Unsung Heroes We Lost in 1997
We no longer have Charles Kuralt to lead us along America’s backroads. He died this year at 62, on the Fourth of July, that most American of holidays.
For 13 years, Kuralt went ``On the Road″ for CBS, logging 50,000 miles in the annual search for ordinary Americans and their stories. Then, for 15 years, he stayed home, anchoring ``Sunday Morning.″
In a letter jotted in July, one AP National Writer offered Kuralt’s widow, Suzanna, ``a collective hug from those of us who believe in what your husband did.″ Follow that writer, and others, two houses down the block or 2,000 miles down the road, to know more about the unknown who died this year.
Kuralt, we hope, is along for the ride.
Glynn ``Scotty″ Wolfe loved getting married. It was the ``till death do us part″ that gave him trouble.
He marched 29 women down the aisle in 70 years. The Guinness Book of World Records dubbed Wolfe the world’s most-married, monogamous man. He faithfully defended that title 35 years, probably a record in itself.
Wolfe made his first trip to the altar at 18. His longest stint lasted seven years. His shortest, 19 days. One of Wolfe’s 19 children, John Glenn Wolfe, said his papa, a Baptist minister by trade, married a lot because he liked a lot of women and, as a devoted man of the cloth, was against ``living in sin.″
Of course, Wolfe had his standards. He left one wife because she ate sunflower seeds in bed. He sent another packing because she used his toothbrush.
But Wolfe sure could woo.
``He was a charmer,″ said Linda Essex-Wolfe, his 29th and final conquest, who is no rookie in the wedding game, either. Guinness identified Essex-Wolfe as the world’s most-married woman, with 23 husbands.
In 1989, The National Enquirer brought the wedding heavyweights together. ``As soon as I saw him, I knew I cared for him,″ recalled Essex-Wolfe. Sadly, the 80-year-old Wolfe had a Filipino wife 63 years his junior.
But in July of 1996, they met again: he 87 and footloose, she 55 and fancy free. After a week of romance, they couldn’t resist. Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe swapped rings in front of the cameras for a British TV documentary on marriage.
Unwilling to give up her home, the bride flew back to Indiana. Unwilling to trade California sun for Midwestern cold, Wolfe let her go. So they stayed in touch by writing letters.
On June 10, just 10 days shy of the their first wedding anniversary, Wolfe died at the Redlands Nursing Home, penniless, at 88. The cause of death?
His heart gave out.
_By National Writer Todd Lewan
ROSE WILL MONROE
First it was a song. Then it became a real woman _ Rose Will Monroe, tapped for ``Rosie the Riveter″ wartime films and posters that encouraged women to take factory jobs usually held by men.
Monroe helped build B-24s. She worked at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, where the government, looking for an everywoman named Rose, pulled her from the ranks and made her famous. ``They found Rose and she was a riveter and she was the one who fit the profile,″ says Monroe’s daughter, Vickie Jarvis. ``She happened to be in the right place at the right time.″
For every Rose, there were thousands of other women with other names. Like my mother, Ann Terbrueggen, who in 1943 took a summer job at the Ford River Rouge plant outside Detroit. She built airplane flaps called ``elevators″ for B-24 bombers.
At 18, she had little sense she was breaking ground. And for women, it was indeed unfamiliar territory _ as she learned when she told her own mother. ``She looked at me with a strange face and said, `I didn’t know airplanes had elevators’,″ my mother recalls now.
Unlike many Rosies who returned to the kitchen after the war, both Monroe and my mother kept working. My mother became a linguist and taught at universities, while raising three children.
Monroe drove taxis, ran a beauty shop and started a home construction firm. She died in May in Clarksville, Ind., at age 77, a half century after she became an icon by turning a man’s job into a job _ period.
_By National Writer Ted Anthony
He spotted her on the Star Ferry, the pennies-a-ride boat that has plied Hong Kong’s harbor for a century. She was a prostitute _ a good-hearted one. He wanted to paint her portrait. He ended up falling in love.
From the ramshackle Luk Kwok Hotel in a section called Wanchai on the Hong Kong waterfront, Robert Lomax courted Suzie Wong. It never happened, of course, except in the mind of a British novelist.
With ``The World of Suzie Wong,″ Richard Mason immortalized this exaggerated and exotic snapshot of Asia _ froze it in literary amber so William Holden and Nancy Kwan could come along on film and plant an image of Hong Kong, circa 1957, in the American psyche.
Mason died Oct. 13 of throat cancer. He was 78. His views of Asia came primarily from his Royal Air Force experiences in Burma during World War II, and he did write other novels about the region. But it was Suzie Wong who lingered.
It was Suzie Wong who led Lomax through the rickshaw-crowded, piquant streets of colonial Hong Kong, with its strange mix of East and West. It was Suzie Wong who became the quintessential bar girl, who drew Westerners to Wanchai seeking companionship or more.
You won’t find Suzie Wong’s world today.
The Luk Kwok is a gleaming tower with in-room minibars that sell cashew packets for more than $5. The girls in the Lockhart Street bars are Filipino or Thai, and a ``girl drinks″ _ Diet Coke, usually _ can top $10.
And the waterfront _ well, the Luk Kwok is now nearly a half-mile inland. Land reclaimed from the harbor has become high-end real estate, including the 75-floor Central Plaza and the Hong Kong Convention Center, where Britain’s Prince Charles handed Hong Kong back to China earlier this year.
Sure, the Star Ferry still runs. But it parks itself in a Hong Kong that has little room for the Suzie Wong’s outdated stereotypes.
A Hong Kong that Richard Mason wouldn’t recognize.
_By National Writer Ted Anthony