Dr. Dilek Kaya Bilkent University [email protected]
Dr. Dilek Kaya
Movie Stardom during the Golden Age of Turkish Cinema: The Case of Türkan
Şoray (the Sultana)
Known also as the Yeşilçam (Green pine) era,1 the 1960s and 1970s constitute the
golden years of Turkish cinema in terms of film production (200 to 300 films a year)
and movie attendance. The majority of the films in this period were melodramas
depicting heterosexual romance between characters from different economic and
social classes. Class differences between lovers were so typical to these melodramas
that they also used to be called “poor girl – rich boy” (or vice versa) films. These
were the years when industrialization, urbanization, and rural-to-urban migration
accelerated and class differences and the contrast/conflict between tradition and
modernity gained more public visibility. Read symptomatically, Yeşilçam
melodramas appear to be imaginary attempts to cope with social contradictions and
anxieties caused by those rapid economic and social changes.
The films constructed modernity as a desired state, as a process that should be
experienced, but one that required the remedial intervention of lower classes and
their traditional virtues in order to avoid social degeneration. Modernity and social
degeneration is usually attributed to upper class urbanites whose life style is
represented through such clichés as sumptuous homes, cars, fashionable dresses,
home parties, consumption of alcoholic beverages, hedonism, promiscuity, and
immorality. As opposed to upper classes, lower classes were represented as modest,
sincere, loyal, and moral subjects living in ordinary homes in squatter areas or in
modest traditional districts. Thus, the encounter and love between the poor girl and
the rich boy (or vice versa) is actually an encounter of contrasting values. This
encounter is also framed as an opportunity for the lower classes to move up socially,
but at a certain cost.
The desire and anxiety of modernization and upward social mobility were
articulated through the female characters especially. In many of the films a poor or
traditional woman meets the opportunity to move up economically and socially (i.e.,
becoming a music hall singer and/or win the love of a rich man). However, the
woman must first undergo a process of self-transformation; she has to learn modern
codes of conduct and manners; namely how to appear, eat, walk, and talk like a
“civilized” woman. Remarkably, a non-Muslim instructor such as an Armenian or
Greek of Turkish nationality teaches the woman these modern manners. Modernity is
thus framed as something foreign and the process of refinement is encoded as
cosmetic westernization; as imitative and artificial. Moreover, while change is shown
as being possible and quick, upward social mobility does not guarantee full
happiness. Thus, in the end, urban upper-class characters end up with a new
sensibility under the influence of lower-class characters. In this respect, it could be
argued that while constructing upward class mobility as a social utopia, Yeşilçam
melodramas ideologically displace class conflict through cooperation between lower
and upper classes. Thus, these melodramas create illusions of social harmony by
exploring the possibilities of achieving a compromise between tradition and
Yeşilçam cinema was also a star-driven cinema. Regional film distributors
commissioned producers films that involved specific stars whose films made profits
in their region. They could also demand changes in plot and casting. Films might be
written to feature a given star, or alterations to the story might be made to preserve a
star’s social image. Throughout the Yeşilçam era, stars had a determining role in the
formation and continuation of the habit of moviegoing. Yet the social experience of
stars extended beyond the movie theatre owing to numerous cinema magazines,
which provided an alternative space for the production, exhibition, and consumption
of star images via publishing pictures, news, and rumours about and interviews with
There was, however, a striking difference between the stars’ screen images
and their off-screen images in cinema magazines. While the films relayed an
ambivalent discourse on modernization / westernization through the bodies and
practices of lower-class characters played by stars, cinema magazines portrayed stars
as truly modern, urban subjects leading western bourgeois lifestyles. Yeşilçam stars
usually came from lower or middle classes, but, like some “good” characters of
