Why, you might wonder, has it been so busy here in the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives? Well among several other things, the thousands of Morton negatives selected for the first phase of a preservation digitization project have been returned from the vendor—along with 1.7 terabytes of image files. This topic will be a “Behind the Scenes” blog post for 2020.
On this day three years ago, September 19, 2016, the Tar Heel Nation lost an icon with the passing of Robert Vinsant (“Bob”) Cox. He was 90-years-old. Many Tar Heels remember Bob as a player on the UNC football teams of the late 1940s. While that’s true, there is much, much more to his resume, as Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard recalls.
In the Spring of 2004 when Hugh Morton put together a committee of former UNC football players to critique sculptor Johnpaul Harris’ Charlie Justice statue, Bob Cox (UNC Class of 1949) was one of the first team members selected. Cox would make two visits to Harris’ Asheboro studio during June, 2004 and was instrumental in the final statue presentation which was dedicated in November, 2004 and now stands at the west end of Kenan Memorial Stadium.
Cox was a team member of the Justice Era teams of the late 1940s, having arrived on the UNC campus in 1945 following duty with the United States Marines during World War II. He became a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and was a pass-catching end and place-kicker for the Tar Heels. His 18-yard field goal in the second half of the 1947 Sugar Bowl against Georgia gave Carolina a brief 10-7 lead. When Georgia returned to Chapel Hill for a rematch on September 27, 1947, the pass-catching Cox led a Tar Heel win. The sports headline in the Greensboro Daily News on Sunday, September 28th read: “End Bob Cox Steals Show.”
Cox was second in team scoring in 1947 and 1948—second only to Justice—and was described as “Mr. Extra Point” by Harold Styers in his 1996 book Hark The Sound: A Time Remembered and a Sentimental Journey. He also joined Carolina’s golf team when it reformed in 1946 following World War II, and was a member of the 1947 Southern Conference Golf championship team.
Following his UNC graduation on June 6, 1949, the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals drafted Cox but he chose to stay at Carolina and attend graduate school. He also became a member of Head Football Coach Carl Snavely’s coaching staff, working with the varsity ends and the freshman teams from 1949 thru 1951.
Cox has two degrees from UNC: a BA and MA in physical education. Following his time at UNC, he became a member of the Carolina Clowns, a basketball team featuring several former Tar Heel athletes. The Clowns formed in 1949, offering those Tar Heels an opportunity to stay in shape and at the same time raise money for various charity events.
Over the years the Clowns’ roster changed as new players became available while others moved on to different endeavors. Cox joined UNC football players Charlie Justice, Art Weiner, Joe Wright, Jim Camp, Kenny Powell, Sid Varney, Don Hartig, Hosea Rodgers, and Jack Fitch, among others.
About the same time he was playing for the Clowns, Cox operated a Chapel Hill clothing store on Franklin Street called “Town & Campus.” The store was a favorite for ten years. During that time, he was also a member of the Chapel Hill Junior Chamber of Commerce and in 1957 was elected President of the North Carolina Junior Chamber. Then, he was elected President of the United States Jaycees in 1958. As President of the U. S. Chamber, he was a judge at the famous Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At the pageant on September 6, 1958, Cox and follow judges selected Mary Ann Mobley from Mississippi as Miss America of 1959 before a national TV audience of 60 million on CBS-TV.
In December of 1961, when the city of Asheville celebrated “Charlie Justice Day,” two former Justice teammates were part of the celebration: Art Weiner and Bob Cox. The Asheville Citizen published a picture of the three on the front page of its December 2, 1961 issue.
Bob could often be seen on campus during Graduation/Reunion weekends and in 1989 he led the annual “Saturday Morning in Chapel Hill” before a full house in Memorial Hall. The topic that May morning, “Why Did We Have it So Good and What Made Us Different?” The program featured a panel of 1940s and 1950s Tar Heel legends including Hugh Morton who presented one of his slide shows.
I remember calling Bob in the late summer of 1996 when I was working with him on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Golden Era teams. I didn’t get an answer when I called, so I called back several minutes later. When I told him I had called earlier, he said, “I was in the car and I don’t talk on the phone while I’m driving. Don’t want to put anyone in danger if my distraction might cause an accident.”
In 1999, Bob Cox was selected to head the class of 1949’s 50th reunion. In the spring of ’99, he wrote a letter to his fellow classmates. In that letter, he said:
“To do anything for 50 years is quite a feat. We are indeed fortunate to be in that elite group that makes up the Class of ’49, which allows us to ask ‘Do you remember when…’
“The walks were gravel; Justice was running rampant at Kenan; Woodhouse was enthralling us on the beauties of ‘Poli-Sci’; Graham, House, and Carmichael were doing their thing at South Building; and hysteria-in-the-wisteria made the Arboretum more than just a name on the sign.
