Monday, July 20, 2009

Jill Krementz Remembers Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite on the cover of Life, November 1980. Photographed by Jill Krementz.
The Way it Was
Walter Cronkite

It is fitting that Walter Cronkite’s death coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing. When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, the newsman could not contain his joy. His comment, “Oh, boy!” said it all.

He consoled a nation grieving over the senseless deaths of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. His field reporting from South Vietnam, and subsequent uncharacteristic on-air editorializing, persuaded President Johnson that our government was waging an insupportable war. And during his tenure as anchorman for CBS Evening News he covered every major story from the mess in the Middle East to the scandal of Watergate.

He dined with heads of state and played tennis with Andy Rooney.

He was a man who loved his family. He was married to Betsy Cronkite, a former editor of the Kansas City Journal Post, for 64 years. She died of cancer in 2005. They had three children, Chip, Nancy and Kathy who survive them. In recent years his loving companion was Joanna Simon.

We’ll miss the man who wanted to be the first civilian to go to the moon and can only wish him Godspeed — wherever he’s headed.
Arthur Ashe greets Cronkite at what was called The 4th Annual United Negro College Fund-Arthur Ashe Tennis Benefit. It was held at Madison Square Garden and the CBS anchorman was one of the celebrity players competing that day.
I photographed Walter Cronkite — mostly the private side of him — for many years. In the 70s, I had proposed to Life magazine a cover story on him, pegged to his last political convention as an anchorman for CBS.
Walter Cronkite began each day sitting in the backyard reading the morning paper with the family cat, Dancer, on a leash.
In the dressing room of his Manhattan town house, Cronkite gets ready for work.
Breakfast with Betsy.
Pre-game huddle with colleague, Andy Rooney, at the CBS office by the water cooler.
Mid-morning break — playing a regularly scheduled tennis match with Andy Rooney.
Post game conference in the locker room.
Rushing off to lunch .... the anchorman changes his socks in the back of a taxi.
Lunching with David Frost.
Preparing for the evening newscast.
Putting on his jacket two minutes before airtime.
With longtime producer, Sandy Socolow.

Weekends ...
Sailing on the Wyntje (his 48-foot sailboat) with daughter Nancy, during a weekend cruise.
In the cabin of his ketch, he discusses a problem in navigation.
Arriving in Chesapeake Bay, he is greeted by his close friend, James Michener. Michener was celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary.

Off to Washington, D.C. to receive an honorary doctorate ...
In Laguardia Airport, before boarding a plane for Washington.
Wearing an academic gown, he gets a kiss from his 88-year-old mother, Helen, after receiving an honorary doctorate from American University in Washington, D.C.
Proud mother and son.
Cronkite with Walter Mondale.

Walter Cronkite anchors his last political convention ...
Walter Cronkite anchored his last convention from his booth above the Democratic doings at Madison Square Garden. Just before he signed off, his network surprised him with vintage black and white footage from his 1952 convention coverage.
Walter with his family, l. to r.: daughter Kathy and her husband, Bill Ikard, son, Chip Cronkite, and wife, Betsy.
Walter and Betsy.

In the 80s, I returned with my cameras — this time on assignment for People. The heading for the story: Five Years After Dropping Anchor, Walter Cronkite Is Not Quite Ready to Sail Quietly Into The Sunset.
"No, No, Walter. That's Not The Way It Is" was the title of the University of Texas roast honoring Cronkite. It was held at the Mayflower Hotel on May 6th, 1986 in Washington, D.C. Among those honoring him were Texans Liz Smith and Joe Armstrong (left) and Dinah Shore (right).
Composer Marvin Hamlisch serenading.
And with his close friend, Beverly Sills.
While in Washington, the still-aspiring astronaut couldn't resist a visit to the Air & Space Museum.

At home at Martha's Vineyard ...
Cronkite working in his upstairs' study in Martha's Vineyard, July 16, 1986.
Walter Cronkite on stairway in Martha's Vineyard home under a poster which was given to him when he left CBS. If anybody says anything about him, his mother, Helen, now in her 90s (in this photo), says threateningly, "They'll have me to answer to."
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.