Friday, February 21, 2014

On the Road one day in 1955

Little did I realize that my very first day at the University of North Carolina would be the most memorable of the entire four years I spent there. The friend who rode up with me to Chapel Hill that morning in April of 1955 insisted that I meet, and have coffee with him and a buddy he had arranged to meet at a place called Danziegers Old World Restaurant.

His friend turned out not to be a typical college student and the coffee was different from any I had ever seen; there was a blob of whipped cream floating on top. I later learned it was called
Viennese Coffee.

The friend was Charles Kuralt.

I knew who he was, of course, because of his summer job as a fill in announcer on WBT. (What an accomplishment that was for a teenager. Many older and more experienced men would have given almost anything to have been hired by that powerhouse of a radio station, including David Brinkley (who was working for the Associated Press in Charlotte at that time and was turned down by WBT "because he didn't have a radio voice.")

A picture of Kuralt at the Daily Tar Heel desk that I took in April of 1955
At the time we met, Kuralt was editor of THE DAILY TAR HEEL the student newspaper at Carolina,
and said "yes" when I asked if he would consider me for a reporter's job on the paper.  It was a non-paying job (only the Editor was a paid position) and as I found out later he had a heck of a time getting people to work as reporters.  During the time I worked there, I don't believe we ever had more than 3 or 4 staff members.

 The only job I know of that  Kuralt wanted, and didn't get, was President of the 1951
Student Council at Central High School.  Slug Claiborne won that election.

Looking through my sister Kathryn's 1951 Snips and Cuts it appears to me that as talented as Kuralt was, he apparently wasn't involved in very many high school activities that year.  He wasn't on the Rambler staff or the yearbook staff nor did he make the honor society.

Sory Guthery 1951
Perhaps the reason can be found in a mention he got in the "Class Prophecy" written that year by Jim Nance:

Charlie's one high school job that I found for his senior year was "Class Historian"

 The next time he ran for election for something was his junior year at the University of North Carolina. In his autobiography, A LIFE ON THE ROAD he writes,

 "I had been studying history and working at The Daily Tarheel, the student newspaper. I printed up some posters and ran for editor on a pro integration platform (the state's schools were still segregated then, including the University.) On election day, I beat the sports editor for the job by a handful of votes.

The first thing I did was call my old high school girlfriend, Sory Guthery on the telephone. She was in school at Greensboro, down the road.

"I won?" I said.
"Great," she said.
"The job pays thirty dollars a week," I said.
"So that's enough to live on.  Let's get married!"

We were married in Charlotte in August in a big church wedding. She was twenty, and I was almost twenty myself.

We moved into a cabin, a former tenant House, beside a cornfield a few miles out of Chapel Hill on the road to Raleigh.  Our senior year I remember as pure joy. I wrote my editorials in the afternoons and at night Sory stood over the composing stone with me to watch the editorial page take shape, always with two or three sleepy members of the newspaper staff.."

I'm proud to say that on many occasions I was one of those sleepy staff members.

"The newspaper took up so much of my time, I started dropping courses. By the time the Spring quarter arrived, I had dropped them all. I was editor of the student newspaper... but nobody in the administration building seemed to notice...I was no longer a student.  Graduation proceeded without me. I didn't care. I had found my career."

I took over the lease of that rustic cabin after the Kuralts left and returned to Charlotte.  He continued his journalism with the Charlotte News, at $50 a week. She went to work for a bank for $51 a week.

 Alfred Lord Tennyson said, "I am a part of all that I have met.

I'm not sure exactly what Tennyson meant by that, but unfortunately none of  Kuralt's massive talent magically rubbed off on me; but I sure as Hell enjoyed knowing ...perhaps the greatest storyteller Television ever had... and feel richer because of it.

And shamelessly brag about it every chance I get.

Pardon me while I have a cup of coffee...with whipped cream on top.