Kuralt, Charles (Bishop) 1934-1997
KURALT, Charles (Bishop) 1934-1997
PERSONAL: Born September 10, 1934, in Wilmington, NC; died of complications of lupus, July 4, 1997, in New York, NY; son of Wallace Hamilton (a social worker) and Ina (a teacher; maiden name, Bishop) Kuralt; married Sory Guthery, 1957 (divorced); married Suzanna Folsom Baird, June 1, 1962; children: (first marriage) Lisa Catherine, Susan Guthery. Education: University of North Carolina, B.A., 1955.
CAREER: Charlotte News, Charlotte, NC, reporter and columnist, 1955-57; Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS) News, New York, NY, writer, 1957-59, host of Eyewitness to History, 1959, correspondent for Latin American bureau, 1960-63, chief correspondent for U.S. West Coast, 1963, overseas correspondent until 1967, feature reporter for "On the Road" segments, broadcast on CBS Evening News 1967-80, anchor of CBS News Sunday Morning, 1979-94. Also hosted weekly television show Mornings with Charles Kuralt, 1980-81; anchor of America Tonight, 1992; WELY-AM-FM, Ely, MN, owner, 1995; host, syndicated show American Moment and CBS-TV cable show I Remember, 1997.
MEMBER: Players Club (New York, NY).
AWARDS, HONORS: Ernie Pyle Memorial Award, Scripps-Howard Foundation, 1959; George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Awards, University of Georgia, 1969, 1976, and 1979; Media Award, Odyssey Institute, 1979; named Broadcaster of the Year, International Radio and Television Society and received George Polk Memorial Award for national television reporting, both 1985; Fourth Estate Award, National Press Club, 1994; Spirit of Liberty Award for the American Way, 1994; Award DuPont-Columbia, 1995; named to Hall of Fame, Academy TV Arts and Sciences, 1996; thirteen Emmy Awards, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
To the Top of the World: The Adventures and Misadventures of the Plaisted Polar Expedition, March 28-May 4, 1967, Holt (New York, NY), 1968.
Dateline America, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1979.
On the Road with Charles Kuralt, Putnam (New York, NY), 1985.
Southerners: Portrait of a People, Oxmoor House (Birmingham, AL), 1986.
(With Louis McGlohan) North Carolina Is My Home, East Woods (Charlotte, NC), 1986.
A Life on the Road, Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.
Charles Kuralt's America, Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.
Charles Kuralt's American Moments, edited with a preface by Peter Freundlich, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1998.
Charles Kuralt's People, Kenilworth Media (Asheville, NC), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals, including Saturday Review, Field and Stream, TV Guide, and Reader's Digest.
SIDELIGHTS: Charles Kuralt was known nationwide as the CBS News correspondent who combed the back roads of America in search of off-beat human interest stories. In Quill Bill Wright described Kuralt as "the last of a fading breed: a wordsmith and storyteller of first rank."
Kuralt's "On the Road" feature was part of the CBS Nightly News for over a decade. The feature added "for many the unexpected, cheerful footnote to the evening news," to quote Saturday Review correspondent Peter Quinn Hackes. The affable Kuralt took to the road to find an antidote to the invariably grim fare that comprises most nightly newscasts. Margaret Engel noted in the Washington Post Book World that, in the process of compiling his "On the Road" sketches, Kuralt became "a reporter who devised a whole genre of journalism. He helped spawn a fascination with roadside America that one sees in newly issued books about diners, movie houses, gas stations, motels, rural artists and down-home restaurants."
The stories Kuralt reported translated easily into the print medium as well. Such books as On the Road with Charles Kuralt and A Life on the Road chronicle Kuralt's methods of obtaining his film vignettes and offer profiles of some of the interesting people he met during his travels. Engel wrote of A Life on the Road: "Armchair travelers should be grateful that for thirty-three years, their pioneer has been someone with the discipline, intelligence and compassion of Charles Kuralt.... This book is a welcome lift, an episodic discovery of the strengths and resourcefulness of people who achieved greatness in large and small ways." Both On the Road with Charles Kuralt and A Life on the Road spent numerous weeks on the bestseller lists in 1985 and 1990, respectively.
Kuralt was born and raised in North Carolina. He spent most of his childhood on his grandparents' tobacco farm, and there he satisfied his yen for travel by reading National Geographic magazine. As a high school student he won a national essay award from the American Legion in its "Voice of Democracy" contest. The award included a visit to the White House to meet then-president Harry S. Truman as well as the honor of hearing Edward R. Murrow read the essay over the radio.
In college at the University of North Carolina, Kuralt served as editor of the campus newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1955 and took a job as a reporter at the Charlotte News in North Carolina. It was there that he began his lifelong pursuit of human interest stories, in this case for a daily column in the newspaper.
