Transcript:

Speaker I really feel like you’re the one who really can talk about it, is that you share a love for sailing as your father and I wondered if you could tell me what is about sailing that why is that your father has such a sailing passion?

Speaker Well, I don’t know if maybe growing up landlocked in the Midwest. Maybe part of his wander lost and wanting to see the world and why to be in control of his exploring instincts. Maybe his Walter Mitty. Syndrome that lets him imagine that you say explorer, maybe the limitless possibilities when you see the horizon and think that you can navigate your way over it.

Speaker Now you sometimes understand that you sail with your son and and your father. Tell me a little bit about some of the trips that you shared together as a family. And just tell me a little bit about what’s so special. Those occasions, do you see a different person when he’s sailing? And also, I’m cutting out my. So if you could take the essence of the question in your answer, that would be helpful.

Speaker While sailing is an adventure and. Everyone loves an adventure and boys love to have adventures with their fathers and their grandfathers. I’ve sailed just once or twice with my dad’s dad was back then filling up the pipes below deck for the for my dad who was steering the storm.

Speaker So the most exciting bit of it.

Speaker But with my young son, we had a difficult passage in two way into a main port.

Speaker And when you when you arrive, you feel like you’ve accomplished something and beaten a bigger foe.

Speaker And you see a different side of your father. You see different lands on his arm. You seem more relaxed. Free.

Speaker He might be more relaxed on the on the boat, but he’s always so rude. Well, there’s not too much change. No, he he enjoys the navigation, sailing and being able to chart his way and never by the stars, but by the charts.

Speaker And the knowing what. What do we look for in estimating his tides and winds?

Speaker Now we see him. I grew up with watching Walter Cronkite, part of my history, but what I saw was a very serious, very serious man. And I understand that that’s one view of him. But there’s a whole other side of him. You mentioned Walter Mitty kind of quality. Do you think you could talk about that? Tell me about the southern side that we as viewers don’t get to see.

Speaker Well, I enjoyed my father’s not always so serious. He enjoys his birthday parties and enjoys opening a presence and. And having a fuss made enjoys stories. And always so was was commanding at telling them. I had the chance to hear several stories dozens of times and always enjoyed the of those slight variations. Not always. But I got to enjoy the the variations and the passion each time, not always series stories. He and my mother were good jokesters, not practical jokes but.

Speaker But the puns and and all the lyrics and and so much dancing around the kitchen and.

Speaker And when you as a kid watching that, what what were your feelings? What did how was your reaction to seeing your parents dancing around them? I mean, was up just the atmosphere of the family?

Speaker Well, yes. I didn’t see.

Speaker I didn’t compare my folks to other folks. I was happy to see them happy, I suppose, but I assume that that’s what all parents were laughing and dancing. They went out a lot, but I always appreciated. After the fact, I appreciated that they made time for dinner, dinner at home.

Speaker It seemed like almost every night I would often go with my mother to pick my dad up after work, and he would come home for a quick dinner. And then they would go out to.

Speaker So he was your mother, sounds like she was an extraordinary woman. I never. I’m sorry I never got to meet her. But. What what qualities I mean, how do you explain the glue that kept this marriage going for so, so many years when people like divorcing left and right? I mean, it was it seemed like a remarkable marriage. Can you talk a little bit about what what was this is the glue that you think kept that marriage together?

Speaker No, I can’t.

Speaker I don’t know why they were married for so long and other people were not.

Speaker They went my folks went through a lot together and after decades and wars and separations and adventures.

Speaker They kept these same. Humorous appreciation for each other.

Speaker They would.

Speaker My mother was known as the funny one. But my father was amusing to his book. He was, I think, a little taken aback when I was surprised at how funny it was. He thought I should have known how funny he was. But my mother made more of the jokes. And that’s always, I think, appealing in a in a spouse to have somebody who can cheer you up and stick around.

Speaker It sounded like she was. I know she started off as a reporter, but that sense of adventure. She seems that once have grown up. She seems to have gone with your father on a lot of his trips. She had a real sense of adventure. Can you talk about that aspect of your mother?