“We are blessed and privileged to call ourselves ‘Alums’ of the University of North Carolina. The years there were absolutely magic; but, even though those years were a special time, appreciation for the contributions of UNC has grown. The UNC reward continues throughout and we should be grateful—emotionally, spiritually, politically, and oh yes, financially.
“Let’s all make a pledge to stay in touch and do what we can to ensure that Carolina’s greatness will continue to grow and prosper. After all, we’re the Class of ’49 and that makes us special. Don’t you agree?”
The letter appeared in the “50th Revised Yackety Yack: Carolina Class of 1949.”
Bob was a financial advisor professionally, but he loved fishing, playing tennis, and gardening. He was often called “Rosebud” because of the beautiful roses he grew.
Finally, during one of those Justice statue visits mentioned earlier in this post, Cox provided the question that prompted one of my favorite Hugh Morton stories. It was during a visit on June 21, 2004. After all of the players had added comments for Johnpaul Harris to note, Morton decided it was time to take some pictures. As he was meticulously checking focus with his trusty 35mm camera, Cox asked, “Hey, Hugh, do you have one of those new digital cameras?”
Morton’s answered,” I sure do,” as he reached down in his camera bag and pulled out a digital camera. “This is a good one,” said Hugh. “It has all the bells and whistles.”
Morton then put the digital camera back in his camera bag and continued taking shots with his conventional 35mm camera.
I don’t know if Bob Cox ever met best-selling author Tom Brokaw; but I choose to believe Robert Vinsant “Bob” Cox could very easily be the poster-boy for “The Greatest Generation.”
Jump for joy! It’s amazing—though not hard to believe given the high-quality photographs—that the exhibition Photographs by Hugh Morton: An Uncommon Retrospective, opens on July 4th at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. This marks the exhibition’s ninth venue since its debut in Boone, N. C. at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts back in 2013. The exhibition will be on display through October 25. And you can leap once more because I’ve just confirmed that Blowing Rock Art & History Museum will host the exhibition starting November 9 through February 22, 2020.
James Kern Kyser, better known as Kay Kyser, the “Ol’ Professor” of the popular radio program of the late 1930s and 40s, the “Kollege of Musical Knowledge,” retired and returned to his alma mater UNC-Chapel Hill in 1951 and started a second career. Earlier this week, on June 18th, 2019, Kyser would have turned 114. Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard briefly looks back at both of his storied careers.
Soon after his retiring return to Chapel Hill, Kay Kyser picked up where he left off on stage with far less fanfare but as a true friend to his native North Carolina. On April 14, 1951, Kyser, along with his wife Georgia, joined his friend Hugh Morton at the second annual Southern Short Course in Press Photography banquet.
Editor’s note: Kyser made an appearance at another short course banquet, probably 1952, seen below. The two scans from negatives shown here are the only photographs of Kay Kyser in the collection. Neither appear to have been made by Morton unless he used a long cable release and triggered the exposure from a distance. The photograph below probably dates from the April 1952 short course because Morton’s photograph of “Happy John”—likely made in 1951—can be seen in the upper right corner of the photographs on display.
Kyser’s participation in the photographic short course was just one example of his many contributions to his native state following his long career in show business. His enthusiasm, energy, and dedication were the prime forces for WUNC-TV to get on the air in January of 1955. His faith and his dedication to the Christian Science Church became his passion. From his office on Franklin Street, Kyser became the producer-director of the film broadcasting department of the Christian Science Church. Another Editor’s Note: While preparing Jack’s post and researching the Southern Short Course in Press Photography for an upcoming post, I encountered another Kyser contribution: a film titled, Dare: The Birthplace of America, produced by the University of North Carolina with its debut in May 1952. In a promotional news article printed in advance of the movie’s launch, playwright Paul Green wrote, “And anonymously behind [the film] was the imaginative dynamic of that gifted and devoted North Carolina citizen—Kay Kyser.”
The boy from Rocky Mount became one of the most famous faces of the swing era.
When James K. Kyser entered the University of North Carolina in 1923, his parents, both of whom were pharmacists, thought he would be a lawyer. But he had other ideas. He switched his major to economics because, according to Kyser, “the legal profession meant lots of work.”
Being selected a Carolina cheerleader gave him the opportunity to “perform.” He enjoyed riding around campus in a Model T Ford with the word “Passion” painted on its side. He excelled not only in academics, but he also excelled in extracurricular activities. He acted in Carolina Playmaker productions, was a Sigma Nu fraternity member, and was a member Alpha Kappa Psi, Order of the Grail, and the Golden Fleece honor societies. Because of his popularity on campus, he would, in 1926, inherit the job of leadership of the UNC campus band; although he couldn’t read music and he played no musical instrument. In addition, he was senior class president in 1928.
