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New Kuralt Biography
Submits His Genius, Flaws

By Rob Neufeld

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 followed.

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 justified.

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 trees.

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 about himself.

The great picture-word poet saw himself in an abstract way, as someone who was called to provide a service to the world.

Review Index

USA Today Editorial
Forgiving Charles Kuralt

The Book
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About The Book
| Reviews | Author Biography
| Foreword | Eastern North Carolina

Addendum to Book
Nobel Peace Prize
| Remembering | Sir Charles
| A Tribute | CBS Transcripts |
Letters To Ken McClure|
David Brinkley on Charles Kuralt
Kuralt's Remarks At Hugh & Julia Morton's 50th Wedding Anniversary

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Charles Kuralt's People

An intellectually stimulating collection of insightful and occasionally poignant commentaries, Charles Kuralt's People is very highly recommended reading for students of the human condition in general, and legions of Charles Kuralt fans in particular. — Midwest Book Review Click for more info.

Hard cover, 386 pages, $25.95 plus $3.95 Priority Mail shipping. (NC residents must add 6 percent sales tax.)

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About Kenilworth Media
Publishers of the first edition of "Remembering Charles Kuralt," now carried by The Globe Pequot Press, Kenilworth Media is a small, Asheville, North Carolina-based publishing firm committed to advancing the life works of Charles Kuralt.