ANDREW HEYWARD: Walter Cronkite, of course,
was anchor and managing editor of the CBS EVENING NEWS when Charles
first went on the road. Recently, Walter admitted that he was initially
skeptical about whether Charles's idea would work. Walter's with us
today. Walter, welcome.
WALTER CRONKITE: Good day, Petie. I was touched, deeply honored
to be invited to participate in this service for Charles, but at the
same time, quite frankly, I was a little disturbed at being here.
It has to do with pretenseof appearing to be something that one
is not. I felt that I was a good friend, a colleague of Charles's. I
was reasonably confident that that friendship was reciprocated. But
as much as I might have liked to, I never could lay claim, and can't
today, to being among Charles's best friends. That great privilege was
reserved for several of you and othersvery, very lucky personsand
better qualified, indeed.
I'm telling you all this because I don't want to
appear to be something I am not, not here, not in these circumstances
with Charles looking on. For among all of those attributes of Charles's,
none, perhaps, was stronger than his distaste for pretense, for the
phony, for those who presented themselves as something they were not.
Charles Kuralt was the genuine article. What you saw was what you got.
This, undoubtedly, was the essence of his extraordinary popularity.
He stood out as an unusual human being in a world and in a medium populated
by those who seem to live by the adage of that great satirist Fred Allen,
who said, "You know, all it takes to be a success in television
is the ability to fake sincerity."
There wasn't an ounce of that fakery in Charles Kuralt, and he was,
we all know, one of television's great successes. The secret, undoubtedly,
was that Charles, on camera, always was himself. He did not write or
speak if he could not speak and write from the heartspeak sincerely
of that on which he reported.
This must've been apparent in his very earliest days, I think, in journalism,
on the University of North Carolina campus. He was a star so earlyeditor
of the Daily Tar Heel, although he was a history major, not a journalism
onea columnist in his very first year on the Charlotte News and,
just a year after graduation, recipient of the prestigious Ernie Pyle
Award, the details of which we don't need to go into here, but I can
tell you that there couldn't have been a veteran writer and reporter
in America who didn't grit his teeth in envy over this youngster's leap
to national recognition.
I'll admit that I suffered a little of that envy when he carne to CBS
as a writer just a year later. Admiring editors passed his copy around
the newsroom, and I read it with the same wonder as all the rest. Here
was a guy born the very year I got my first full-time newspaper job
and already he wrote a lot better than I did. And I never caught up,
That sort of talent could have made this young genius absolutely unbearable,
but that it did not was, again, indicative of his totally unassuming
character Of course Charles must've known how good he was as a writer
and as a broadcaster. He certainly heard the accolades. He wasn't deaf;
He accepted many of the many, many awards that would be bestowed upon
him and he sat through untold numbers of speeches of praiseI assume,
many times, an embarrassment. But none was able to pierce his cloak
In our shop, he was certain that others who contributed to the success
of his broadcasts got the credit that they deserved. Les Midgley, the
producer of one of his earliest series, a program called, EYEWITNESS,
which many of us remember, shared with me a note that Charles wrote
to him on a birthday, some years later. Charles wrote to Les, "If
you ever made a decision that was less than admirable and right, I never
noticed. If I argued with you at the time, I now admit that I was wrong.
And if I never mentioned how much I admired you, I do now." There
are scores of CBS employees and ex-employees who can testify to thiswell,
let me call it what it wasthis sweetness that was part of Charles.
Even when Charles was holding true to his principles of truth-telling,
he could leaven candor with humor. A year or so ago, I had the privilege
of presenting him an award for distinguished journalism at Arizona State
University and, in accepting, Charles said a kind thing or two about
me, but then noted that I wasn't perfect. Now, a shock to me, of course!
And in these words, he told this story about our coverage of our nation's
bicentennial celebration in 1976.
I anchored that broadcast and, as I said in my introduction of him thenand
again at A.S.U.Charles had what I considered the choice assignment.
He was aboard the Coast Guard's Eagle, as Phil mentioned, in the parade
of great sailing ships.
Charles picked up on that and there, at A.S.U., he saidand these
are now his words"There occurred one of those great, unforgettable
moments," Charles said. "The band was playing aboard the Eagle,
bands were playing on shore, fireboats were spraying great red, white
and blue plumes of water into the air, crowds were cheering. It was
the patriotic equivalent of all hell breaking loose.
"They see and hear all of this on the monitorsback in the
control room, cue cards were held telling Walter to 'Go to Kuralt.'
"But Walter was involved in a long and tedious history of the discovery
of America with a guest to whom he wanted to be polite, of course' the
Naval historian, Samuel Eliot Morrison. 'Go to Kuralt'' said the cue
card. Walter was genuinely interested in this interview," Kuralt
went on. "He asked Morrison another impenetrably dull question,
and Morrison obediently droned on.
"I said, 'The Eagle passing the battery was a great, historic moment,'
and it was. It was a moment. It passed. The band stopped playing. The
guns stopped firing. The fireboats ran out of red, white and blue water.
The crowds were left behind. We entered the Hudson River on a tide of
silence. There was nothing to see and nothing to hear and nothing for
me to say.
"In the midst of my disappointment, in my headset I heard Walter
say, 'Fascinating, Admiral Morrison. Thank you for being with us for
this historic morning, and now let's go to Charles Kuralt aboard the
Well, it wasn't only the public that knew that it would get the truth
from Charles Kuralt. All of us as colleagues knew, too, what Charles
reported would be the truth and nothing but the truth as nearly as it
could be determined by one of the finest reporters and writers ever
to come our way.
A reporter the other day asked me who I saw on the horizon of television
news who could take Charles's place. While acknowledging that there
are some fine reporters and writers out there, the answer, of course,
is no one.
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
and legions of Charles Kuralt fans in particular. — Midwest Book
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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Publishers of the first edition of "Remembering Charles Kuralt,"
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the life works of Charles Kuralt.