After graduation, he took the band on the road, but it didn’t really take off until the mid-1930s when he hired singer Ginny Simms and cornet player Ish Kabbible (his real name Merwyn Bogue). But when it did take off, it was in a league of its own.
Kyser was featured in several Hollywood movies. His first was That’s Right—You’re Wrong in 1939 with Lucille Ball; the last was Carolina Blues in 1944. He was often joined by such stars as Milton Berle, Dorothy Lamour, and Rudy Vallee.
He was called “The Ol’ Professor,” and he wore a short academic robe complete with mortarboard and tassel. He loved to clown-around with cornet player Ish Kabibble, plus he did a bit of dancing. At the top of his career, Kay Kyser’s band scored 35 top-ten hits, and appeared in Hollywood and New York. He played to 60,000 during one week at New York’s Roxy Theater.
The boy from Rocky Mount became one of the most famous faces of the swing era.
During the Depression and throughout World War II, Kyser offered his zaniness as a cure for adversity. At 9:30 on Wednesday nights, more than twenty million Americans would turn their radios to the NBC Red Network to hear Kay Kyser say, “Now we’re gonna have a little syncopation, so I want you to toddle out here and truck around the totem pole and sashay around the stage. What I mean is, C’mon, chillun. Le’s dance!”
Kyser also performed for thousands of World War II soldiers, feeling guilty that so many were marching off to their deaths while he was making big money. In a 1981 interview with Greensboro Daily News reporter Jim Jenkins, Kyser recalled being on a hillside in the Pacific Theater in the summer of 1945. “Countless thousands of GIs were sitting on these banks, and we could hear the firing in the background. They’d come up to you after and wring your hand, thanking you, completely oblivious to the fact that they were offering their lives so we civilians would have a good go at home. I thought, my, if that isn’t the ultimate of humility . . . I knew right then I’d never play another theater for money.”
Kyser returned to the UNC campus several times during his musical career. He often recalled in later interviews, how much he enjoyed the Carolina–Duke football games in 1939 and 1948.
In a Charlie Justice profile in Sports Illustrated magazine in October of 1973, Kyser stated: “It is simply a matter of thinking it through . . . all this glamour can end quite suddenly, so you have to think where you will be when the superficialities are through. I watched UNC football legend Charlie Justice when he was on top. I was up to here at the time with my own entertainment career, so I was looking to see if it was getting to him. It takes a thief to know one, you know. I tell you, when they recruited Charlie to play here, after his great football career in the Navy, it was a little like getting Clark Gable to appear in a local little-theater production. He was a star even before he got here.
“But Charlie was just the opposite of a prima donna. It never got to him, as it has to so many people in entertainment . . . .”
“Let me tell you a little story. I took Charlie to a big Hollywood party once. The Hollywood people were dying to meet him. Charlie was flabbergasted. His face must have fallen a foot when he walked into that place. He didn’t act like a football hero at all. He acted like the smallest of small-town hicks. He was the one impressed with them. All those movie stars. He’d never seen anything like it. I remember he came over to me and said, in that high voice of his, ‘Man, this is tall cotton.’ He just kept on saying it: ‘Taaa-lll cotton.'”
Kay Kyser passed away on July 23, 1985 in Chapel Hill. He was eighty years old.
Kyser’s wife Georgia Carroll remained in Chapel Hill until her death in 2011 at age 91. She donated Kyser-related photographs and papers to the university. You can still see Kay’s picture in The Carolina Inn on the UNC campus and he is enshrined in the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. But for the most part, you won’t find many people who know the words to “Three Little Fishies.” Just so you know the words go like this: “Boop boop diddum daddum waddum choo, and they swam and they swam all over the dam.”
STARK NAKED — Almost everybody around Raleigh and elsewhere was caught with his pants down late last Friday afternoon when Gov. William B. Umstead, as calmly as a man reaching for a glass of water, announced that Al Lennon of Wilmington was his at-long-last choice to succeed Smith as junior U. S. Senator from North Carolina.
To be perfectly frank about it, most of us were not only caught with our pants down. We found ourselves stark naked.
So began Kidd Brewer’s “Raleigh Round-Up” column for the Thursday, July 16, 1953 issue of the Nashville Graphic (in Nash County, N. C.). We need to go back a handful of days to that previous Friday, July 10—actually back to June 26—for the start of this story. For that is the day that North Carolina’s junior senator in the United States Senate, Willis Smith, died while in office from a coronary thrombosis.
Smith’s term was set to end at the close of 1954. He was completing a term begun by J. Melville Broughton on January 3, 1949 that ended abruptly nine weeks later when Broughton died in office on March 6. Newly elected governor W. Kerr Scott appointed Frank Porter Graham to replace Broughton, but Graham lost his bid to retain the seat to Smith in a contentious run-off primary election on June 24, 1950. Smith then handily won the general election on November 7, 1950, earning him the right to complete the remaining four years of Broughton’s term.
