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ANDREW HEYWARD:
Bernie Birnbaum, currently a producer at SUNDAY MORNING, is a 44-year veteran of CBS News. Bernie was Charles's senior producer for ON TFIE ROAD. Charles's battered motor home zigzagged through every state and back again and logged more than a million miles on the road. Here's Bernie Birnbaum.

BERNIE BIRNBAUM:
Petie, Karen, Wallace, and the members of the Kuralt family. I don't think any of us would be here in this great hall with all these great people without one man whom we should honor, Dr. Stanton. Without you, none of this would be possible. None of us would be here. Thank you for coming to honor Charles Kuralt.

Those of us who've been around CBS News for a long time have really been blessed. We were privileged to work with all the greats: Murrow, Sevareid, Burton Benjamin, Bill Leonard, Richard Salant, Collingwood, Hughes Rudd, Reasoner and, now, Charles Kuralt. We respected them all. We worked with them all. We admired them all, but none of the greats were quite like Charles.

He was really special. The first time I ever went out on assignment with him, 37 years ago, I knew he was a genius because he could do anything and everything that anyone in this profession did, but he did it better.

Let me tell you why. He sometimes liked to say that he was not a real reporter. I'd like to quote one of his writings: "Real reporters have to stick their noses in where they're not wanted, ask embarrassing questions, dodge bullets, contend with deadlines, worry about the competition. If I came upon a real story out there on the road," he said, "I'd call some real reporter to come cover it."

He was a real reporter, and even before ON THE ROAD, he was one of the best correspondents that we at CBS News ever worked with. Listen to 30-year-old Charles Kuralt describing poverty in "Christmas in Appalachia," 1964: "This is a road, if you can call it that, that leads to the Pert Creek School in Letcher County, Kentucky. There are tens of thousands of roads like this, winding back along the creeks and hollows of 11 states. And beside these roads, the shacks and tarpaper and pine which are the home of a million permanently poor." And at the end of the broadcast, he said, "Coal cars roll on through Christmas week, carrying the wealth of Appalachia away. The cars carry coal, never people. The people wait. A million people wait." This was all before the war on poverty. I think this program helped bring that program about.

After that 1964 broadcast, which Phil Scheffler helped set up, the CBS switchboard lit up. Seventy thousand dollars of unsolicited money poured into CBS News. Dr. Stanton got Salant to give it away to the Red Cross. A viewer chartered a plane to carry food and Christmas presents to Letcher County, Kentucky, all because of Kuralt's words and that grave voice over those stark black-and-white pictures describing poor children and their coal-miner families at Christmastime, dying of hunger in the richest country, in America.

Kuralt looked again the next year, in 1965, for what he wrote was "the most miserable spot to spend Christmas." He sent me to Vietnam. He wasn't interested in politics or the generals. We spent our time in Vietnam with an infantry squad, a few G.I.'s who fought daily against snipers and booby traps.

One day, a mine exploded in the bush on the perimeter. Sergeant Floyd, whom we filmed that morning, was badly wounded. As we rushed him to an aid station, Kuralt twisted the tourniquet on his leg and held it tight. Sergeant Duenas, whom we had also filmed that morning, died in the blast.

Before that blast, Kuralt told me he didn't want me out on the perimeter—it was too dangerous. Perhaps he saved my life, but perhaps I saved his, too. One night, we were under mortar fire and Kuralt wanted to use the nearest latrine. I felt it was too close to the jungle and the bush—the V.C. were always around. So I advised him to use the latrine in the center of the camp. He did. The next night, we heard an explosion. The latrine he wanted to use had been boobytrapped and completely blown apart. He looked at me quizzically and I said, "I told you so."

Kuralt was a superstitious person and a creature of habit. When he was about to leave Saigon for New York to write and cut our broadcast "Christmas in Vietnam," he said, "Before we put a rough script and lineup together in the field, let's write the lineup on the back of an envelope like we did last year in 'Christmas in Appalachia.'" For years afterwards, whenever we worked together, he would say, "Let's take an envelope out and write a lineup."

I shall always remember that Christmas in Vietnam. Sergeant Floyd wanted to be here today. Sergeant Floyd loved Kuralt. He followed him into his hospital, where he got his artificial leg. He followed him to his marriage. He interviewed him 20 years after "Christmas in Vietnam." Anyone who ever touched Kuralt never was the same.

When Kuralt came back to America, after Vietnam, he had had enough of death and danger. Believe it or not, he was soon off to the North Pole. He was to travel to the North Pole by snowmobile. About the only thing that came out of that expedition was that he was able to write a book about it. The expedition was led, as he writes, "by a peddler of spices, extracts, fly spray and cattle vitamins from Askov, Minnesota, the rutabaga capital of the world." Kuralt told me that, at one point, he himself ended up shooting some of the most dangerous footage that had aired in the program because most of the time the Arctic froze the cameras, shredded the 16-millimeter film into confetti.

To prevent these problems, he put the hand-held camera next to his warm body one day on a dangerous flight, underneath his clothing. He was able to shoot some of the most dramatic film himself.