melodramas, they underwent a process of refinement and star making that moved
them upward economically and socially. Living in sumptuous homes, wearing
expensive clothes, driving expensive cars, having several love affairs, and enjoying a
variety of entertainment were some of the major characteristics of stars’ off-screen
images. In this way, cinema magazines attempted to construct stars as objects of
desire and as identifiable to audiences. In what follows, I focus on the case of Türkan
Şoray, the phenomenal female star of the Yeşilçam era, who is still honoured as the
“Sultana of Turkish cinema.” Among other stars, Şoray deserves special attention
because, as the “beautiful” and “honourable” woman of films but the “mistress” of a
wealthy man outside the screen, she was the example par excellence of the duality of
the star image. After a brief summary of her screen life I will discuss how star image,
especially her off screen private life was received by audiences. I am particularly
interested in the question why her off-screen life, which was in total contrast to the
moralistic universe of the films (and supposedly of the society), did not damage her
Şoray’s life story is a story of self transformation reminiscent of that of the
female protagonists of melodramas. She spent her childhood in traditional modest
districts of Istanbul with her lower-middle-class parents. At the age of seventeen her
parents got divorced and she began to live with her mother in difficult economic
conditions. One day a beautiful young neighbour who played in films took Şoray to a
film set, where she attracted the attention of filmmakers. Upon several invitations she
began to play in films and soon became popular among the audience and filmmakers
owing especially to her physical beauty.2 Cinema magazines of the time described
her as a “typical Anatolian woman” with a curvaceous fleshy body, black hair, and a
fairly-skinned face with big dark eyes and thick lips.3 She would soon become, in the
words of the cinema critic and historian Agah Özgüç, “the woman of Turkish cinema
with whom most men fell in love.”4
Jean-Noёl Kapferer argues that one cannot become a star by chance. The star
is a combination of a body with a type of identity expected by society at a specific
time.5 Seçil Büker, a professor of film studies who has also published a monograph
on Türkan Şoray, supports that argument by remarking that Şoray was “the longed
for woman” and that “finally the audience spotted its Middle-Eastern and rural face
on the screen.”6 Similarly the sociologist Nilüfer Göle notes that Şoray possessed “a
beauty special to those lands”; “an allaturca beauty.”7
Şoray, like other stars, passed through the same preparatory stages of
stardom. Between 1961 and 1962 cinema magazines published articles praising her
beauty, interviews with her, and several love rumours about her. Agah Özgüç notes
that Şoray learned quickly how to make up, sit, look, and walk. She also started to
look with faint eyes and half open wet lips, which became her public face.8 In the
early days of her stardom she also appeared in the printed media in half nude poses.9
In 1963, at the age of 20, Şoray’s encounter and relationship with Rüçhan
Adlı, a wealthy married industrialist in his forties, marked a turning point in her
personal and professional life. Adlı not only became Şoray’s life partner but also her
re-creator. He attempted to construct a new image of Şoray, first, by supporting her to
take an aesthetic nose surgery, dress more elegantly, and wear a lighter make up;10
and second, and more importantly by controlling her on and off screen appearances.
He would inspect her fan letters and screenplays and accompany her to every film set
with his Cadillac.11 He would influence Şoray to force some principles to film
producers. He would also be the inventor of the epithet “Sultana” for Şoray by
calling her “sultana” in his letters and flower notes.12 Years later Şoray would explain
the Adlı’s function in her life as follow: “He was my father, my mother, my lover, my
bodyguard, my manager, my everything.”13
Despite the objections of her mother and of film circles Şoray left her mother
and began to live together with Adlı in a new house in an elite and expensive district
in Istanbul. Widely perceived as a pure, innocent, and honorable woman on screen,
Şoray’s off-screen “mistress life,” her acting like a “home wrecker,” and her
“disrespectful” treatment of her mother, which would never happen within the
moralistic universe of melodramas, became hot topics in cinema magazines.
