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Larry King Live
Charles Kuralt's Longtime Companion Speaks OutAired February 14, 2001 - 9:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, what would it be like to be a celebrity secret Valentine for nearly 30 years? The story of Charles Kuralt's hidden life with a woman who was not his wife, and the court fight it led to after his death. Joining us in Los Angeles for an exclusive interview, the CBS news man's long-time companion, Patricia Shannon. She's next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening, and welcome to another special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Later, lawyers will be with us to discuss this rather historic case. Our special guest is Patricia Shannon. Pat was long- time companion of Charles Kuralt. A historic testimony, which later would lead to her victory. Here's a portion of that testimony in the case for her inheritance. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICIA SHANNON, CHARLES KURALT'S COMPANION: Charles asked me out to dinner, and he came to the house and he had roses with him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was your description of first meeting with Charles Kuralt, right?
KING: What was the occasion? What was he doing regarding you?
SHANNON: This was in 1968 and it was during all the civil rights turmoil. Kennedy had been assassinated and Martin Luther King and I lived in Reno, Nevada and decided to build a park in a black neighborhood. And we did it as a community and we did it in 72 hours. It was named the Pat Baker Park.
KING: You name was Baker at the time.
SHANNON: At the time that was -- yes. And...
KING: He came to cover it.
SHANNON: He came. I called him, and, in fact, we were not getting anywhere with the park in Reno. It was a pretty conservative town in those days. The color line was very strict. So, I called Walter Cronkite and asked him if wouldn't send -- I wanted him to send out this new guy that was going on the road and Walter Cronkite's secretary, being a very smart woman, said well don't you just talk to Charles yourself. So she punched me over and that's the first time I talked to him.
KING: And did he do a story on you?
SHANNON: He did do a story.
KING: And did it run?
SHANNON: It did run.
KING: Did you like him right away?
SHANNON: I did. Well, I didn't during the building of the park. It was three days and I was intense on the park. But then the last day we went out to dinner and...
KING: Did you know he was married?
SHANNON: I did. He told me just about everything about him that night.
KING: Were you hesitant then to step into what appeared like a relationship?
SHANNON: Well, I certainly should have been.
SHANNON: And on retrospect, I guess I would say, you know...
KING: Why? You had 30 pretty good years.
SHANNON: I had wonderful years, and I always -- you know, I spent a lot of time in Ireland, and an there's an Irish poet, his name's Patrick Cavanaugh and he says: "I saw the danger yet I walked along the enchanted way and I set let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day." So, the Irish kind of know what it is to..
KING: How quickly did it develop?
SHANNON: Well, he was there. This was in July and he was back -- he was subbing for Cronkite that August and he came back out on what were his yearly vacations in September and he came back in September.
KING: And it began romantically then.
KING: And you two were together for how many years?
SHANNON: Until he died. The last few years were painful and separating and coming back together but...
KING: How often would you -- now, he was married. He had two daughters from an earlier marriage who were later adopted...
SHANNON: That's right.
KING: ... by someone else.
SHANNON: They were adopted by his first wife's second husband.
KING: And his second wife, there were no children.
SHANNON: No children.
KING: And that was a long marriage, right, the second one?
SHANNON: That was 35 years.
KING: And she died recently.
SHANNON: Yes, about a year and a half ago.
KING: And so, she was 35 years with him and you were, of those 35, with him 32, right?
SHANNON: About 30.
KING: How did you do it? How did it work?
KING: I mean, we're all befuddled by it.
SHANNON: Yes, well, I would like to just propose a theory, and that's that number one, Charles was, as we all know, an honorable man.
KING: Everybody loved him.
SHANNON: Yes, rightly so, and he would never have done anything deliberately dishonest. He was a man who threw most of his talents and his energies into holding up this portrait of America to ourselves. And it was only a portion of himself that he kept back for his private life. And when we first met, he was 33. I was 34. He was on his second marriage. He thought it was failing.
KING: You were divorced with a son.
SHANNON: I was divorced, had three children.
KING: Two daughters...
SHANNON: Two daughters and a son. And he was very busy. I was busy. I was working, and we thought everything would work out.
KING: As a kind of an affair or was the result and hope that he would get divorced?
SHANNON: Yes, we were a family and he joined our family.
KING: You lived like a family, right?
KING: How'd he get along with your daughters and your son, I know, is with you tonight? How do he get along with your children?
