Charles Kuralt on CBS News Sunday Morning
September 10, 1934|
Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S.
|Died||July 4, 1997
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Systemic lupus erythematosus|
|Occupation||Journalist, Correspondent, News anchor|
Charles Kuralt (September 10, 1934 – July 4, 1997) was an American journalist. He was most widely known for his long career with CBS, first for his "On the Road" segments on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, and later as the first anchor of CBS News Sunday Morning, a position he held for fifteen years.
Kuralt's "On the Road" segments were recognized twice with personal Peabody Awards. The first, awarded in 1968, cited those segments as heartwarming and "nostalgic vignettes"; in 1975, the award was for his work as a U.S. "bicentennial historian"; his work "capture[d] the individuality of the people, the dynamic growth inherent in the area, and ...the rich heritage of this great nation." He shared in a third Peabody awarded to CBS News Sunday Morning.
Early life and career
Kuralt was born in Wilmington, North Carolina. As a boy, he won a children's sports writing contest for a local newspaper by writing about a dog that got loose on the field during a baseball game. Charles’ father, Wallace H. Kuralt. Sr., moved his family to Charlotte in 1945, when he became Director of Public Welfare in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Their house  off Sharon Road, then 10 miles south of the city, was the only structure in the area. During the years he lived in that house, Kuralt became one of the youngest radio announcers in the country. Later, at Charlotte’s Central High School, Kuralt was voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” In 1948, he was named one of four National Voice of Democracy winners at age 14, where he won a $500 scholarship. He later attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he became editor of The Daily Tar Heel and joined St. Anthony Hall. While there, he appeared in a starring role in a radio program called "American Adventure: A Study Of Man In The New World" in the episode titled "Hearth Fire", which aired on August 4, 1955. It is a telling of the advent of TVA's building lakes written by John Ealey and directed by John Clayton. After graduating from UNC, Kuralt worked as a reporter for the Charlotte News in his home state, where he wrote "Charles Kuralt's People," a column that won him an Ernie Pyle Award. He moved to CBS as a writer, where he became well known as the host of the Eyewitness to History series. He traveled around the world as a journalist for the network, including stints as CBS's Chief Latin American Correspondent and then as Chief West Coast Correspondent.
In 1967, Kuralt and a CBS camera crew accompanied Ralph Plaisted in his attempt to reach the North Pole by snowmobile, which resulted in the documentary To the Top of the World and his book of the same name.
"On the Road"
Kuralt was said to have tired of what he considered the excessive rivalry between reporters on the hard news beats:
- "I didn't like the competitiveness or the deadline pressure," he told the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, upon his induction into their Hall of Fame. "I was sure that Dick Valeriani of NBC was sneaking around behind my back — and of course, he was! — getting stories that would make me look bad the next day. Even though I covered news for a long time, I was always hoping I could get back to something like my little column on the Charlotte News."
When he persuaded CBS to let him try out just such an idea for three months, it turned into a quarter-century project. "On the Road" became a regular feature on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite in 1967. Kuralt hit the road in a motor home (he wore out six before he was through) with a small crew and avoided the interstates in favor of the nation's back roads in search of America's people and their doings. He said, "Interstate highways allow you to drive coast to coast, without seeing anything".
According to Thomas Steinbeck, the older son of John Steinbeck, the inspiration for "On the Road" was Steinbeck's Travels with Charley (whose title was initially considered as the name of Kuralt's feature). During his career, he won three Peabody awards and ten Emmy awards for journalism. He also won a George Polk Award in 1980 for National Television Reporting.
Retirement and death
At age 60, Kuralt surprised many by retiring from CBS News. At the time, he was the longest tenured on-air personality in the News Division. Yet he hinted that his retirement might not be complete — in 1995 he narrated the TLC documentary The Revolutionary War and in early 1997, he signed on to host a syndicated, three-times-a-week, ninety-second broadcast, "An American Moment," presenting what CNN called "slices of Americana." At that time, Kuralt also agreed to host a CBS cable broadcast show, I Remember, designed as a weekly, hour-long review of significant news from the three previous decades.