Let me tell you why I've always believed that Charles Kuralt was a genius: he was a great writer, he was a great poet, he could do most things quite well, with ease and grace and no pomposity and guile.

Shortly after the EVENING NEWS expanded to a half-hour—those were the days of Hewitt, Midgley and Scheffler—we were sitting in the old Slate restaurant where the 555 building now stands. Kuralt asked me, "Bernie, what do those new associate producers do?" I said, "Shut up, Keep quiet' If every correspondent was like you, guys like me would be out of a job!" That's the truth.

I told you before that Kuralt could do anything that anyone in this profession did, but better. I bet that some of you cameramen out there sitting in this room have been thinking that he couldn't do your job as well. Well, in the 1960s, he was appointed chief—and only—Latin American correspondent. That's the reason I sometimes called him Carlos instead of Charles. I don't think he liked Charlie.

Once, he got a one-man visa to set foot in Cuba when all Americans were barred from entry. We couldn't send a cameraman along, so our executive producer, Les Midgley, gave him 50 hundred-foot rolls of black-and-white film. He shot the whole EYEWITNESS TO HISTORY himself. The story was great. Kuralt could do anything. When we were screening the footage in New York, Les Midgley looked around the screening room and said, "Why is it some cameramen can't shoot film as good as Kuralt?" I couldn't answer him.

If you've read any of his books, you probably know how Kuralt started the ON THE ROAD series. When he returned to New York from the North Pole, he approached president Dick Salant and asked for a change of pace. Nineteen-sixty-seven: "I said, 'Why don't you let me just wander for three months, to see what I can find?' Salant said, 'What do you think you'll find?' I waxed poetic: 'Farmers bringing in their crops, first-graders starting school, country fairs, town meetings, pulse of America, you know.' President Salant was distracted by the pile of work on his desk. 'Okay,' he said, 'Try it. Keep the budget down."' Mr. Heyward knows some things never change.

From that simple beginning, ON THE ROAD would last over 20 years. Kuralt and his crew of Izzy Bleckman and Johnny and Larry Gianneschi sent to the CBS EVENING NEWS almost 500 stories that were such great classics that every few years executive producer Les Midgley and I had the honor to rebroadcast those stories and make new hour and half-hour programs from them. By the way, those programs were the highest rated CBS News programs of that season.

Perhaps the most memorable series was "On the Road to '76," that one we put on during the bicentennial year. During that time, Kuralt sent a new story to the EVENING NEWS every week from each of the 50 states. It was a complete oral history of America. And recently, under Shad Northshield's direction, they were rebroadcast again on the Travel Channel. Where else in America can you find 500 stories almost 30 years old that look as fresh and original today as the day he and his crew created them? I told you he was a genius.

So, how was he able to create this great body of work? I'll try to tell you how he did it. Charles stood behind the camera, quietly watching what was taking place. He put people at ease, engaged them in quiet conversation. They all got to know him and love him. Then; he personally looked at each foot of film or tape, made his own notes, crafted his own scripts and, thanks to editors like Tommy Micklas and Lenny Raff, took his precious words and made them into jewels. He once told me he never wrote a word without visualizing in his mind the matching picture that would sit over each word. In a cutting room once, he said, "I want this word to hit over this particular frame." Each frame lasted a 24th of a second.

He was a perfectionist as well as a poet. He matched his words to the picture so well that you could close your eyes and still get the impact—the full impact—of what he was saying. Peter Freundlich and Mary Lou Teel, who is sitting there, worked with Charles Kuralt on SUNDAY MORNING. Listen to a tribute she wrote, published in a Maine newspaper: "Charles exuded something, a kind of magic—although I'm searching for another word—that transformed things into something better. Enchantment. Charm. Charles would know. Being with him made us feel blessed, somehow, worthwhile, important, better than we thought we were before." I say he'll remain with us in our hearts and in our minds, through his books and his great body of work at CBS News.

He ended his book, On the Road, writing—and I quote—"We feel we have the best jobs in journalism. We are out there now, leaving the motel parking lot with the sun coming up. We've just plugged in the coffee pot. Izzy is driving the bus. Larry's in the back tinkering with his gear. I'm looking at the road map to figure out which way we'll go today. We have a story we're headed toward, but we hope we'll never get there. We hope we'll stumble across something more interesting along the way. There's a long road ahead of us. We don't know where we'll be spending the night."

For all of us now, without you, Charles, it's the darkest of nights. And now from Shakespeare: "Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Additional Tributes

Phil Scheffler | Dan Rather | Shad Northshield
Ed Bradley | Walter Cronkite | Bernie Birnbaum
Linda Mason | Missie Rennie | Mike Wallace
Andy Rooney

USA Today Editorial
Forgiving Charles Kuralt

The Book
Order The Book | Libraries | Booksellers |
About The Book
| Reviews | Author Biography
Preface
| Foreword | Eastern North Carolina

Addendum to Book
Nobel Peace Prize
| Remembering | Sir Charles
Timeline
| 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 Videos | Books By/About Charles Kuralt

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.

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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.