Governor Umstead needed to replace Smith, and he kept his selection process very closed-lipped. The state’s then senior senator was Clyde R. Hoey from the western part of the state, so Umstead looked eastward for his appointee. The vacant seat had proved to be like the removable chair in the children’s game Musical Chairs, so Umstead sought an appointee who he believed could begin campaigning almost immediately for the primary that would take place in May 1954—just ten months away—win the primary, and then continue on for a full six-year term.
When Umstead announced that the relatively unknown Wilmington attorney and former state senator Alton Asa Lennon as his appointment—late on a Friday afternoon—there were few photographs of Lennon for the press to print in newspapers. Brewer noted that “there were only one or two photos of the new senator wandering around the State.”
Where on earth was the world going to get photographs of a relatively unknown Wilmingtonian who was destined for the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol? Fellow Wilmington native Hugh Morton, of course! How do we know this to be the case? Later in Brewer’s story we encounter a passage that launched me into a deeper dig to differentiate the numerous negatives made by Morton between Umstead’s announcement and Lennon’s send-off to Washington, D. C. that are extant in the Hugh Morton collection. Brewer wrote,
Hugh Morton, Wilmington photographer and tourist expert who had himself only two hours earlier been reappointed to the State Board of Conservation and Development, rushed to Lennon’s house and began flashing him in every pose but on his head. And the state editors and wire boys were already performing that act. The AP snapped up Morton’s pictures, got its wirephoto services on the ready, and in most late night editions of Saturday morning’s papers, there was old Al smiling out at you from a three-column photo.
Does Brewer’s description of the media blitz match the historical record? Is it an accurate account of how Morton’s negatives came into being? Upon searching the Morton collection finding aid, I found three listings for forty black-and-white negatives surrounding this event, with three broadly defined sets in the Morton collection finding aid:
Lennon, Alton: Wilmington sendoff celebration to U.S. Senate, 14 July 1953
Lennon, Alton: Various portraits, with family, etc., circa 1953
Lennon, Alton: With Governor William Umstead, circa 1953
The first two listings are a jumble of images that span from as early as the evening of July 10 through the “send-off” on July 14, officially proclaimed by the governor as “Alston Lennon Day.” It’s important to note here that many categories of images in the Morton collection are “a jumble.” When processing the collection after its arrival, the quantity of material in the collection and its lack of internal structure did not permit our archivist, Elizabeth Hull, to refine uncounted rough groupings and descriptions for tens of thousands of items. Even today, I am hard pressed to find the time to dig too deep. In this case I needed to sort through the negatives to see what they depicted for the Morton collection preservation digitization project. A fair amount of work went into it, and I needed to write down what I learned to make sense of it all. I felt I could turn that information into a useful and informative post, and so what follows is what I’ve gathered thus far.
Let’s start with the easiest listing first: the negatives depicting Umstead and Lennon together.
News accounts stated that the governor made a surprise visit to Wilmington to meet with Lennon on Monday, July 13 during an “open house” in the offices of Star News Newspapers, the publisher of Wilmington’s two major newspapers. The only update needed for the finding aid for that group of six negatives was a change of “circa” to the exact date.
There are six negatives of Umstead interacting with Lennon, including the following image published as an Associated Press Wirephoto:
The two remaining listings in the finding aid, however, is where confusion reigned. Looking at some newspapers (Wilmington’s Morning Star and The Wilmington News, and their jointly issued Sunday Star News, plus The Charlotte News (to which Morton frequently submitted work) proved to be useful. So, too, did an eye for fashion and a bit of knowledge about photographic film manufacturing. Let’s tackle the film manufacturing process first.
Film manufacturers use notches on one corner of the film so that photographers can quickly and easily determine the emulsion side of the film. Photographers need to know the emulsion is facing the outside of the film holder (i.e., toward the lens) when they insert a sheet of film into a film holder while doing so in complete darkness. As illustrated below (but always done in the dark), if you hold the film in your hand so you can feel the notch(es) with your index finger, then the emulsion is facing upwards. (Of course there wouldn’t be an image on the film when loading new film!) The notch is also is an indication of the specific film. For this information we turn to The Acetate Negative Survey by David Horvath in 1987. According to Horvath’s survey, a single V-shaped notch on safety film made by Kodak indicates that Morton photographed using Super Pan Press, Type B.
Most photographic archivists are familiar with notch codes. But also note the number to the left of the code. Not as many know what that represents, and sheet film negatives do not always have a number there. I’ve seen that number referred to both as a batch code and as a machine code: the former meaning that the manufacturer would be able to identify the emulsion batch, and the latter indicating what machine cut the film into sheets. For archivists, we can use that number to help (it’s not definitive) determine if a photographer made a group of images during the same general time period. How so? Most photographers purchased sheet film in boxes of 25 or 100, so each sheet in a box or boxes purchased at the same time will likely have the same batch/machine code. In this case all but four of the forty negatives have a single notch with the code number 97. For now, hold that thought.
