KURALT, CHARLES

U.S. News Correspondent

Charles Kuralt is best known for his critically acclaimed series of "On The Road" television "essays" on America and for his fifteen year tenure as host of the equally acclaimed CBS Sunday Morning series on CBS television. Through a CBS network career spanning thirty-seven years, this award winning journalist and author has brought the life and vitality of back roads America to an eager audience while providing a television home for the arts, the environment and the offbeat.

Kuralt began his career as a reporter-columnist in 1955 for the Charlotte News. His penchant for unusual human interest stories found a home in the News' daily "People" column which in turn earned him the l956 Ernie Pyle Memorial Award. A year later he was recruited for CBS. His first network job was to re-write wires and cables from overseas correspondents for radio newscasts, but he quickly advanced to the position of writer for CBS television's Douglas Edwards With the News. In 1958, he moved to the CBS television news assignment desk where he also covered fast-breaking stories. A year later, he became a full-fledged correspondent--the youngest person ever to win that position. His star continuing to rise, in l960, he was chosen over Walter Cronkite to host a new CBS public affairs series, Eyewitness to History. However, within four months he was replaced by Cronkite and was moved back to general assignment reporting. He was named chief of CBS' newly established Latin American bureau during the Kennedy administration, then chief West Coast correspondent in 1963. He also reported from various global hot spots in Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia including four tours of duty in Vietnam.

Contributing special reports to the documentary series, CBS Reports, and anchoring several public affairs specials in addition to his regular reporting duties, Kuralt began to tire of the grind and rivalry inherent in daily reporting. To remedy this, he devised his plan for "On the Road." After an initial negative reaction, he managed to win minimal support from network executives who granted him a three month trial.

Kuralt's three-month trial began in October 1967, and turned into a twenty-five-year odyssey. With cameraman Izzy Bleckman and soundman Larry Gianneschi, he logged more than one million miles in six motor homes while producing approximately 500 "On the Road" segments. Staying off the interstates and with no set itinerary, he -drew upon viewer letters, a state-by-state clipping file, and occasional references from public relations firms and local chambers of commerce to find unusual stories and unsung heroes. He had total freedom to discover America.

In the early 1970s, CBS considered reassigning Kuralt but he was ever reluctant to leave the road. He did serve as co-host with Sylvia Chase on the short-lived CBS News Adventure in 1970, and in May 1974, on Magazine, an afternoon news and features program. He also contributed pieces to another short-lived prime-time magazine show, Who's Who (1977). With Dan Rather and Barbara Howar concentrating on more famous high-profile newsmakers, in typical Kuralt fashion, he brought the Who's Who viewing audience such unlikely characters as the inventor of the shopping cart, champion boomerang throwers and an eighty-nine-year-old kite flyer.

With network assurance that he could continue On the Road, on 28 January 1979, Kuralt assumed the anchor position on the new CBS News Sunday Morning. Leisurely paced and low key in keeping with its early Sunday morning time slot, the ninety-minute show examined major headlines, provided a weekly in-depth cover story and a series of special reports on law, science, the environment, music, the arts, education and world affairs. In essence, with its eclectic view of America, Sunday Morning became a natural extension of "On the Road," providing an outlet for topics not regularly covered on other newscasts. Commented Milton Rhodes, president of the American Council for the Arts, in the June 1987 issue of Horizon: "Nowhere else on television does a journalist of Kuralt's reputation discuss the arts as regularly, as fully, and as intelligently as he."

For eighteen months, Kuralt combined his Sunday Morning activities with his ongoing "On the Road" reports, but in October 1980, he left the road to become anchor for the daily morning network news offering. Morning with Charles Kuralt would be criticized for being too slow-paced for the time period and, in mid-March 1982, Kuralt was replaced as anchor and sent back out on the road. Within two years, his new "On the Road" reports became the centerpiece of yet another short-lived prime time series, The American Parade.

Openly opposed to the fast paced, minimal information format of many news broadcasts, through the years Kuralt has chastised television executives for "hiring hair instead of brains." Quoted in TV Guide on 2 April 1994, Kuralt said, "I am ashamed that so many [anchorpersons] haven't any basis on which to make a news judgment, can't edit, can't write, and can't cover a story." As TV Guide's Neil Hickey reported, these are all things Kuralt can do and for which he has been honored with eleven Emmy Awards and three Peabody Awards.

Into the 1990s, Kuralt continued his Sunday Morning efforts and for an approximate five month period beginning in October 1990, co--hosted the nightly news summary, America Tonight, four nights a week with Leslie Stahl. Then on 3 April 1994, at the age of fifty-nine, he retired from CBS with a poetic good-bye to his audience at the conclusion of his Sunday Morning broadcast.