How did Şoray’s fans respond to that affair? A widely accepted view is that
they tolerated her because she was a star, a member of a group of elites in the eyes of
audiences.14 However, as I have shown elsewhere based on the audience letters
published in cinema magazines, many audience members did not perceive Yeşilçam
stars as elites or high above like stars afar.15 They rather addressed stars as if stars
were their friends, lovers, sisters, brothers, relatives, or neighbours. Many letters
began with such expressions of address as “sister,” “yenge,” (a brother’s or a friend’s
wife), or “brother” and were signed as “your sister” or “your brother.” The letters
were full of expressions that imply feelings of closeness and intimacy. Moreover,
audiences’ feelings towards stars were not always positive. They also complained
about stars. They felt close enough to stars that they were insistent in their demands
and they wrote in a reproachful manner when their expectations were not met. For
example, audiences wanted to see their favourite stars as honourable and wellmannered ladies and gentlemen outside the movie theatre. This perfectly parallels the
universe of Yeşilçam melodramas. If a star was promiscuous or appeared in
“inappropriate” places or with “inappropriate” people, his/her fans felt not just
disappointed but more importantly humiliated and betrayed, as if the star represented
their own honour; as if stars were family and had dishonoured the family with their
socially and morally “inappropriate” manners. The audience letters published in
Perde (Curtain) magazine suggest that same was true of many Şoray fans too.
Şoray’s insistence on being with a married man much older than her to the
point of accepting being disowned by her mother was found “scandalous” and
“subversive” to the values of society. Therefore, some of her fans charged themselves
with the duty of warning her and showing her the “right” way –sometimes in a
friendly, sometimes in a parental manner. Below are a few exemplary quotes from
Certainly the relationship between Türkan Şoray and Rüçhan Adlı is not a fatherdaughter relationship. If you [those who do not disapprove of her] love her so much,
why do you want her to live a mistress life? Moreover, no matter what, she should
not have told those [bad] words to her mother who brought her up. Ms. Türkan ruins
herself. I wish she marries to a man who really loves her. (Hülya Güzey, Perde 11,
With such a huge age gap, I don’t think she [Şoray] will be happy. Moreover, I wonder if Mr. Rüçhan
really loves Ms. Türkan; or does he love her for her fame and money? What will he do if, in the
future, Ms. Türkan loses her fame? Will he attempt to get divorced as he does with his wife now? I
fully wish they listen to their hearts before deciding so that they don’t become unhappy later. It is not
easy; one is getting divorced and the other is sacrificing her youth. (Avni Akça-Buldan, Perde 7, 1965)
I fully wish Ms. Türkan benefits from the critics and she makes us happy. May her relationship with
her mother get better. May she keep the name of Rüçhan Adlı as a sweet memory. Even if she may
marry him the end will be bitter, because marriage has always killed love. She is just 20. Why should
she live with the fear of not being able to wear a bridal or to become a mother? After five years, will
she be able to still say “I reject all norms, the man I love is Rüçhan Adlı.” (Türkan Sandıkçı-Amasya,
Perde 10, 1965 )
In a sense, some of Şoray’s fans, like the ones above, attempted to convince her to
come back to home, both literally (to her mother’s home) and figuratively (to the
moralistic universe of her own films). However, there were also fans who took side
with Şoray and Adlı by pointing to the “untouchable” and “noncompliant” nature of
love. For example, a male fan argued:
You [those who blame Şoray and/or Adlı], have you ever loved? Do you know what
is loving and being loved? If you knew, you would not have written like that. Let me
tell you that, nothing is important for those who love each other. We, Türkan Şoray’s
fans, will always love her. Our only wish is that she sets up a happy home and stays
away from sorrow. (Tahsin Aydın, Perde 10, 1965)
As another example, a 17 year old lady wrote:
Türkan Şoray did not seduce and force Rüçhan Adlı to wreck his home. I guess Mr.
Rüçhan loves Ms. Türkan much more than she loves him. Neither Ms. Türkan nor Mr.