The images made closest to July 10 that I found in the newspapers appeared on Sunday, July 12, meaning that photographers took them on either on the evening of the July 10 or some time on July 11. Here’s one, a “Staff Photo by Ludwig” from The Sunday Star News on July 12:
Morton took a similar group portrait of the family around the same table, but without Lennon’s parents. (You might not be able to tell from the scan from microfilm, but it’s clear in Morton’s negative that while there are rolls on the center platter, everyone’s plates and bowls are empty.) The caption identifies the location of the family portrait as Lennon’s summer cottage in Wrightsville Beach. As seen at the top of this post, The Charlotte News published a portrait of the family seated near a fireplace, wearing the same clothes, on the same page as it ran four portraits across a four-column-wide article. That setting (law office versus home) doesn’t seem to mesh with Kidd Brewer’s description. One of those single portraits may have been published in a Saturday morning newspaper that I’ve not had time to explore. If so, then Brewer’s account could be accurate.
All totaled there are nine of the similarly posed Alton Lennon portrait negatives extant in the Morton collection, and at least one other pose made it to print. Lest we forget about Hugh Morton’s other favorite go-to publication, The State, here’s another of the portraits . . .
Below is a photograph published in The Wilmington News on July 13, taken by Morton but uncredited, showing a smiling Lennon with “fellow attorneys” posed in what, after consulting various other negatives in the collection, appears to be his law office in the Odd Fellows Building at 229 Princess Street. Many attorneys had their offices there because it was only a short walk to the city hall and county courthouse. The steps of Thalian Hall were just across the street on North 3rd Street.
There are several negatives made in that room, where the same composite photograph of the 1947 North Carolina Senate members is visible. Lennon was an elected member of the 1947 North Carolina Senate. In some of the negatives, Lennon’s diploma from Wake Forest College can be seen hanging on the perpendicular wall to the left.
Your eye for fashion now comes into play. You cannot tell from the picture above (as reproduced here from microfilm) but what can clearly be seen in the negative is that Lennon is wearing a double-breasted suit jacket. It may be the same as seen in this detail of a negative made by Morton on the steps of Thalian Hall below:
It could very well be, then, that Morton photographed Lennon on that Friday evening after the announcement when he would have been in his office with his fellow attorneys, and also on the steps of Thalian Hall.
At this point in his life, Hugh Morton was the vice president of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce. The chamber organized a special “send off” committee and named Morton as its chairman. Festivities on July 14 began with a parade through the streets to the train station. Lennon’s car stopped for him to pose for photographers:
Now what about those four negatives with a different batch/machine code number? Here they are:
The machine code for these is 419 (not 97). Note, too, a portion of a campaign poster on the side of the car (lower right image). And that eye for fashion? Note Lennon is not wearing a bow tie, which he wears in all of the negatives made during the appointment days except during his meeting with Umstead, when he wears a light-colored suit and not a darker shade. There is enough evidence to conclude that Morton did not make these four negatives during events surrounding the Lennon announcement and send off. Lennon began campaigning soon after his appointment so we can date them from 1953 or 1954, but we cannot presume Morton made these four negatives in Wilmington. The top left negative is part of the online collection, and the metadata for that has been updated to reflect the distinction. The finding aid groupings will also be revised to reflect the new findings.
Alton Lennon or his surrogates used at least two of Morton’s photographs during the 1954 primary. Below is a page from the April 24, 1954 issue of The State:
The image above is cropped from one of the many negatives Hugh Morton exposed in Lennon’s law office, one of two with that “Keep America Strong” illustration in the background. It’s the upper portion of a calendar, which explains the last letters of the word “COMPANY” next to his left arm.
Morton’s family portrait of the Lennons seated in front of their fireplace reappears in a political advertisement paid for by Rocky Mount Friends of U. S. Senator Alton Lennon in that city’s newspaper, The Evening Telegram, on May 24:
Lennon lost his bid for the full term. He and six other candidates fell to W. Kerr Scott on the Saturday, May 29 election day, with Scott securing 25,323 more votes than second place Lennon.
This post comes from regular contributor Jack Hilliard, who takes another look at the man “Still Alone at the Top” because today, May 18th, marks a special day for long time Tar Heels like Jack.
On this day, in 1924, a boy was born in the Emma community of Asheville. He would grow up to be the greatest athlete to ever play sports at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
UNC’s Michael Jordan was one of the most effectively marketed athletes of all time, and thanks to the emergence of the 24/7 cable sports channels, and in the latter part of his playing career the internet, Jordan’s heroics became all access, all the time. His image has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated more than sixty times . . . so far. And it’s no surprise that he also has seventy-eight mentions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy.