Speaker My mother loved to to to to my mother, love to to be along on all the adventures that she could. She was of before the kids. She was sitting next to him at the Nuremberg trial. And she was with him. And wherever wherever she could be, they appreciated being together.

Speaker So small kids, we would sometimes tag along and and. And after we were grown, she got to travel more with him. They would go to Vienna every year. New Year’s and do a broadcast from their.

Speaker And you get to ever travel when you were younger, before you fashionable. When you were a child, did you travel with your father on some of his stories?

Speaker Not the stories so much.

Speaker I went down to the LBJ ranch once as part of a series of interviews he did after the Johnson retired and rode around the ranch with LBJ. That was exciting. We went on some some junkets with with the Pan Am group that included James Michener and Art Buchwald and Bob Constantine, Neil Morgan and their spouses. Three of those trips a couple of weeks each. But there were no stories. There were no news stories that he was doing at the time. A couple of space launches I went down to. And as a small kid, those rockets seem even bigger. And I guess they were bigger than today’s rockets to the space trips were the most exciting for a kid.

Speaker Did you share your interest in space? Is your father growing up as a boy?

Speaker Yeah. Yeah, sure. I love the I love the space travel stories. He would come home with large binders full of homework that he had to learn to prepare for his hours and hours on camera for those early space shots. And I was impressed by his homework. I was impressed by his studying that he did and his his attention to detail. And it was so exciting story and certainly something that nobody had ever done before that he was able to get very close to.

Speaker And do you have a memory of a story or something that you experienced with your father was very special to you? I mean, something that, you know, that gives the flavor of the relationship that you had with your father?

Speaker No, no, no big story.

Speaker I we we went to a Yankee game once and before we got in, we happened to meet on the subway platform, a Medal of Honor winner who was a very impressive guy, naturally, who had thrown himself on a hanger grenade that avoided killing him is why he ended up there on the subway platform. But he was this this a true hero being impressed by my dad. Which impressed me.

Speaker Good. Now, tell me a little bit about after. Tell me about after your father left. He never left CBS, but he left being aquifer’s and then went off to do a lot of independent documentaries. Tell me about the company that you both were working together and how was that like working with your father?

Speaker Making films was wonderful to finally work with my dad. We made 20 hours or so of television for Discovery Channel. Mostly. And mostly because of a relationship that my dad had with John Hendricks. Over five years, we worked together with Sandy Socolow. Producing and explaining my dad’s work habits to a song. He was. He was as professional as they as they said he was. And it came in to a script very quickly knowing what was right and wrong with it and had a he and Sokolow both had a way of figuring out what the story was going to be two months ahead of time.

Speaker It was a tough task. I mean, did he expect. Do you feel like he had high standards for himself? Did you feel like that’s communicated? He expect very high standards.

Speaker Yes. Yes. We had no trouble meeting those standards, though. There were no. No blow up. Sweet. We did we did do our homework. We prepared and taped everything down and tried not to.

Speaker Have anything go wrong and everything worked, worked very well.

Speaker Now, you did you when your father was on the air, did you? There’s a story your sister tells and she says, you know, ask the others about it. She says in her book, you know, your mom, which trips you all in front of the TV to watch the nightly news do that, or is that in your memory that we would all sit down and watch the nightly news?

Speaker Yes, we did. We watched it every night, the nightly news. We did watch the news as a family. And when I would complain afterwards about inaccuracy, you say I saw for factual issues, I had issues of tone or emphasis, which she was very patient about, I thought.

Speaker That’s great. So you would confront him, you would you would give him a little critique?

Speaker I would. To try to work. Yes. Get involved, buy a pipe by giving him a critique and giving my dad. And he was. He was. What he had here. He allowed it. He encouraged it.

Speaker And that didn’t seem to complain about.

Speaker Do you have any memories of specific stories that really you were you were moved by or surprised by wars? Do you have any recollections of specific stories that he needs, newscast that really affected you?

Speaker Newscasts that affected me?