At the tender age of twenty-three, Kuralt became a news writer for the Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS) in New York City. He joined CBS in 1957 as a copywriter for the radio division, but the following year he moved into television as a writer for the fifteen-minute CBS evening news show. By 1959 he was promoted to correspondent, and after covering the 1960 presidential campaigns he was sent to the Latin America bureau. After three years based in Rio de Janeiro, he returned to America as manager of the Los Angeles news bureau. Kuralt reported on news from all over the globe, including Cuba, Vietnam, Asia, Africa, and Europe. He also prepared pieces for a documentary series called CBS Reports.
Eventually Kuralt began to question his own dedication to "hard news." He once told Arthur Unger of the Christian Science Monitor: "I was always worried that some NBC man was sneaking around behind my back getting better stories." A major career change came in 1967. Kuralt said: "I got the idea . . . one night in an airplane as I looked down at the lights in the countryside and wondered . . . what was going on down there. There are a lot of Americans who don't live in cities and don't make headlines. I was interested in finding out about them." From that idea "On the Road" was born. Kuralt convinced CBS management that he could find off-beat tales in America's back waters and small towns. He was given use of a second-hand motor home and the services of a cameraman and a sound technician. Together the three men set out to explore the country. "Turned out he was best suited to talking to real people who wouldn't know a sound bit from a mosquito bite," recalled Terry Jackson in an article published in Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.
In A Life on the Road, reports Willie Morris of Chicago's Tribune Books, Kuralt wrote, "'On the Road' seemed to work best when I went slow and took it easy. I found that while it helped to have a story in mind up the road somewhere . . . I might find something more interesting along the way. When I finally shook off the tempo of daily journalism and fell into the rhythms of the countryside, I didn't have to worry about finding stories any longer. They found me." Kuralt celebrated the ordinary from all over America in segments that "manage to charm and move the viewer without stooping to tricks or pressing the CUTE button," to quote Washington Post Book World contributor Dennis Drabelle. Over time, Kuralt's "On the Road" segments won several Emmy Awards and three George Foster Peabody awards for broadcast news reporting.
In the Christian Science Monitor, Kuralt once said: "I have come to believe that it is useful to just once in awhile acknowledge that the whole country is not in flames and that everything going on in America is not represented by those big black headlines on page one." In the course of his travels, Kuralt has interviewed lumberjacks and cowpokes, fishermen and inventors, free spirits and philanthropists—many of whom have helped him confirm America's strengths as a nation. Quinn Hackes called Kuralt simply "the bard of the byways."
Kuralt's best-known books are companions to his television pieces. On the Road with Charles Kuralt collects some of the more intriguing "On the Road" segments from the 1970s and 1980s. A Life on the Road is Kuralt's memoir of his discoveries great and small through two decades of almost constant travel. In a Chicago Tribune review of A Life on the Road, Morris wrote: "Kuralt's prose is clean, flexible and incisive, its context his own generous humanity. He himself is the best testimony to the quiet civilization that lies beneath our many layers."
Kuralt began serving as anchorman for the CBS News Sunday Morning, a program that offered his human-interest topics as well as the breaking stories of the day, in 1979. Reflecting on his four-decade career with CBS—and the success of "On the Road"—Kuralt once told Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times: "Covering Congress is a life-absorbing job. But I'd rather do the small things.... Kids, cops, dogs, that kind of thing." He concluded: "I get to choose all my own stories. It's still the best job in television."
Kuralt retired in 1994, telling his viewers that he wanted to spend more time writing and traveling. The following year, his book Charles Kuralt's America was published. Kuralt spent one month in each of the locations discussed in the book, beginning in New Orleans in January and ending in New York City in December. Critics expressed mixed views about the book. "The trouble is, while the previous book unpacked a lifetime's full of adventures, the new volume delivers a mere year's worth of journeying," explained Bret Watson in Entertainment Weekly. Watson added that "not a heckuva lot happens" in the book. Kuralt "takes full advantage of his privilege and ease in the world, partaking in good food, beautiful scenery, and an inordinate amount of stimulating conversation," noted Donna Seaman, writing her praise for the book in Booklist.
Kuralt's health deteriorated after retirement. He suffered from lupus and was hospitalized with chest pains a year before his death. He refused to give up smoking because he said it was something he enjoyed. He passed away suddenly on the fourth of July in 1997.
People across the nation mourned the man who took them off-the-beaten path across America. Upon hearing of his death, President Clinton was quoted in Broadcasting and Cable as saying, "Kuralt's extraordinary imagination and skill gave America a unique view of itself. He helped us see the beauty and strength of our small town and countryside. In doing so, he brought all members of the American family closer together." Jackson observed that Kuralt's "most fitting epitaph lies in the stories he told us—about Nickey the Chicken Man with his live chicken store in downtown Hartford, Connecticut, about Francis Johnson and his thirteen-foot-tall ball of twine in Darwin, Minnesota, and about Alice Huyler Ramsey, who was the first woman to drive a car coast-to-coast in 1909."