In the fall of 1999 when UNC’s campus newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel selected a panel of Tar Heel sports experts to determine the ten greatest UNC athletes of all time, many long-time Tar Heels, like me, thought Michael would be the top vote getter. Each week the paper listed one of the top ten athletes, and as expected, Jordan beat out Phil Ford, Mia Hamm, Lawrence Taylor, Lennie Rosenbluth, B. J. Surhoff, and Sue Walsh. In fact, Jordan beat out every other Tar Heel athlete, except one. He finished second to Charlie Justice.
Justice never had his picture on a Sports Illustrated cover and was never mentioned on Jeopardy. When Justice played for Carolina during the seasons between 1946 and 1949, there were no 24/7 cable sports channels. In fact there was no TV in North Carolina at that time and the Internet was decades away.
I once asked Justice, “How did you become so famous without TV or the Internet.” Said Justice, “I didn’t need ‘em, I had Jake Wade writing stories and Hugh Morton taking pictures.” (Jake Wade was the award-winning Sports Information Director for UNC from 1945 until 1962).
I remember getting up early on the morning of Monday, November 29, 1999 and driving from Greensboro to Chapel Hill. I wanted to make sure that I got a copy of The Daily Tar Heel. It didn’t take me long to find that collector edition of the paper with the Section B headline that said “The Making of a Legend,” with Charlie’s life story filling the page. To support the DTH story, there were three Justice pictures, two of which were taken by Hugh Morton: the photograph above that opens this post, and the one that follows (but cropped to include only Justice).
In an interview on October 18, 2003, Hugh Morton had this to say about his dear friend: “Clearly the most exciting football player I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a lot of them.” And as for Justice’s life after football, Morton added this: “There was not a worthy cause in this state he didn’t support. He used his fame to do good things. He wasn’t charging for it, he just wanted to do it.”
So, on this day, May 18, 2019, a tip-of-the-hat to Tar Heel Legend Charlie “Choo Choo Justice” who would have turned 95. If a survey were taken on the UNC-CH campus all these years later, I don’t believe there would be many, if any, students who knew him or ever saw him play. That is their loss, because it’s doubtful we’ll ever see the likes of Charlie Justice again.
The North Carolina Azalea Festival is in progress for the 72nd time in Wilmington. This year’s event takes place from April 3-7, 2019. Going back to 1948, not only is this event a celebration of flowers and golf, it brings celebrated guests from across the United States. From Hollywood movies, to TV stars, to celebrated sports heroes, the festival has seen them all. Over the years, many of the guests have made returned visits. This was especially true in the early years. As we celebrate festivalnumber 72, Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard looks back at one of those guests, noted broadcaster Harry Wismer, who visited often during the1950s.
Hugh Morton crossed paths with legendary sportscaster Harry Wismer at the Sugar Bowl on January 1, 1949 in New Orleans. Wismer was in town to broadcast the game for ABC Radio between the UNC Tar Heels and the Oklahoma Sooners. Of course Morton was in town to photograph the game which featured his dear friend Charlie Justice. And as one would expect, Morton took at pre-game picture of Justice and Wismer, a picture that Hugh often included in his famous slides shows. Morton also included the image in his 1988 book Making a Difference in North Carolina on page 257. Nearly two years later on December 10, 1950, Morton photographed the final regular season game between the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Browns in Washington’s Griffith Stadium. Again, he crossed paths with Harry Wismer, the Redskins’ play-by-play man. At the time, Harry Wismer, who was known by many as “The Whiz,” was already considered the nation’s leading sportscaster, having broadcast numerous events like the National Open and PGA, the Penn Relays, and the National Football League Championship. Wismer was also a part owner of the Detroit Lions and the Washington Redskins of the National Football League. In addition to his co-ownership, Wismer was “The Voice of the Redskins,” having called their games on the “Amoco-Redskins Network” since 1943. It was on those Redskins’ broadcasts that I first heard him. As a little kid, I listened to the Redskin games starting in 1950. When the game came to TV in North Carolina in 1951, Wismer was right there with the play-by-play. I remember those early broadcasts. Wismer’s commercial tag line went like this: “All around town, for all around service, visit your Amoco man, and Lord Baltimore filling stations.”
Starting in 1949, the Azalea Open Golf Tournament became a part of the spring festivities. Hugh Morton invited Wismer to the 1950 Azalea Festival in Wilmington, along with Southern Methodist University football hero Doak Walker and his wife Norma. Of course, Tar Heels Charlie and Sarah Justice returned in ’50, having been there in 1949 to crown Azalea Queen II, Hollywood starlet Martha Hyer. When Justice and Wismer returned to Wilmington for the 1951 festival, Hugh Morton had added a new event: a special golf match at the Cape Fear Country Club called “Who Crowns the Azalea Queen?” The match pitted two ABC Radio broadcasters, Harry Wismer and Ted Malone, against two football greats, Charlie Justice and Otto Graham.