Speaker No, no, no. The JFK was I was too young for the space casts were were more a admiration of his of his durability than. Than anything was wonderful to see him excited on screen. But I wasn’t moved. Scared. I don’t remember being scared either when he went to Vietnam. Three times, I guess, when I was a kid, even though there were some CBS producers who were wounded and then wounded again in the hospital, I never thought my dad was in any danger, although I read later that he knew he was. Were were two before my time.

Speaker But yes, in World War Two, General Patton told them to put on his helmet.

Speaker He went up in the glider. All these stories that I knew about, mostly from the book.

Speaker I suppose like most people, he didn’t tell a lot of those stories around the dinner table.

Speaker Well, what what about your. Were you old enough to remember your grandparents?

Speaker Well, a little. My dad’s mother lived to be 101 and she was around a lot. And I had a lovely gal and a pistol. And we spent the summer. She did this a fair amount of babysitting for me.

Speaker And we played the Frisbee until she met my high school friends and met my first young child and my wife.

Speaker And did you. Did you ever go back with your dad to where he grew up?

Speaker Not much. We didn’t make it back to Kansas City or St. Joe. Often there was nobody left in St. Joseph for us to visit. And Kansas City, we only made it to a couple of times. And the only time with my dad was last year when we buried my mom, drove around, looked at all of his old spots.

Speaker Did you. Did he tell you some stories about those places that anything that you remember that couple of is good buddies from from growing up?

Speaker We came east and would visit us here.

Speaker The Bar Heights particularly, who for some reason went along on their honeymoon.

Speaker Well, I don’t I don’t I didn’t get the whole story there. Some accident or other. Oh, yeah. No bar. It would be a good interview to perhaps go back to Kansas City. So.

Speaker I realized my dad was Sir Walter Cronkite. He was on the television every night. And the other kids didn’t have their fathers on television every night. So I I knew that he had a different kind of a job. I guess a job where people saw him and could and could. Admire or complain about him as they started to do the in the Nixon years. And I suppose that’s when he started to then push back a little bit against the criticism of the press. And. And started this. Speak out, particularly against the Agnew press attacks. The vice president, who was the point man for blaming the administration’s troubles on the press. My father chose to to say that that’s inappropriate and that you remember that.

Speaker I remember that at the time. Did he bring.

Speaker Did he bring things that he was concerned about? Did he talk with the family about some of the things that were like this?

Speaker You know, he was he kept it close to the faster away from the home. He didn’t come home and pose, you know, his work or politics on us. He fielded questions, though, in the Watergate years when I was a young teenager. And we were talking about it at school. I would ask him questions or bounce theories off him, but I didn’t feel that it was my place to bring his theories back to my school mates.

Speaker So you all kept in a sense, they continued basically his trying to keep them very straight. And you all sort of had an understanding on yourself that you needed to be preserved, that sort of discretion.

Speaker Yes, I think we did preserve a discretion. But I also think that he didn’t he he he preserve a discretion himself. I don’t think he.

Speaker Vented. I don’t think he came down on one side of the other. In his own mind, while he was while he was doing it, I think I understood what he explained later as a kind of an emergency worker mentality to the job at hand that you get your news, that you let your technique take over or you’re you’re training to cover the story and present the facts.

Speaker And on your in your off time, you you think about it and worry about it. And yes, I think we all tried to keep a. Discretion.

Speaker And I think maybe we all felt was more interesting, the technique of it and the craft of telling the story than. Then talking amongst ourselves about who’s right and who’s wrong.

Speaker Now, what did you feel like you learned from him? I mean, working with him and being interested in making documentaries as you made a number of them.

Speaker What what do you feel is the thing that you learned most from him?

Speaker Well, I think what I learned the most to serve is the. I think what I learned the most is, is the ABC is of storytelling, as he always said, the most clear way to tell the story would would be the quickest and would get the most people in on the on the on the joke or whatever it was. No.

Speaker In on the story and to. Play it straight.

Speaker Did you always have an interest in this kind of work or is this something that is something that developed later on?