Shortly after his death, Kuralt made headlines once again when it was revealed that for twenty-nine years he apparently kept a mistress and maintained a second family in Montana, where he claimed to take fishing trips each year. His mistress sued for the estate in Montana and won, claiming that Kuralt left her the property in a letter he had written to her. "While his wife remained at their home in the concrete canyons of New York City, he nurtured a second family. The celebrated journalist was, in effect, husband and father to them, as well as breadwinner, friend and hero," explained Bob Anez in a Salon.com article.
Kuralt published two books posthumously: Charles Kuralt's American Moments and Charles Kuralt's People. The first is a compilation of vignettes from Kuralt's television programs. The book is divided into ten sections that include some of Kuralt's favorite people and sights, including a giant-bug sculptor and the librarian of the world's largest library. Charles Kuralt's American Moments was compiled and edited by Kuralt's long-time friend and producer Peter Freundlich. "Each brief taste of American life includes an illustration or photograph, although with Kuralt's creative language, the reader's imagination is enough," noted Kay Bowes in Library Journal. "This may be a different format from Kuralt's other books, but it is just as powerful, capturing these moments that Americans hold dear" Bowes observed.
Charles Kuralt's People is a compilation of columns Kuralt published at the beginning of his career. The columns are about people living in a North Carolina town. Writing in Booklist, Vanessa Bush said that "Kuralt fans will enjoy this collection of 169 essays, in which his highlighting of the obscure and ordinary shows the early development of his distinctive style and his particular interests."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Encyclopedia of Television News, Oryx Press (Phoenix, AZ), 1999.
Booklist, May 15, 1994, review of Charles Kuralt: A Life on the Road, p. 1700; September 15, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of Charles Kuralt's America, p. 114; May 15, 1998, review of Charles Kuralt's Autumn, p. 246; September 15, 1998, review of Charles Kuralt's America, p. 246; October 1, 1998, Ray Olsen, review of Charles Kuralt's American Moments, p. 275; December 1, 2002, Vanessa Bush, review of Charles Kuralt's People, p. 630.
Book World, November 19, 1995, review of Charles Kuralt's America, p. 3.
Broadcasting and Cable News, July 14, 1997, "Charles Kuralt, 1934-1997," p. 72.
Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1987; November 4, 1990.
Christian Science Monitor, July 24, 1974.
Entertainment Weekly, October 13, 1995, Bret Watson, review of Charles Kuralt's America, p. 69.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1998, review of Charles Kuralt's American Moments, p. 1447.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, July 4, 1997, Terry Jackson, "Kuralt Took the Road Rarely Traveled."
Library Journal, November 1, 1995, review of Charles Kuralt's America, p. 117; January 1999, Kay Bowes, review of Charles Kuralt's American Moments, p. 116; June 1, 1999, Mark Pumphrey, review of Charles Kuralt's American Moments, p. 208.
Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1987; October 14, 1988.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 17, 1996, review of Charles Kuralt's America, p. 14.
Newsweek, July 4, 1983.
New York Times, January 7, 1986.
New York Times Book Review, October 28, 1990; December 22, 1996, review of Charles Kuralt's America, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, September 18, 1995, review of Charles Kuralt's America, pp. 117-119; September 9, 1996, review of Charles Kuralt's America, p. 81; October 26, 1998, review of Charles Kuralt's American Moments, p. 59.
Quill, October, 1997, Bill Wright, "Wrought Iron Storytelling," p. 8.
Saturday Review, September-October, 1985.
Southern Living, review of Charles Kuralt's America, p. 70.
Time, April 2, 1984.
Washington Post, August 25, 1979; April 28, 1981; June 26, 1983.
Washington Post Book World, October 13, 1985; October 28, 1990.
Denver Post Online, http://22.214.171.124/books/book457.htm (November 12, 2003) J. Sebastian Sinisi, review of Charles Kuralt's American Moments.
Hall of Public Service,http://www.achievement.org/ (November 12, 2003), "Charles Kuralt."
Historic Personalities,http://www.cmhpf.org/personalities/ (November 12, 2003), "Charles Kuralt, 1934-1997."
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (June 8, 1999) Bob Anez, "Charles Kuralt's Secret Life."
Chicago Tribune, July 5, 1997, section 1, p. 4.
Christian Science Monitor, July 24, 1974.
Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1997, p. A1.
New York Times, July 5, 1997, p. 24.
Washington Post, July 5, 1997, p. B4.
CNN Interactivehttp://www.cnn.com/ (July 4, 1997), "Charles Kuralt, CBS—Poet of Small-Town America, Dies at 62."
MSNBC,http://www.msnbc.com/ (July 5, 1997).
USA Today Online,http://www.usatoday.com/ (July 4, 1997).*