The winner of the nine–hole–event would have the honor of crowning Queen Azalea IV, Margaret Sheridan. The ‘51 winner was the Justice/Graham team.
In addition to being part of the parades, flowers, and parties, Wismer broadcast the Azalea Open GolfTournament on ABC Radio. The 1951 Open winner was Lloyd Mangrum, and Wismer included an interview with him on his ABC Radio show which was also originated live in Wilmington.
The 1952 “Who Crowns the Azalea Queen?” event once again put Wismer’s team, which included writer Hal Boyle and band leader Tony Pastor,against a football squad of Charlie Justice, Eddie Lebaron, and Otto Graham and this time the Wismer team won.
According to Hugh Morton, the original queen selection for 1952 was actress Janet Leigh, but her husband Tony Curtis decided to cancel their trip to Wilmington. Morton knew that actress Cathy Downs was in town because her husband Joe Kirkwood, Jr. was playing in the Azalea Open. When Morton invited her, she accepted and became Queen Azalea V. Wismer continued his Azalea Festival visits during the mid-1950s. Charlotte broadcaster Grady Cole also participated in Wismer’s broadcasts. Wismer would later become one of the founding fathers of the American Football League, which began play in 1960; three years later, however, he gave up his football leadership. Wismer spent the remainder of his life trying to reclaim his glory days as broadcaster and team owner, but was unsuccessful partly because of his declining health. In 1965, Wismer wrote a book titled The Public Calls It Sports. In it he gives a “behind the scenes” look at professional football from a broadcast and ownership point of view. Harry Wismer passed away on December 4, 1967, the day after a tragic fall at a New York restaurant. He was 64-years-old.
As the 2010-11 college basketball season turned into that famous March Madness, it looked like Carolina might be headed to yet another final four. With wins over Long Island, Washington, and Marquette, they were in the “Elite Eight”® and playing Kentucky for another Final Four trip. It was Sunday afternoon, March 27, 2011 . . . Number 2 seed UNC against Number 4 seed Kentucky . . . at the 18,711-seat Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Woody Durham was calling game number 1805 as the Tar Heel “Voice.” The winner would capture the East Regional bracket and advance to the Final Four in Houston. A Tar Heel win would give Woody an opportunity to call his fourteen Final Four. But sadly for those of us listening to Woody and watching CBS Sports, it wasn’t to be.
The Tar Heel Nation was stunned as Kentucky came away with the win, 76 to 69. We didn’t know it at the time, but we suffered another loss that afternoon: it would be Woody Durham’s final play-by-play broadcast after forty years as the “Voice of the Tar Heels.” The official announcement came twenty-four days later. After calling 1,805 football and basketball broadcasts, Woody Durham was signing off.
From 1971 until 2011, Woody Durham was the soundtrack for Tar Heel football and basketball. During that span
the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association selected Woody as the North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year thirteen times;
he was the voice for six national championship games and thirteen Final Fours;
he called twenty-three football bowl games; and
he interviewed six Tar Heel head football coaches and four head basketball coaches.
His game-day-preparation was legendary and his attention to detail with his color-coded information charts became famous. But Woody Durham was much more than the voice of his university. He often headed up life-long-learning programs for UNC’s General Alumni Association and was a program fixture during Graduation-Reunion weekend each May. He traveled across his native state speaking to Tar Heel alumni groups.
Following his retirement, Woody and his wife Jean attended most of Carolina’s football games, and were always seated in Section 212 Row C in the Smith Center for Tar Heel basketball games. Then, in 2015, Woody began to lose his ability to speak. The following year, came the diagnosis: Primary Progressive Aphasia. But as you might expect, Woody took up the cause and became a leader educating his many fans about the disease.
On March 7, 2018 came the news report that Woody had lost his battle.
I think UNC Head Basketball Coach Roy Williams said it best when he issued this statement:
“It’s a very sad day for everyone who loves the University of North Carolina because we have lost someone who spent nearly 50 years as one of its greatest champions and ambassadors. . . . My heart goes out to Jean, Wes, Taylor and their entire family. . . . It’s ironic that Woody would pass away at the start of the postseason in college basketball because this was such a joyous time for him. He created so many lasting memories for Carolina fans during this time of year. It’s equally ironic that he dealt with a disorder for the final years of his life that robbed him of his ability to communicate as effectively as he did in perfecting his craft.
Woody Durham will forever be “THE Voice of the North Carolina Tar Heels.” Others will broadcast the games and will do a really good job, but Woody will be the one we all remember.
