Downtown Los Angeles, circa 1983

Downtown Los Angeles, circa 1983
STMcC in downtown Los Angeles, circa 1983

Saturday, March 25, 2017

THE CHEMICAL AND ALCOHOL-FREE ANTIDOTE FOR DEPRESSION

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[NOTE: This review applies to the 1997 VHS tape boxed set. In 2010, 'On The Road' was released on DVD -- three separate 3-disc sets -- greatly expanded and re-formatted from the tapes described below. I most highly recommend it!]
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THE BEST OF 'ON THE ROAD WITH CHARLES KURALT'
Charles Kuralt
1997
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Charles Kuralt was the poet of small town America the way Vin Scully was the poet of Dodger Stadium. Relaxed, warm, folksy and deceptively insightful. He had a way of setting you at ease and somehow convincing you that the entire cosmos could be found in the minutia of this one fleeting moment. His beloved little program, 'ON THE ROAD' (1967-80) in which he traveled the backroads of America in a motor home to show us the real heart of the country was eagerly anticipated by countless people every weekend -- myself included.
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Once every couple of years, when I need a little lift, I get out my boxed set of THE BEST OF 'ON THE ROAD WITH CHARLES KURALT' and pop in one of the three 60 minute tapes. I invariably end up watching all three in one sitting. It's as if once I'm on the road, I can't quite convince myself to pull into a rest stop. Just a few days ago I created a new Amazon Listmania List called, 'EXPLORE THE U.S.A.' in which I included this set. And then I felt inspired to view the tapes again, and decided to review them since currently only two other people have.
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Tape 1 - THE AMERICAN HERITAGE: We start out at the beginning (always a good place to start) when Kuralt takes us to the roaring wind-swept dunes on Roanoke Island, North Carolina and the site that John White and the early English settlers of 1587 decided to call "Home." We see where they lived and ponder the great mystery of their disappearance.
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Then it's off to Independence Hall in Philadelphia where independence from England was first declared, and where the U.S. Constitution was later hammered out. Kuralt relives those tumultuous times and his sense of awe and admiration is evident. "There were great men in those days. Never from that time to this has so much greatness crowded onto the American stage", he informs us. I for one, agree with him. But then Kuralt nominates his choice for "greatest" and takes us to Monticello, the stately residence of Thomas Jefferson and shows us the very bed that Jefferson passed away on one Fourth of July!
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Then we go "on the road" again to the survey site of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. It's funny to hear Kuralt close the segment with the statement that "the French don't talk about it much". In The American Heritage we also get to visit Wyoming's "Register Cliff" on the Oregon Trail; the place of Custer's Last Stand at Little Bighorn, Montana; the old Spanish Missions of California; horseback cowboys in Texas; Dearborn, Michigan and the Henry Ford museum; Tuskegee University and the inspiring story of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver; and then to the annual Town Meeting in tiny Stamford, Vermont where pure Democracy is practiced.
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Kuralt closes tape one with the comment: "All these places that we have visited are waiting for you to visit them, too. You'll feel prouder of the country afterwards. We do."
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Most of these segments were originally filmed for television in the 1970's and so the picture clarity is not all that we've come to expect, and once or twice a trace of political correctness may seep in (after all, this was a CBS-sponsored program), but these are small prices to pay for such richness that can be enjoyed again and again.
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Tape 2 - SEASONS OF AMERICA: This time we go on the road with Charles Kuralt to experience the seasons. In Spring it's the "romance" of tapping maple syrup from trees in Vermont; harvesting daffodils in Virginia; at Appomattox Courthouse, where Lee surrendered to Grant, we find the blooming of the pink and white Dogwood's and learn that this is "the most American of trees being native to 40 of our states and native nowhere else on Earth"; then there's the indescribably heartwarming story of the old man of Surry County, Virginia and his 13 acre garden planted simply for the pleasure of others, and the surprising twist at the story's conclusion.
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In Summer we go tubing on a river in Wisconsin; we participate in the funny, but heartfelt 4th of July activities in the small towns of the Midwest, and in the Tom Sawyer Days celebration in Mark Twain's, Hannibal, Missouri. It just doesn't get more "American" than this.
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Autumn finds us in Pacific Grove, California for the mysterious butterfly migration; Colorado Springs for the pumpkin harvesting by countless school kids at the Venetucci Brothers farm; and of course, Kuralt takes us to New England for the "shower of scarlet, lemon and gold leaves" and wood pile constructing in preparation for Winter.
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In Winter, the horse, "Babe", takes us for a ride in an 1890 sleigh in Connecticut; in Miller's Mills, New York, we follow the honored tradition of generations past in cutting and storing pond ice for next July's ice cream social; and we finish the year with the inspiring story of the miraculous Juniper tree in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and its yearly Christmas message to everyone "on the road."
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Tape 3 - UNFORGETTABLE PEOPLE: Kuralt introduces us to many types of people here, like Bill Patch, who converted his old Nash Rambler to run on corn cobs -- gets 3 miles to the bushel. With the price of gas, I'm ready to buy one! But my favorites were from the Carolinas: Jethro Mann, an old Black man in Belmont, North Carolina, and Agatha Burgess, an old white woman in Buffalo, South Carolina. Mann, entirely at his own expense, restores old bicycles and loans them out daily to the poor kids in town so that they can all experience the pleasure of having a bike and being on the road. Burgess spends all day, every day, cooking in her small kitchen so that anybody who wants to, can have a hot home-cooked meal at a nominal price, and eat it in her own home. It's what she wants to do, and she tells us that she always gets what she wants. And then she sagely adds, "But I know what to want."
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And then there's the wonderful story of the formerly dirt-poor and cotton-picking Chandler family of Mississippi. There's parents Alex and Mary, and their nine children, all who helped one another to graduate from college. We join them for their Thanksgiving celebration and watch as they are all reduced to tears in thanking God for His goodness.
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THE BEST OF 'ON THE ROAD WITH CHARLES KURALT' is a great set. It should be enjoyed by any viewer, and I think it would make an excellent addition to a homeschooler's library. If you can watch all 3 of these tapes and never once feel the moisture of joy welling up a little in your eyes, then there is simply no warmth left in you. This doesn't just mean that you're dead, of course, but that you've likely been dead for a good long while.
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~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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13 comments:

  1. I don't remember his show, but I remember his books and his fantastic stories during the 1994 Olympics. Is the story about the guy who makes bricks by hand on there? That was in one of his books. Turns out the UN ended up sending the guy to Africa to teach them how to make them. The guy was a great storyteller.

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    1. Howdy, JOHN ~
      The brick maker was NOT included in the earlier VHS 3-tape set, but he IS included in SET #1 of the DVD collection.

      I never watch the Olympics, so I didn't know Charles Kuralt had a feature in 1994. And although I have known there were 'On The Road With Charles Kuralt' books published, I've never read one.

      It's funny that knowing 'On The Road' in the only format I do -- with images, with Kuralt narrating and interviewing people -- I can't even imagine the appeal of it on the written page.

      It was the images, and Kuralt's voice that really captivated me. I even loved the theme song and shots of the open road and landscapes gliding by outside his motor home as they headed for the next destination.

      Most Millennials couldn't care less, but I think anyone else -- you know, any "real" person -- would LOVE the DVD set. In fact, if someone from another country who'd never been to America were to ask me "What is America?" (or more accurately, "What WAS America?") I literally can't think of a single answer that would be better than just sending them the three 3-disc DVD sets of 'On The Road With Charles Kuralt'. THAT was America in all of its simple and grand and unique greatness.

      The show on TV almost always ended with 30-60 seconds of just a beautiful shot with no music and no narration. Like, perhaps a shot of a corn field gently swaying in a Kansas breeze, or perhaps dogwood trees in bloom in Kentucky with the soft chime of a distant church bell somewhere.

