Submits His Genius, Flaws
By Rob Neufeld
SPECIAL TO THE CITIZEN-TIMES
JULY 2, 2000
The great surprise that emerges from the life of the
late Charles Kuralt, revered "On the. Road" chronicler, is not his
tabloid-touted affair but his obsessive ambition. Ralph Grizzle's
new biography, "Remembering Charles Kuralt," reveals the latter and
avoids the former, having agreed with the Kuralt family, providers
of much original material, to practice that discretion.
Grizzle's research and interviews yield a portrait of
a man who at age 6 knew his destiny and who strove, even as a teen
sportswriter for the Charlotte News and a writer for radio station
WAYS, to give his reports a unique Kuralt twist.
On certain nights, WAYS disk jockey Brooks Lindsay recalls,
Kuralt perched on the radio station's fire escape and broadcast poetic
descriptions of Charlotte, spread out below.
By his early 20s having left the University of North
Carolina prematurely, Kuralt moved to New York City to write for CBS.
His career stranded his wife in Brooklyn with two daughters, and divorce
As corporate politics alternately gave Kuralt glimpses
of the promised land and the shock of exile, his health worsened.
Ruth Jones Pentes, a lifelong friend, notes that Kuralt "drank of
life." She says, "Nothing got away from him, and that includes eating
and drinking and everything you could do."
"I couldn't live ten waking minutes without a cigarette
in my hand," Kuralt told a reporter in 1965.
Rising, above all this turmoil is the proof that Kuralt
was ' right in his estimation of, his career. His sacrifices were
Grizzle gives us many insights into Kuralt's good win
toward men and his brilliant prose and media-making technology.
In October 1967, CBS aired Kuralt's first "On the Road"
episode, an appreciation of autumn leaves in Vermont. Walter Cronkite,
the network's anchorman recalls that he had opposed giving up hard
news time for a regular feature but audience response and Kuralt's
originality changed his mind.
Izzy Bleckman, "On the Road" cameraman gives a good
example of Kuralt's narrative instincts. The crew had passed a house
in Ohio, which had a "Welcome Home Roger" banner strung between two
A few miles past it, Kuralt had the bus turn back. Izzy
shot interviews for an hour and wanted to stay until Roger arrived.
"It's better if we don't," Kuralt said, and America's
emotional response to the invisibility of the War veteran confirmed
the power of that decision.
Grizzle's interview with Kuralt in 1994 for the American
Society of Travel Agents' trade journal elicited Kuralt's, "yardstick"
for evaluating a good story.
"The yardstick I always used was if I liked the guy
and was interested in the story myself," Kuralt said "You're looking
for a talker . . . And, of course, the woods are just full of people
like that, people who are wonderful talkers."
He added, "Once you get into the American South it's
hard to get out if you're looking for characters."
Grizzle, an Asheville family man and owner of Kenilworth
Media publishing company, learned from Kuralt and now writes the regular
"Tar Heel People" column for Our State magazine. (The May 2000 issue
featured his piece on Alma Allen, the veteran, good cheer waitress
at Hot Shot Cafe in Biltmore Village.)
"I try to write in a simple style," he says. "I look
for a good person, and I usually look for an anecdotal lead."
Kuralt is a good person and Grizzle provides dozens
of anecdotes, many gained through an oral history collected posthumously
from Kuralt's friends. UNC archivists helped Grizzle assemble an impressive
variety of telling photos. He dents the myth of Charles Kuralt by
showing that Kuralt was a mythmaker, not only about America but also
The great picture-word poet saw himself in an abstract
way, as someone who was called to provide a service to the world.