Rüçhan can be accused. This is love. One cannot love or hate at one’s pleasure. I fully
wish Ms. Türkan be with Rüçhan Adlı throughout her life. (Filiz Aygün, Perde 3,
Remarkably, most fans who did not object to Şoray-Adlı affair still supported a long lasting
relationship preferably concluding with marriage. In other words, although they tolerated the
subversive love affair, they reproduced patriarchal discourses of love and marriage that constructed
women as dependent and moral subjects whose desire can be fulfilled only through marriage.
Although I did not come across in the letters, there is also the opinion that Şoray-Adlı relation was not
in full contrast to the traditions of the society. In a recent article published in 2009, Sevgi, a female fan
Şoray in the 1970s, explains why Adlı affair did not disrepute Şoray in the eyes of her fans as follow:
According to our society’s perspective a man can be together with a woman younger than
him; he won’t be judged for that. Should Türkan Şoray had an affair with someone fifteen
years younger than her, maybe she would not be tolerated by the society. Moreover, in our
culture, there is polygamy. Sometimes, in Anatolia, women willingly accept their husbands to
have a kuma [a second wife]. They think their husbands can be with another woman if they
want. They [women] think this is their [husbands’] right. They say “no problem, he is a man,
he can do it. In the end he looks after his home and children.”16
Şoray was also perceived by her fans as a principled star, maybe the most
principled female star of her time. In 1967, supposedly under the influence of Adlı,
Şoray forced 18 principles to the producers describing the conditions under which
she would work with them. Later labelled as the “Şoray laws,” the list of principles
consisted of constraints about the place of shootings and working hours, and more
importantly about the content of screenplays and films. The fourth principles
suggested that Şoray would not play in any film including kissing let alone nudity
and sex. 17 Although film producers attempted to boycott Şoray first, in the end they
had to comply with the principles due to Şoray’s phenomenal popularity with
audiences.18 Years later, Şoray explained that she considered these principles to be
necessary in the 1960s because she respected her audience who “saw her as their
daughter or sister” and thus would not like to see her as “a bad woman.”19 Indeed,
Şoray’s attempt to preserve her “honourable” on screen image through “the Şoray
laws” were appreciated by many of her fans. Some of her old fans even think that
these laws distinguish her also from the current media stars and celebrities.20
Kapferer remarks that “female star represents the woman in love” and that
rumours feeding the myth around the star also tell “the uninterrupted epic of love”:
A rumour of engagement is followed by a rumour of marriage and these
become the basis of other rumours such as disagreements between couples,
reuniting, and divorce and so on. This story is marked with a continuous
search for love.21
Rumours about Adlı and Şoray followed a similar pattern. In 1968 Şoray temporarily
quitted Adlı and explained:
He [Adlı] was interfering with everything in my life. I was living like a nun in
a monastery. Now I am like a land that has freed herself from colonialism.
My fans congratulate me in their letters. I won’t return [to him] any more. I
can’t betray my fans. I missed walking in the streets.22
This first separation was followed by several other separations and reunions, which
were all reported in the print media.23 Following a life threatening accident during a
shooting, Şoray and Adlı reunited again. Their relationship lasted 19 years. They
never got married supposedly because Adlı’s wife never agreed to get divorced. Their
“epic of love,” in Kapferer’s sense, concluded in 1983, when Şoray married a film
actor, Cihan Ünal.
The 1980s were the transformation years also for Şoray’s screen image. In
1982, in Mine (Atıf Yılmaz), she played the beautiful wife of a stationmaster in a
small village, Mine, who falls in love with a more loving and caring man (played by
Cihan Ünal), a writer and newcomer to the village. Despite all the conservative and
aggressive attitudes of the villagers Mine chooses to be with the man she loves even
daring to make love with him. Although some circles found the film and newspapers’
coverage of the lovemaking scene through photographs “shameful” on the part of
Şoray, Mine started the period of “Women’s Films” in Turkish cinema and Şoray
continued portray women in search of sexual and moral freedom in subsequent films.