      It was such a peaceful way to end each show. Can you imagine some mega-media sponsor today allowing a show to end with a minute of silence -- no yakking, no credits rolling, no corporate logo showing? Just a single beautiful scene to contemplate? Times have surely changed.

      ~ Stephen
      Check out my new blog @
      (Link:] Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews...

      Delete
    2. The '94 Olympics were the last ones CBS broadcast, and although I normally couldn't give a rat's behind about the Olympics (especially since the IOC made the terrible mistake of granting the '96 games to Atlanta) there was the whole Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding kerfluffle that made at least the women's figure skating interesting to watch.

      Anyway, Charles Kuralt was part of the team that went to Lillehammer, Norway for those games, and his responsibility was to do features on the town and the country, much as he did "on the road" for CBS for years. One story he did was about the Telemark skiers, who destroyed a German "heavy water" plant during WWII. He applied his superb storytelling skills to tell the story of a group of true patriots, the Norwegian Resistance, doing their part to help the Allied war effort. I wonder if it's on YouTube...?

      The books worked, I think, because I could hear him (in my mind) telling the stories. He was basically "talking on paper." Kuralt was a reporter: he told the story without any of the bias that's become too prevalent in news today. The difference was that he was given latitude as to what the stories were that he covered, and how he covered them. He generally avoided controversial topics, instead giving priority to "human interest" stories, ones that made you feel good about being alive. The brickmaker story was a perfect example: here was a man who had little money, and when he wanted to build something he had to make his own bricks. Kuralt does a story about him, which catches the eye of someone at the State Department, and soon the man is teaching others who had little money how to make bricks for their construction projects. One election year, he did the story of a small town in New Hampshire that is the first in the nation to open its poll and the first to count its votes, which are all in about an hour later. Sounds like a dumb story, but Kuralt made it interesting and made you feel good that this small town took the job of electing officials seriously.

      The brief moments you describe, where the camera is focusing on a peaceful scene, just after he says, "Charles Kuralt, CBS News," were magnificent. No, you won't see them anymore; the Powers That Be have deemed them unnecessary and a waste of valuable air time, like the Emergency Alert System....

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    3. JOHN ~
      Yeah, I liked how Kuralt focused on small, non-controversial stories and somehow made them seem super-interesting.

      I couldn't count the number of times he'd start a story about some little nothing thing in a small town that was barely even a dot on the map and I'd think, "Oh, this doesn't interest me." But by the end, I had been completely drawn into it and was so pleased I'd seen it.

      I watched one yesterday about some little coffee shop in a tiny town somewhere, and everyone who drinks 100 cups of coffee gets their name painted on their own coffee cup that sits in it's own cubbyhole behind the counter. On the surface, this just sounds like a dumb thing to waste time and film on, but at the end I was thinking it was such a cool human interest story.

      It was simple entertainment but often very informative. God only knows how many little facts are floating around in my brain thanks to 'On The Road With Charles Kuralt'.

      ~ D-FensDogG
      Check out my new blog @
      (Link:] Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews...

      Delete
  2. I don't own the DVDs but should buy them. We used to watch these shows when they first aired, and the family really enjoyed them.

    His vignettes illustrated a part of America that I won't say is gone, but is ALMOST gone. It certainly is hard to find these days. We don't see any of it at our home in Washington State, but we do see some when we are at our other place in Iowa.

    Kuralt knew what to look for and how to show just what would captivate the nostalgia in all of us.

    I read one of his books, and it was wonderful... though different. In the book, obviously, it was not an "interview." He described the people and places, as perhaps he would have done at the dinner table to friends. It was lacking his magnificent voice, but the book was charming, nonetheless. I loved Charles Kuralt in all his endeavors.

    As an aside, I also LOVE the Bob & Ray send-ups of Kuralt: "Down the Byways with Farley Garrard." ("Today Farley has parked his deluxe motorhome in Langley, Kentucky, for another of his home-spun reports..." - Best of, Vol. 1, disc 4)!!!

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    1. SHEBOYGANBROTHER ~
      I'm not sure if any of those Farley Garrard skits are on the cassettes you sent me. I'll have to check.

      But what's interesting -- and I was thinking this BEFORE you even commented here -- is how some OTHER Bob & Ray skits have reminded me of Charles Kuralt stories.

      I'm just making this up, but Bob & Ray would do skits where, for example, they're talking to the country's Over-70 Senior Citizen bubble gum bubble-blowing champion, or maybe the #1 competitor in the Illinois Blind Dart Player's Association -- bizarre, totally fabricated stuffs like that -- and they'd remind me of some of the interesting characters that Kuralt would find and interview in tiny towns.

      So, yeah, I had already made my own Bob & Ray / Charles Kuralt connection even without knowing (or remembering) the Farley Garrard character.

      But gotta go look for that now.

      ~ D-FensDogG
      Check out my new blog @
      (Link:] Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews...

      Delete
    2. Sixgun McItchyfingerMarch 27, 2017 at 9:30 AM

      I'm sure you have some of those skits. Probably four of them. Look for "Down the Byways." They always make me smile.

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    3. Sixgun McItchyfingerMarch 27, 2017 at 9:34 AM

      And another one that really reminds me of Kuralt is Vol. 2 disc 4: the second track, "Wally Ballou." In honor of National Peanut Week he interviews a fellow pushing a peanut across the US with this nose. Except he uses fake noses to save wear and tear on his own nose. Man, that one cracks me up!!

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    4. Ha! Yeah, "Down The Byways" definitely sounds familiar. I will check this weekend. Heck, I'm ready for good dose of B&R anyway!

      ~ D-FensDogG
      'Loyal American Underground'

      Delete
  3. I'm not sure if it was an actual show that I saw, or if our local news (or was it national news.. I forget) that did regular segments of On The Road.

    When I lived in Sun Valley, Idaho, I used to take the hour drive further up into the mountains and find a lake or overlook and just spend hours and hours taking in the beauty. I called it my vacation from the vacationers. Other times, I'd drive an hour the other direction and stay the night in a hotel.

    When I moved to oregon, there was so much to see and do. I loved that I had high desert in one direction, mountains in two directions, and the ocean about an hour away. There is nothing like nature's beauty that really makes one grateful for all of their blessings.

    Kind of disappointed in Denver, though. I thought there would be more trees and mountains.

    ~Mary
    Jingle Jangle Jungle

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    1. MARY! MARY!!...
      What you said reminded me of when I lived in Los Angeles. Same sort of extremely varied terrain just one-hour's drive in different directions.

      From downtown, I could drive West and run right into the Pacific Ocean. I could go North and an hour later be in the woods among the tall pines, or go an hour East and be in the desert with cacti and lizards.

      Not many places offer that much varied landscape all within a one-hour's drive in different directions.

      Wish I could turn back the clock to the 1960s and '70s and live in the L.A. area again.

      ~ D-FensDogG
      Check out my new blog @
      (Link:] Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews...

      Delete
  4. I didn't realize that they had compiled many of Kuralt's episodes into a set like this, but it is a natural. I used to enjoy seeing his segments when I'd catch them on television since I spent so much time on the road. I'll have to watch for the DVD set.

    Years ago as a Christmas present someone gave me a Charles Kuralt book that was also based on his show. I probably read that book 20 or 30 years ago--I'll have to be watching my books to see if I run across it again. It was a fast easy read much like watching those travel segments--entertaining and easily digested.


    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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    1. >>... I didn't realize that they had compiled many of Kuralt's episodes into a set like this

      See, that's why I'm here doing this!
      :o)

      ~ D-FensDogG
      Check out my new blog @
      (Link:] Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews...

      Delete

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