SHANNON: Well, he was wonderful to them, and he opened up our lives. I mean, I was a divorced, single mother working in Reno, and so we had a fairly limited, a pleasant life but a limited one and Charles came into our lives like a Drosselmeir from "The Nutcracker" and just opened it up and always planned surprises for us...
KING: How did the kids handle the fact that he was married?
SHANNON: Well, we never really -- I suppose the really impossible thing to say is we didn't think of him as married. We thought of him as being part of our family.
KING: Now, how do -- as we know Charles, and everyone I ever talked to when the story broke associated with him, people at CBS. Morley Safer last week had no idea. How did people close to him in New York, people who worked with him, I assume wife, nobody knew of it? Do you think?
SHANNON: Well, I'm not so certain about that. I mean, I think perhaps there have been a few failed memories. I mean, we were certainly quiet about it, but..
KING: But you came to New York, right?
SHANNON: I came to New York.
KING: And you went out together in New York.
SHANNON: Yes, we went out.
KING: Did friends see you together?
SHANNON: Well, I suppose so.
KING: Did he introduce you?
SHANNON: Yes, he always introduced me. I was always Pat Shannon, and perhaps part of it was just the times that nobody questioned us going to dinner and we weren't in the fast track. You know, Charles, he was...
KING: How about life in Reno? Were you like a family? SHANNON: Yes, and when moved down the Bay area, you know, he went to graduations and we went on picnics and we went sail and, you know, we acted like a family. My mother was involved.
KING: Nobody in the press ever came over to you and said, are you a couple?
KING: So, you never thought of yourself as...
SHANNON: I never thought of myself as the other woman.
KING: You weren't a mistress.
SHANNON: Oh, no. In fact, I think that that's an antiquated word, and I don't know any American woman that fits that category today because that implies submissiveness and an unequal relationship, and American woman are just too feisty.
KING: You're a feminist, right?
SHANNON: You bet.
KING: More so than Charles was.
SHANNON: You bet. You bet. And I base that on Helen Thomas, who when this whole thing first broke back in the early '60s and they asked her, they said...
KING: You mean the '80s, about you.
SHANNON: No, just about feminism and they asked her, well, are you a feminist and she said, well, of course. And they said, well, when did you become a feminist and she said when I drew my first breath.
KING: Out guest is Pat Shannon, long-time companion of Charles Kuralt, won a historic lawsuit. We'll get to that. Lawyers will be with us later on. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES KURALT, CBS NEWS: Interstate 90 goes 2,743 miles from Boston to Seattle, right across the continent. Non-stop.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHANNON: I met Mr. Kuralt in Reno, Nevada. I actually saw him for the first time on July 17th of 1968. It was at 7 o'clock in the morning.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back on LARRY KING LIVE with Pat Shannon, longtime companion of Charles Kuralt. We're already quite ahead in the story.
He monetarily supported you?
SHANNON: Yes, I worked of course, and when we first met, I was working for Sierra Pacific Power Company, and then shortly after the park, I went to work for Paul Laxalt, who was governor of Nevada at the time.
KING: Ah, Paul, a good friend of ours.
SHANNON: Yes. Oh, he's lovely. I...
KING: Did he know about this?
SHANNON: He did. He knew -- I mean, Charles and he when they were at conventions used to pass little high signs, I think, and so I worked for Paul, and then he took a temporary retirement and didn't run for governor a second term. And so he got me a job down with the Labor Department down in San Francisco. And so we all just moved down, and...
KING: And you were like a family?
KING: And when Charles was away, would he call you from home?
SHANNON: Called me every night.
KING: Every night?
SHANNON: Every night.
KING: Do you think his wife knew?
SHANNON: Well, Charles wrote in his "Life on the Road With Charles Kuralt," he said that he had spent -- never spent more than a week at a time with Petie Baird, who was his wife, and that she was contented with that relationship. He was gone most of the time.
KING: In other words, an explanation was the job he had, right?
SHANNON: Well, I'm not so certain about that. I -- I always felt that there was -- and I speak this Petie Baird died a year and a half ago. Charles is not here, and I cannot say what went on between them. But I always believed they had a -- a companionship and a sense of obligation toward one another and that they lived within those boundaries.
KING: So a kind of an arrangement?
SHANNON: That may be the word.
KING: May have known about you or may not -- you don't know.
SHANNON: That's true.