She also got divorced from Cihan Ünal in 1987 on the grounds that “he was unable
to live with the public’s interest in Şoray.”24
Several cinema scholars and critics have argued that Türkan Şoray was a
social phenomenon. I argue, Şoray was a social phenomenon not just because of her
beauty or her on screen performances but also owing to her off screen life covered in
the media. Maybe she was not a true rebel, in the sense that she never rejected the
dominant social values. But it is important that she was still a woman and a star of
contradictions. I would argue that she owed her phenomenal status also to those
contradictions; especially because her supposedly “scandalous” and “subversive”
love affair opened a space for public reflection and confession on love, gender, and
morality at a time of social conservatism.
1 Yeşilçam is the name of the street in Beyoğlu, Istanbul where local film companies were located.
2 Agah Özgüç, Türkan Şoray: Bir Yıldız Böyle Doğdu (Istanbul: Göl Yayınları, 1974), 14-20, 26-31.
3 Seçil Büker, ‘The Film Does not End with an Ecstatic Kiss’ in Deniz Kandiyoti and Ayşe Saktanber, eds., Fragments of
Culture: The Everyday of Modern Turkey (London: I.B.Tauris, 2002), 158.
4 Özgüç, Türkan Şoray, 54.
5 Jean-Noёl Kapferer, Dedikodu ve Söylenti: Dünyanın En Eski Medyası, trans. Işın Gürbüz (Istanbul: İletişim, 1992), 223.
6 Büker, Film Does not End, 158.
7 Nilüfer Göle, ‘Sosyolog Gözüyle Dört Kadın’ in Bircan Usallı Silan, Dört Yapraklı Yonca: Onların Sihri Neydi? (Istanbul:
Epsilon, 2004), 435.
8 Özgüç, Türkan Şoray, 53-54.
9 Agah Özgüç, ‘Türk Sinemasında Bir Diva’ in Agah Özgüç, Türkan Şoray (Istanbul: Açık Şehir Yayınları, 2001), 92-93.
10 Atilla Dorsay, Sümbül Sokağın Tutsak Kadını (Istanbul: Remzi, 1997), 47.
11 Zeynep Çiğdem Karabekiroğlu, ‘1960’larda Popüler Dergilerde Yıldız İmajı: Türkan Şoray’ in Biyografya 8: Türkan
Şoray (Istanbul: Bağlam Yayıncılık, 2009), 138.
12 Özgüç, ‘Türk Sinemasında’, 99-100.
13 Quoted in Silan, Dört Yapraklı, 438.
14 See, for example, Seçil Büker and Canan Uluyağcı, Yeşilçam’da Bir Sultan (Istanbul: AFA, 1993), 40 and Göle,
‘Sosyolog Gözüyle’, 437.
15 Dilek Kaya Mutlu, ‘Between Tradition and Modernity: Yeşilçam Melodrama, its Stars, and their Audiences’, Middle
Eastern Studies 46.3 (2010): 417-31.
16 Quoted in Günsenem Gün, ‘Gözler Aynasıdır Hayatımızın’ in Biyografya 8: Türkan Şoray (Istanbul: Bağlam Yayıncılık,
17 Dorsay, Sümbül Sokağın, 44-45.
18 Özgüç, ‘Türk Sinemasında’, 184.
19 Quoted in Derya Uzunkala, ‘Aynadaki Yüz Türkan Sultan: Seni Sevmeyenler Cumhuriyetinde Çocuksuluk ve
Masumiyet’ in Biyografya 8: Türkan Şoray (Istanbul: Bağlam Yayıncılık, 2009), 85.
20 See Gün, ‘Gözler Aynasıdır’, 165-66.
21 Kapferer, Dedikodu, 222.
22 Quoted in Özgüç, ‘Türk Sinemasında’, 106.
23 See Özgüç, ‘Türk Sinemasında’, 106-108.
24 Quoted in Özgüç, ‘Türk Sinemasında’, 125.