More than 350 people took refuge from Wednesday’s heat in the air conditioning of Way Public Library to hear Douglas Brinkley, an acclaimed author and Perrysburg native, discuss his latest book, a biography of iconic newscaster Walter Cronkite.
Mr. Brinkley’s presentation of “Cronkite” was the feature event in the library’s War of 1812 bicentennial celebration, as well as a fund-raiser for the library. Attendance was nearly double what library personnel said they had predicted.
“I watched Cronkite every night growing up in Perrysburg,” recalled Mr. Brinkley in an interview before his lecture, recounting how his mother would return home from her job teaching English at Perrysburg High School and watch the newscast with him.
Cronkite, who anchored CBS Evening News from 1962 until 1981, was labeled “the most trusted man in America” and was one of the country’s most recognizable figures during his tenure at CBS. He was as famous for his coverage of events like the Kennedy assassination, Watergate scandal, and Vietnam war as he was for his signature sign-off: “And that’s the way it is.”
In his speech, Mr. Brinkley described the country’s response to Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing as evidence of the newscaster’s place in the national consciousness.
“The first thing we wondered was, ‘What will Armstrong say about being on the moon?’ The next thing we wondered was, ‘What will Cronkite say about what Armstrong said about being on the moon?’” he said.
Though he noted Cronkite’s public accomplishments, Mr. Brinkley said his 832-page book published in late spring, the first to chronicle Cronkite’s life from his birth in 1916 through his death in 2009, seeks to humanize the public figure. Critics have praised the book, which rose to No. 6 on The New York Times bestseller list and currently ranks ninth, for its inclusion of Cronkite’s seldom discussed character flaws and personal life.
Cronkite grew up so poor, Mr. Brinkley revealed, his mother once heated up dog food for dinner. He was an awful college student, who lived in a fraternity house, drank heavily, and occasionally worked as an illegal bookie for horse races. Covering the 1960 Democratic National Convention, Cronkite padlocked the anchor room shut door behind him to keep out longtime rival and fellow journalist Edward Murrow.
Details like those, exposing a largely unknown side of the journalist many Americans warmly described as “Uncle Wal,” elicited enthusiastic responses from the packed room. The audience was equally excited about Mr. Brinkley himself, a 1978 graduate of Perrysburg High School. He is now a history professor at Rice University in Houston.
“Doug was a lot of fun back in high school,” remembered Scott Robinson, a former classmate of Mr. Brinkley who still lives in Perrysburg and attended the presentation. “There was a lot of goofing around. High school was never a challenge for Doug. He was way beyond the high school level.”
Mr. Brinkley’s return as a professor of history and bestselling author of 36 books, Mr. Robinson said with a laugh, was “mind blowing.”
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