 (play)
  • Knalli kalliolla: pakinoita, 1964 (illustrated by Olavi Hurmerinta)
  • Päämajassa, 1966 (play)
    - film: Päämaja, 1970, prod. Suomi-Filmi, dir. Matti Kassila, screenplay Matti Kassila and Risto Juhani, starring Joel Rinne (as C.G. Mannerheim), Jussi Jurkka( as Airo), Tamara Lund (as Lotta Markovilla) and Matti Pihlaja (as chief editor; Turja?)
  • Vakuutusyhtiö Pohjola 1891-1966, 1967
  • Satayksi, 1970 (illustrated by Erkki Tanttu)
  • Sotamiehen kunnia, 1971 (play)
  • Ei kukaa oo mikää, sanoo Rannanjärvi, 1975
  • Jääkäri Ståhl: näytelmä, 1978 (play)
  • Matkojen pärskeitä, 1978
  • Kahdeksan näytelmää, 1983 (plays)
  • Tarinoita suuresta Urhosta, 1984
  • Ilmari Turjan paremmat jutut, 1985
  • Arkisto auki, 1986
  • Kumuri: kahden everstin taistelu, 1989
  • Satayksi, 1998 (3rd ed., illustrated by Erkki Tanttu)

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