Ten days after future UNC football legend Charlie Justice led his undefeated Bainbridge Naval Training Station football team to a 46-to-0 win over the University of Maryland, he went on a well-deserved leave. At the same time, Sarah Alice Hunter took a brief leave from her job at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D. C. The two headed back home to Asheville, North Carolina where they were married at Trinity Episcopal Church.
During the next 59 years, 10 months, and 23 days, Charlie Justice would be interviewed numerous times. During most of those interviews, he would, at some point, say “the best thing I ever did was to ask Sarah to marry me.” Intro: They played the 80th meeting between Carolina and Duke on November 26, 1993—a chilly, gray Friday morning—at 11 o’clock. My guess is that ABC-TV wanted it played on that day at that time. As it turned out, that was a good thing because the game ended about 2:30 PM, in plenty of time for a very special celebration in “the living room of the University” across campus. Today, on the day Charlie and Sarah Justice would have celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary, Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard looks back 25 years at their 50th celebration.
A few minutes after Carolina beat Duke 38 to 24 in the 1993 edition of their annual in-state rivalry, (thanks to freshman running back Leon Johnson’s 142-yard-and-4-touchdown day), many of us headed across campus to the historic Carolina Inn, where family and friends of the special couple were gathering. Although Charlie and Sarah Justice’s fiftieth wedding anniversary was actually on November 23rd, game day on the 26th seemed like a good time to celebrate the storybook event of November 23rd, 1943.
In addition to celebrating the Justice’s fiftieth anniversary, the event also honored the memory of their son Charles Ronald (Ronnie), who had passed away on Friday, June 11, 1993 at their home in Flat Rock, North Carolina.
This is how the Justice’s chose to invite their guests:
There were family members, teammates, friends, and fans in attendance.
The Carolina Inn ballroom provided the perfect backdrop for the elegant event and the many guests surrounded a large buffet table with roast beef, salmon, fruits, and cheeses. The centerpiece was a large ice sculpture depicting a locomotive celebrating Charlie’s football career when he was called “Choo Choo.”
At the right side of the room was a video player and large screen where highlights of Charlie and Sarah’s fifty years together were shown. I had the honor of producing that video presentation which was narrated by North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame broadcaster Charlie Harville.
Following a family toast by Barbara (Justice) Crews, Charlie and Sarah’s daughter, head football coach Mack Brown added his congratulations and then offered an additional toast. He then spoke of the importance of Carolina’s football history and heritage. After Brown concluded his words about Carolina’s Golden Age during the late 1940s, Justice stepped forward and thanked the coach for restoring football respectability “for my University.”
During the entire celebration, photographer Hugh Morton was there documenting every phase of the event: from a group shot of the Justice team mates to a funny shot of Charlie and Sarah holding up special tee shirts prepared for the party, a shot that appeared in the February, 1994 edition of The University Alumni Report newspaper on page 34.
So, on this day, November 23, 2018, I choose to believe that Charlie and Sarah Justice are once again celebrating their storybook life together on their 75th wedding anniversary. Joining the celebration is son Ronnie, and just as he was 25 years ago, Hugh Morton is there with camera in hand.
“What we are trying to do, after all, is something we North Carolinians believe we are good at: inspiring our citizens to become the best that they can be. Our mission for the future may have a familiar ring, to make the weak students strong and the strong students great.”
— C. D. Spangler Jr., inaugural address, October 17, 1986
Sunday, July 23, 2018 saw the passing of C.D. Spangler Jr., former president of the University of North Carolina. Clemmie Dixon Spangler Jr. was born April 5, 1932 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Among his many accomplishments, Spangler served as president of the University of North Carolina system from 1986, succeeding William Friday, to 1997.
Jack Hilliard shared with me this morning a story Spangler liked to share about Bill Friday. Spangler was traveling in Gaston County when he saw the highway sign for Dallas, North Carolina and then remembered that Dallas was the hometown of Dr. Friday. He decided to take the exit and see if he could find the Friday home. When he arrived in Dallas he stopped at a country store where a couple of gentlemen were seated out front. He asked if they knew where the Friday home was. They said, “Oh! Yes, it’s just down the road a bit . . . you can’t miss it.” Spangler then asked if they knew Dr. Friday. “Sure, we knew him. He was a great baseball player; a catcher, and a good one.” After a brief pause, one of the old gentlemen then added, “You know, if he had continued his baseball career, he might have made something of himself.”
Closer to home here at A View to Hugh . . . in 1996, the C. D. Spangler Foundation contributed $335,00 to help create a $500,000 endowed professorship at UNC-Greensboro in honor of Julia Morton, Hugh Morton’s wife, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. She served on the UNC Board of Governors for sixteen years.
There are several photographs of C.D. Spangler in the Morton collection, including twenty-six available in the online collection of Morton images.