Speaker Oh, well, no. I always had a interest in in storytelling or writing a story, crafting. Anyway, my my Wall Street friend laughed when I told him that my parents always told us to be writers who know how to write because then we could always get work and always have a job.

Speaker He thought that was hilarious, that anyone would tell their children such a thing. Instead of telling them how to get a real job and make some money.

Speaker That’s funny, because that’s what I tell my to your Wall Street person thinks that that’s a strange thing to tell you.

Speaker Yes, he does. Yeah, he would. He would. He would laugh at the both of us.

Speaker OK. That’s very interesting.

Speaker Did you feel that in a sense your father was? A bit more of a family man than a public man. I mean, seems like he made certain choices in his life to be available more to the family from the outside. Do you think that’s true or not?

Speaker No. It like he. Had a great mix. You seemed like he was out, out and out and about. And yet he came home and had a quick dinner and checked in and and then. And then they they bounced out to the next function.

Speaker Your sister said that he’s very competitive. Is that true? I mean, your mother made a comment, which I thought was very interesting. She said Walter is not ambitious, but he is competitive.

Speaker My mother your mother said that to him. Can you give me some insight as to why she said no?

Speaker No, I don’t understand that. And I don’t. Understand or gauge his competitiveness or ambition. He he seemed like he was born to do what he. Does.

Speaker Yes. I like that.

Speaker Yeah. No, I don’t. I don’t see him as ambitious or competitive. We were we we played the games and. And but he was not who he was. He didn’t knock the board over when he lost. I don’t remember him losing, but it wasn’t it wasn’t a.

Speaker A while the competitive person around the house, we had we had games we played, but they seemed all very civil.

Speaker But in his in his career, then I don’t see that he that he that he clawed his way to the top at all. He seemed like he was born to do what he ended up doing, that he built his career from the ground up, from newspapers to radio to television, and dabbled in the Internet.

Speaker And and is a new spin, as he always wanted to be.

Speaker Well, I guess the thing is, is that he he would would he sort of let’s say if you were playing a board game, he’d say, no, no, he’s not the kind of competitive, you know, smashing people around.

Speaker But he you know, he doesn’t give people an easy break here.

Speaker Yeah, no, we played that to to win the board games. We’re not we’re not gimmies.

Speaker And the and the sailing on his on his slow sailboats, he would and still does try to catch up to the other yachts and and and pass them and and trim his sails so he does a little bit better with the wind.

Speaker He has to tell me the name of the sailboat name come from the name of his sailboat.

Speaker So those first sailboats were named after me, the first two sailboats. But all of his sailboats have have been named after to Tunis, the first woman to marry a Cronkite in the New Amsterdam colony in the New World. He says, although we haven’t actually traced the family back to that Cronkite, the idea is to name the boat after after the first woman to marry Cronkite in the new world and so dedicated to all the women who’ve made Cronkite men happy.

Speaker And tell me a little bit about the man. What is it?

Speaker Well, it’s kind of German, but this they say it’s Dutch because of the the world wars. You know, they kind of moved from the German origins to the Dutch. But it is a German and Dutch.

Speaker Can you give me the name?

Speaker Because that is so. So they were kind of out of the house by the time I was an only child. Yes. Yeah.

Speaker So I got to go on maybe more trips to. That would have been more difficult to take to battling girls than one sweet boy.

Speaker So the name Cronkite seems mostly German. But during the World Wars, they claimed that it was more Dutch than German.

Speaker It’s it’s a Dutch and German, but. More German.

Speaker Who do you feel like you take after? Do you feel like you want to be your parents?

Speaker Oh, well, no, I. My my mother’s chokes are something to emulate. And my father had said career. You know, I could I could work on emulating too, although it’s maybe a little late. I’m sure there’s still time though.

Speaker Definitely.

Speaker If you were to describe your father to someone who had never met him, just someone from another planet, and you have to describe Walter Cronkite, how would you describe.

Speaker I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

Speaker I don’t know. So it’s a it’s a stumper and I can’t get started on it. I don’t think we’d have to compare him to other people. He’s the only father I ever knew.