Described by Newsweek on 4 July l983, as "our beloved visiting uncle" and a "deToqueville in a motor home," Kuralt worked to awaken America to the beauty of its landscape, the depth and character of its people and to the qualities of excellence possible in television journalism. As a fitting tribute to a celebrated career, in April 1996, Kuralt was honored for his lasting contributions with the National Association of Broadcasters 1996 Distinguished Service Award.

-Joel Sternberg

 


Charles Kuralt
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research

CHARLES BISHOP KURALT. Born in Wilmington, North Carolina,U.S.A., 10 September 1934. Educated at University of North Carolina, B.A. 1955. Married: Suzanna Folsom Baird, 1962; children by previous marriage: Lisa Bowers White and Susan Guthery Bowers. Columnist and reporter for the Charlotte (North Carolina) News, 1955-57; writer, CBS News, 1957-59; correspondent, CBS News from 1959; first host of Eyewitness, 1960; named CBS News chief Latin America correspondent, 1961; chief west coast correspondent, 1963; CBS News New York, 1964; "On the Road" correspondent and host, from 1967; CBS Sunday Morning News correspondent, from 1979, host, from 1980. Recipient: Ernie Pyle Memorial Award, 1956; George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award, 1969, 1976, 1980; eleven Emmy Awards; International Radio-TV Society's Broadcaster of the Year, 1985; Dupont-Columbia Award; George Polk Award; National Association of Broadcasters Distinguished Service Award, 1996. Died, New York City, New York, 4 July 1997.

TELEVISION SERIES (writer, correspondent, host)

1957-59 CBS Evening News (writer)
1959-    CBS News (correspondent)
1960-61 Eyewitness to History (host)
1967-80 On the Road (correspondent/host)
1970      CBS News Adventure
1977      Who's Who
1979-94 CBS News Sunday Morning (correspondent,                                                          host)
1980-82 Morning With Charles Kuralt
1984     The American Parade
1990     America Tonight

PUBLICATIONS

To The Top of the World: The First Plaisted Polar Expedition. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston,1968.

Dateline America. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1979.

"Point of View: This New News Isn't Good News." Chicago Tribune, 2 May 1982.

"On the Road with Charles Kuralt." Reader's Digest (Pleasantville, New York), December 1983.

On the Road with Charles Kuralt. New York: Putnam, 1985.

Southerners: Portrait of a People. Nashville, Tennessee: Oxmoor House, 1986.

North Caroline Is My Home. Charlotte, North Carolina: East Woods Press, 1986.

"Backroads: Journeys Through the South to Places 'Like Nowhere Else.'" Chicago Tribune, 4 January 1987.

A Life on the Road. New York: Putnam, 1990.

"The Rocky Road to Popularity." The Saturday Evening Post (Indianapolis, Indiana), March 1991.

Growing Up in North Carolina. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: North Carolina Society, Inc., 1993

Charles Kuralt's America. New York: Putnam, 1995.

FURTHER READING

Alridge, Ron. "Charles Kuralt Has His Act Together, As Usual, and Is Taking It on the Road." Chicago Tribune, 3 March 1982.

Baker, Russell. "Gone with America." New York Times, 5 April 1994.

Carman, John. "CBS Sunday Morning: Free to Be Smart." Channels (New York), October, 1986.

Carter, Bill. "A Charles Kuralt Visit Turns into 15 Years." New York Times, 5 February 1994.

_______________. "Charles Kuralt Announces His Retirement." New York Times, 16 March 199.

Clark, Kenneth R. "Kuralt: 20 Years of Good News." Chicago Tribune, 17 June 1985.

Daley, Steve. "Keillor and Kuralt on the Prairie Beat." Chicago Tribune, 18 June 1987.

Ferretti, Fred. "A Gourmet at Large: Charles Kuralt, Television's Man on the Road." Gourmet (New York) April 1996.

Goodman, Walter. "Long Time on Less-Traveled Roads." New York Times, 4 May 1994.

Henry, William A. III. "'Kuralt' 0n the Road Again." Time (New York), 2 April 1984.

Hickey, Neil. "Charles Kuralt Hits the Road." TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 2 April 1994.

"A National Conscience Has Awakened." U.S. News & World Report (Washington, D.C.), 20 January 1986.

Phillips, John. "Travels with Charlie." Car and Driver (New York), July 1995.

Rathbun, Elizabeth. "Kuralt Returns to 'Road' Stop; Buys Minnesota Condo." Broadcasting and Cable (Washington, D.C.), 4 September 1995.

Rhodes, Milton. "The Arts, Sunday Morning, and Charles Kuralt." Horizon (Tuscaloosa, Alabama), June 1987.

Waters, Harry F. "Travels with Charlie and Bill." Newsweek (New York), 4 July 1983.