He was hospitalized in 1997 and died of complications from systemic lupus erythematosus at the age of 62 on July 4.
One of Kuralt's books was titled North Carolina Is My Home. Kuralt's younger brother Wallace, who died in December 2003, was also well known in his home state, having been the owner of The Intimate Bookshop on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill for many years. In addition, a portion of land along the Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, Cape Fear Ecosystem — so named for the rivers which flow into the Albemarle, Currituck, and Pamlico Sounds — has been named for Kuralt, honoring his having given as much time to nature and wildlife as to people in his "On the Road" and Sunday Morning stories.
By request in his will, Kuralt was buried on the UNC grounds in Old Chapel Hill Cemetery. The University uses a Kuralt speech in its television commercials and displays many of his awards and a re-creation of his office in its Journalism School.
Two years after his death, Kuralt's personal reputation came under scrutiny when a decades-long companionship with a Montana woman named Patricia Shannon was made public. Kuralt apparently had a second, "shadow" family with Shannon while his wife lived in New York City and his daughters from a previous marriage lived on the eastern seaboard. Shannon asserted that the house in Montana had been willed to her, a position upheld by the Montana Supreme Court. According to court testimony, Kuralt had met Shannon while doing a story on "Pat Baker Park" in Reno, Nevada, that Shannon had promoted and volunteered to build in 1968. The park was in a low-income area of Reno that had no parks until Shannon promoted her plan. Kuralt mentions Pat Shannon and the building of the park — but not the affair — in his autobiography.
- "The Peabody Awards". Retrieved 11 October 2010.
- Helms, Ann Doss and Tomlinson, Tommy (26 September 2011). "Wallace Kuralt's era of sterilization: Mecklenburg's impoverished had few, if any, rights in the '50s and '60s as he oversaw one of the most aggressive efforts to sterilize certain populations". Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
- "Charles Kuralt's Boyhood Home". SouthPark Magazine. 2011-02-09.
- "Charles Kuralt Called it Home". SouthPark Magazine. 2011-02-09.
- "Charles Kuralt Biography - Academy of Achievement". Achievement.org. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
- "Charles Kuralt Interview - page 3 / 5 - Academy of Achievement". Achievement.org. 2008-02-28. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
- Stevenson, Seth (2009-10-27). "The quaint pleasures of "On the Road With Charles Kuralt," now on DVD. - By Seth Stevenson - Slate Magazine". Slate.com. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
- "John Steinbeck vs Charles Kuralt - Highway History - FHWA". Fhwa.dot.gov. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
- Eric Peterson, "Charles Kuralt", Ramble
- "Paul White Award". Radio Television Digital News Association. Retrieved 2014-05-27.
- See In re Estate of Kuralt, 303 Mont. 335, 15 P.3d 931 (2000).
- "CNN Transcript - Larry King Live: Charles Kuralt's Longtime Companion Speaks Out". Archives.cnn.com. February 14, 2001. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
- Williams, Paige (7 July 1998). "For 30 Years, Charles Kuralt Led Two Lives". Buffalo News. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
- Anez, Bob. "Charles Kuralt's secret life". Salon.com. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
- Grizzle, Ralph (2 July 2001). "Remember good side of Kuralt". USA Today. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
- Charles Kuralt Collection, 1935-1997 in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Ralph Grizzle, Remembering Charles Kuralt. Asheville, North Carolina: Kenilworth Media, 2000. (ISBN 0967909600)
- Charles Kuralt's People. Asheville, North Carolina: Kenilworth Media, 2005. A collection of his award winning Charlotte News columns.
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- CNN, "Charles Kuralt, CBS's Poet of Small-Town America, Dies at 62" at the Wayback Machine (archived January 18, 2008), a CNN obituary
- In re Estate of Kuralt, 15 P.3d 931 (2000)
- Find-A-Grave profile for Charles Kuralt