Speaker What insights do you have about how your mother handled the hectic pace of of her father’s fame and the hectic pace of his life and how that was going on? How how did she handle that?

Speaker Well, I don’t know how my mother handled it or.

Speaker Oh, the one insight into my mother’s. Handling of her. Of fame. I I heard my mother say once that. That if you don’t know what to say in a group, you start asking somebody about themselves. Get them to start talking. Which might be a clue to how well my mother handled the whirlwind of fame. She found her self in New York.

Speaker And then using her portrayal instincts. She was able to ask good questions of her, of her tablemates. And and enjoy the process of finding out about the people she was meeting.

Speaker Well, that seems to be a quality that I’ve heard from people. Your parents didn’t seem to be society’s. Excited about celebrities and fame and all that, they somehow seem to really be very accessible. Very accessible people, very, very gracious.

Speaker Mm hmm.

Speaker Well, yeah, they were my folks, both the Midwesterners.

Speaker Not that there’s anything particularly grand about the Midwestern. But maybe it’s because they’re not particularly grand. That they can enjoy people for who they are and not their fame.

Speaker What do you love best?

Speaker Well, I love his love of us and his grand kids and his attention that he pays to us. Everyone loves to be loved.

Speaker And he will say he had good, good father growing up, attentive and interested in what we were doing and shouldn’t doing things with us.

Speaker That’s great. Do you think your your father’s career affected your own decision about. Yeah.

Speaker I suppose it might have. It looked good.

Speaker He made it look like fun, and I enjoy doing it. Do with my. I enjoyed the career that he picked for himself and trying to emulate it a little bit isn’t as fun as you looking at it from a distance.

Speaker This fun.

Speaker Oh yes. Feel the working bits are are great.

Speaker Can you. Can you tell me a little bit about, you know, again, going back to this final image that most people have of your father? Not that he was, in a sense, a he. You know, it’s interesting conducting orchestras. There’s a whole side to him that is, you know, sort of the blood bill Huffer. I mean, can you talk a little bit about that side of your father? What do you think that was all about? His interest in music and.

Speaker Well, I think he’s interested in music and is I think his interest in music is an interest in performing. I think he likes to be on a stage and. And commanding attention, he says he had a brief fling with the idea of the priest hood or the or the ministry hood or whatever it was in his case, which might have been the same kind of.

Speaker Desire to. Stand in front of a bunch of people and command their attention. And teach them something, maybe entertain them.

Speaker Would you describe your father as a spiritual person?

Speaker No, not that I’ve seen. I haven’t seen the spiritual side of him.

Speaker But my sister say she is just as she described, you know, she described sailing, you know what sail that somehow that was she used the word spiritual thing. So I asked. Well, yes. She said, So you’re both in agreement?

Speaker Yeah. No, he he he likes the world.

Speaker And I’m finding out more about what’s going on instead of.

Speaker I guess my feeling is that the one thing looking at the films, watching him and broadcasting and also in the other films that you produced, I I felt like there was a quality about him that sort of kept thinking the word wonder. There seems to be an aspect of wonder about somehow about who he is or how he is. I wonder, is that a word that you would I mean, is there. Can you help me with this? What is a fine line from him?

Speaker Well, I don’t know what you’re feeling from him, but. But a sense of wonder or a sense of excitement about the world and how it works.

Speaker Does seem to come out.

Speaker He truly does want to find out what’s going on and that that shows in his in his questions and his passion for the truth.

Speaker What’s unusual is a man who has lived through so much of the 20th century. I mean, to, you know, World War II, Vietnam reported on the civil rights movement. I mean, Watergate, all these this term, this tumultuous time, the Dust Bowl, Dust Bowl. And yet he doesn’t feel like he’s pessimistic or he has that kind of bitterness about the world. I just wondered if you could talk about that.

Speaker Right.

Speaker Well, in the in the 60s, when I was toying with becoming pessimistic as a young boy, he he would buck me up. Instead of instead of denying that that impulse, he would explain that the establishment, while flawed, is there to be fixed, not to be smashed.

