Eye on an Icon

A new exhibit explores Walter Cronkite's life and legacy

Briscoe Center for American Studies Executive Director Don Carleton at the newly opened LBJ Library exhibit dedicated to legendary CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite
Briscoe Center for American Studies Executive Director Don Carleton at the newly opened LBJ Library exhibit dedicated to legendary CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite

For those who have grown up with the histrionics of talk radio and the bombastic delivery of some 24-hour cable news networks, former TV newscaster Walter Cronkite may seem like a throwback to another era. He is. Broadcast at a time when there were only three major TV networks, Cronkite's nightly newscast brought some of the last century's most awful news into U.S. living rooms. For many, his distinctive voice and grandfatherly delivery tempered the chaos, making him "the most trusted man in America." Now, nearly a year after his death, Cronkite's life and work are the subjects of the first exhibit dedicated to the respected journalist at the LBJ Library & Museum at the University of Texas at Austin.

The exhibit features materials from the holdings of the News Media History Archive of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The archive was launched by the center's executive director, Don Carleton, in 1988. The Cronkite Papers marked the first acquisition for the archives, which would grow to become one of the most respected collections dedicated to the history of television and newspaper journalism, and Cronkite maintained a relationship with Carleton and the Briscoe Center until his death at the age of 92.

The Cronkite Papers cover the years from 1932 to 2007, shedding light on both Cronkite's personal life and a career that spanned five decades, during which he covered some of the most important events in history, including D-Day during World War II, the Nuremberg Trials, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and the space exploration program leading up to the first U.S. landing on the moon.

Chronologically organized, the exhibit features large-format photographs, multiple video screens, personal artifacts – letters, notes, journals, clothing – and other ephemera elegantly organized by award-winning exhibit coordinators, the design firm Riggs Ward. Cronkite's childhood days in Houston are noted, as are his days as a student reporter for The Daily Texan at the University of Texas at Austin. As a young man, he worked for United Press wire service covering World War II, but the majority of the Cronkite holdings cover his days as anchor and managing editor of The CBS Evening News.

Alongside his visual biography are timelines of world events, candid quotes, and rarely seen photographs of Cronkite with world leaders like Fidel Castro. What becomes quickly evident in various Cronkite quotes peppered throughout the exhibit is his self-effacing personality. While he was a "star" by today's standards, he was the last one to rest on his celebrity.

"I was just plain old lucky to be in the right place at the right time," he said to Playboy magazine in a June 1973 interview. "But I think that to take advantage of luck, you've got to have some ability to do the job. As far as the ability to work on camera is concerned, that part of it was an absolute accident. I never trained for it; I'm just lucky to have it. Whatever it is, it seems to work."


"Cronkite: Eyewitness to a Century" is on view now through Jan. 3, 2011, at the LBJ Library & Museum (2313 Red River). The exhibit is free and open to the public. For hours and more information, go to www.cronkiteexhibit.com.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Walter Cronkite
Can the Earth Be Saved?
Can the Earth Be Saved?
Walter Cronkite and the creation of Earth Day

Douglas Brinkley, April 20, 2012

Christmas Carols With Walter Cronkite
Christmas Carols With Walter Cronkite
Holiday memories of the legendary TV newsman

Kevin Phinney, Aug. 7, 2009

More Screens
Pressing the Flesh
Pressing the Flesh
The world's leading adult toy manufacturer for men wants to take the stigma out of sex

Dan Solomon, May 11, 2012

Get Schooled
Get Schooled
James Franco-produced Web series tracks UT Film students

Kimberley Jones, April 13, 2012

More by Belinda Acosta
Margaret Moser Tribute: Marcia Ball
Marcia Ball
“She’s a music writer who writes to enlighten”

June 30, 2017

Margaret Moser Tribute: Eliza Gilkyson
Eliza Gilkyson
The best advice she ever received? Keep your dogs clean.

June 30, 2017

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Walter Cronkite, Cronkite: Eyewitness to a Century, News Media History Archive, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, Don Carleton, Cronkite Papers, Riggs Ward

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle