Mystery Man, and His Secret Life

Valentine’s Week is an ironic time to highlight a public figure of the 60s and 70s since our mystery icon, or M.I. for short, led a double life, betraying his wife and daughters while he had a secret 29-year love affair. 

I was an adolescent when I escaped from the news of protests against the Vietnam War and race riots choosing, instead, to tune into this folksy TV personality. He enchanted the nation and me with his southern drawl as he introduced us to the faces of America, including gentle folks doing good for others.

Jethro Mann is one of these folks. This retired minister from North Carolina bought and repaired bicycles so the neighborhood kids who couldn’t buy a bike had one. He continued this ministry as long as he was able.

M.I. also introduced me to the Chandlers, a poor black family in rural Mississippi, who picked cotton in endless fields and sharecropped for long hours hoping to afford to send their nine children to college. M.I. and his camera crew attended the Chandler's 50th wedding anniversary. All nine children made it to the celebration and when Mr. Chandler said the blessing, he broke down in tears. Watch this Facebook post,, and you might too.

Through M.I.’s books and stories, I also got to meet Clyde, who saw a National Geographic special that changed his life. The special featured how treasure hunters were finding gold on a Spanish shipwreck. Clyde sold nearly everything he had, jumped in his 40-foot boat with his Irish wolfhound and border collie, and motored off to Key West. Clyde told M.I., “Came right down that channel over there, low on fuel. When I tied up at the dock, I had thirty-six cents. I was never happier in my life.”

At the time of the interview, Clyde was planning on selling his possessions again and living on a boat, along with his wife and seven-year-old daughter. When asked where they’d go, he replied, “You don’t always have to know where you’re going in life.”

I’ve recently read several of M.I.’s stories, focusing in on places I’ve visited myself. His descriptions of the people fishing for salmon in Ketchikan, Alaska, and needing to climb up rickety stairs to get to their homes on steep hills brought back memories of my trip there in 2010. As did his description of Ely, Minnesota, where my husband and I, along with friends, wilderness kayaked many years ago. While there, I met colorful characters like Dorothy Molter, described by M.I. She lived on an island for over fifty years where she harvested ice in the winter so she could keep food cool in the summer, made friends with ducks, chipmunks and birds, and sold homemade root beer to visiting paddlers.

M.I. traveled more than a million miles through the 50 states, wearing out six motor homes. That lifestyle allowed him to lead a double life, but it also gave us big-hearted stories about small town USA. Through his tales aired on CBS News Sunday Morning, we met worm grubbers, horse traders, mushroom hunters, brick layers, artisans of odd things such as artsy woodpile, and more.

I wouldn’t want M.I. for my valentine, but I appreciated his storytelling. It’s a shame he didn’t live long enough to tell us his own true human-interest story; the story of the secret double life of Charles Kuralt.

One Reply to “Mystery Man, and His Secret Life”

Debbie Gille

Wow….i had no idea about this situation. I always enjoyed Sunday Morning and still do to this day. I always enjoyed the life he shared with his TV family.

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