Speaker Respect for.

Speaker Of for the for the unknowns, for the wonder of fourth of what can be fixed. It’s a it’s a big.

Speaker Oh. World out there. And there’s.

Speaker There are things wrong. But the more you find out about it, the more you realize you can, you can fix them. He’s a he has seemed to become a little bit more pessimistic in the last few years. Which might be because he doesn’t see a as active a role for himself in fixing them.

Speaker Well, that’s since you said he’s sort of encouraged you to be more constructive as opposed to those 60s and 70s.

Speaker Yes, the difficult the 60s and 70s, I was not a a radical, but if I expressed any any impulse towards agreeing with the with the naysayers, nattering nabobs of negativism or as Agnew said, no, I know he was he in the in the.

Speaker I don’t know whether I can see. How can I say that again. That he was that he was that he has that he had a respect and still has respect for. For the world as it is for for democracy, for good, for America and.

Speaker The bad bits. You can either focus on and worry about or you can work at changing and fixing.

Speaker And do you feel that in a way his activism now? I mean, since he left broadcasting in the sense of being a makeup person, he certainly has become outspoken about lots of different things, policy and all that. What do you think that’s all about?

Speaker Well, it took him a while, didn’t it, to to become more active even after he retired. It was 15 years before he started to speak out.

Speaker And why? I don’t know.

Speaker But it’s so welcome and good to see. And it’s it gets good reactions from a lot of people.

Speaker Yes. As recently, with Riley criticizing his, you know, his reaction to the drug war.

Speaker Yes. Yes. I haven’t. He is still causing trouble at this age.

Speaker So anything that you did, you see or experience that you would never have experienced without him?

Speaker Well, yes, everything I saw an experience I wouldn’t have seen experienced without him.

Speaker I owe him my my life and I owe me a fine life that he that he gave me.

Speaker I mean, he’d be. What did I experience with a lot of the space shots were the big a big thing for me.

Speaker How do you feel your father’s career affected your sense of history?

Speaker I don’t know. I don’t know my sense of history, what is my sense of history?

Speaker I don’t know what my sense of history is really, I suppose, and how he and how he affected it.

Speaker In a way, he’s part of that history as a mate of the 28. The latter part of the 20th century. He is a piece of that history as a witness to it.

Speaker Yes, well, as a witness and a a reporter of history. He did a good job, still doing a good job.

Speaker Is it?

Speaker No. What? What lesson do I learn that any kid can grow up and and see history? Fear does his homework.

Speaker Are there any specific values, things that were very important to him that he transmitted to your children?

Speaker Well, no. I don’t think I’ve I’ve I’ve transferred my children very well. But he he did his best to transfer to me the concept of doing the right thing and doing it, being prepared and and. Not letting yourself get in the way of the story.

Speaker Is there anything else that that you think some insight because you’re his son? Is there anything else that you could say about your father that would help us understand? Have a better sense of who this man is. Because this, in a sense, becomes a document. And as people forget history, forget people. So anything that you think that he would want. That it’s really important for him that he’s sort of communicate to you all, you might want to tell us about him.

Speaker He did a good job. And he.

Speaker He held of oh, well, he held people’s feet to the fire when they needed to be.

Speaker Well, they needed to be there. He spoke, spoke well put the respected, the English language.

Speaker And that.

Speaker Told a good, true story. Every night, for years, decades.

Chip Cronkite
Interview Date:
2006-03-03
Runtime:
0:49:37
Keywords:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-nz80k27481, cpb-aacip-504-9g5gb1z25h
MLA CITATIONS:
"Chip Cronkite , Walter Cronkite: Witness to History" American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). March 3, 2006 , https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interview/chip-cronkite/
APA CITATIONS:
(1 , 1). Chip Cronkite , Walter Cronkite: Witness to History [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interview/chip-cronkite/
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Chip Cronkite , Walter Cronkite: Witness to History" American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). March 3, 2006 . Accessed February 3, 2023 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interview/chip-cronkite/

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