J. Max Turner was born in St. Charles, a small village just west of Saginaw, Michigan, on July 25, 1922, the son of a coalminer, who abandoned the family when Turner was a young child. He grew up in Saginaw, graduating from Arthur Hill High School in 1940. He then enlisted in the U.S. Navy, following the lead of his four brothers, all of whom were in the merchant marine or the naval reserve. He continued to serve after the United States entered World War II, but was mustered out when the navy established a policy that no two members of a family could serve in the same unit. He later enlisted in the army, participating in the Normandy invasion and in the Pacific. Early in the 1940s, despite the fact he had an active homosexual sex life, he married, converting to Catholicism to do so. After Turner was mustered out, he and his wife hitchhiked west, and at some time hired on with the Drew Traveling Carnival. They then returned to Saginaw, where their two sons were born; shortly afterwards they divorced in a messy court case, his wife accusing Turner of homosexuality. After the divorce, Turner again took to the road. In Chicago he associated with members of the Ballet Theatre; in San Francisco he worked for some time for the madam, Sally Stanford, as one of her "boys", and became friends with the "male actress" Charles Pierce. He also worked in Morocco as a clerk for an international construction company before returning once again to Saginaw, where he worked as a salesman. In 1961, he became manager of the ladies' shoe department at a department store in Huntington, West Virginia, where he met William C. Hein, the local district manager for Chevrolet Motors. The two became partners in 1962, remaining together until Turner's death. Later that year, Turner and Hein moved to Charleston, West Virginia, where Turner opened a record shop; for six years the couple also operated a successful gay-nineties-themed eatery, "Belle's Sandwich Parlor and Public Pub". When bootleg tapes caused record sales to wane in the 1970s, Turner closed the record shop and in 1979 the couple opened a lampshade and lamp repair business. They moved to Tampa, Florida, in 1984, where they also opened a lampshade store until Turner retired in 1989.
Turner began writing in the early 1950s: his earliest known datable composition, the poem "Lonely Lover", was written during his time in San Francisco, and was published in 1954 as "The Tortures of Being Alone". Later, he was bitten by the acting bug, and for a brief period left his job as a shoe salesman in Saginaw to become an aspiring actor in New York. He wrote his first play, Step Down Into Hell, in the early 1960s; it was staged by the theater department of West Virginia State College, receiving decent reviews and attendance. During the 1970s he wrote several novels, three of which were eventually published in 1999. His humorous book, Pathetically Yours, Sara Muskoil, was published in 1977. Turner and Hein had been involved in the response to the AIDS crisis since the very beginning, and in 1993, after the death of a particularly close friend, Turner wrote a play, It Happens! A local production was favorably received, and from that time until his death Turner concentrated his efforts on writing plays combating negative stereotypes of gays and lesbians and showing instead the fullness, healthy humor, and normalcy of GLBT life. Several of his theater works had local productions, and one, Mama's Ghost, also had an off-Broadway run.
Turner died in Tampa on February 26, 2007, at the age of 84; his survivors included Bill Hein, his partner of 44 years.
Source: J. Max Turner Writings, Coll2008-073, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, California.