KING: Did he talk about her a lot?
SHANNON: Yes. Well, not a lot. But we talked about her.
KING: But you knew a lot about...
SHANNON: Yes, I knew a lot of his family.
KING: Oh, you met his family?
SHANNON: Well, I met his brother, Wallace, and his sister, Catherine, and I met his mother and father, Wallace and Ina.
KING: Are you surprised that no one at CBS knew?
SHANNON: Well, of course, the crew knew. Izzy Bleckman knew.
KING: The crew at "Sunday Morning" and the crew when he worked...
SHANNON: Well, the crew on, "On the Road."
KING: And the crew "On the Road" knew. They had to know, because when he went on the road, he went to see you, right?
SHANNON: That's right.
KING: Did he eventually -- did you build a house in Montana?
SHANNON: Yes, we did. That was in -- in '85. And we'd been going up to -- in Septembers on the Big Hole, oh, since '76. And Charles, it was his ideal, because it was -- it's in a little -- it's down on the bottom on the big hole.
KING: There you see it.
SHANNON: Oh, yes. That's it. That's -- that's Charles' little North Carolina cabin on the Big Hole, squared-off logs, and he just adored it. So we built that in '85 and used it -- Charles used it as a safe house.
KING: I had quite a relationship with Charles Kuralt. He was on the Peabody committee that nominated my radio show for a Peabody. We later would win one.
KING: He would be there for the presentation. We also won for television. He also put me into the academy of achievement. He spoke at Sun Valley, Idaho. I'll never forget that day. Were you there then? SHANNON: I wasn't at Sun Valley.
KING: But you were around.
SHANNON: I was at the cabin.
KING: But you remember when he went to Sun Valley, right?
SHANNON: Yes, I do.
KING: He spoke eloquently. He became an honorary Indian, too, didn't he? A Native American?
SHANNON: He did,. In fact, it was -- I think his best book are his radio pieces called "Dateline America." And it's from the '70s, and he would just toss them off as fast as he could, because it was part of the contract. And sometimes there would be a take-off of an "On the Road" piece, they're a little bit more acerbic than Charles normally was. And it's lovely.
KING: Pat, honestly, did you expect to marry him?
SHANNON: Well, I don't know if I ever really expected to marry him. I mean, I -- I was already divorced. I had three children. Marriage as such didn't mean as much to me.
KING: You didn't press him to get divorced?
SHANNON: Oh, never.
KING: Did he ever suggest getting divorced?
SHANNON: He could not do it.
KING: She was sick, right?
SHANNON: I -- I believe she was.
KING: Did that keep him?
SHANNON: I can't say what kept him.
KING: So, that was not part of the pressure discussions: Charles, why don't you marry me?
SHANNON: No, we argued about how do you solve the Indian problem, and whether or not Susan Brown Miller's "Against Our Will" was a legitimate critique of the male. I mean, he would call me and we would argue and have raging fights, and he'd hang up, and then he'd call back and make another point. And whenever we were in arguments like that, I would get excited and I would make a grammatical error, and in the midst of all this rage, Charles would stop and correct me. (LAUGHTER)
And oh, it was maddening.
KING: Was he as lovely a man as we got to know? The public Kuralt, was he as lovely as the private Kuralt?
SHANNON: He was -- he -- I always wanted to be Charles. He was everything I wanted. He was tolerant, kind. He -- accepting. Never -- impossible for Charles to be cruel. He was exhilarating. He loved the human comedy, and things that I would take very seriously he would laugh about and find amusing.
KING: Charles Kuralt's longtime companion Pat Shannon. This is LARRY KING LIVE. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURALT: "On the Road," we've traveled by trains and planes and sailing ships and rafts and cable cars and paddle-wheel steamers, and I guess it's about time for the ultimate trip.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHANNON: We never were married and he never got divorced, but we were, I considered and I think he considered and I know the children considered that we were a family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: OK, our guest is Pat Shannon. In a 1989 handwritten document, Kuralt said: "In the event of my death, I bequeath to Patricia Elizabeth Shannon all my interest in land, buildings, furnishings, and personal belongs on Burma Road Twin Bridges, Montana."
KING: That led to your lawsuit, right?
SHANNON: Well, actually, that was part of it. The second was a letter -- Charles had open heart surgery in '95, and the fall of '95. And he never recovered. He was ill and depressed to the end of his life, and was in and out. They did tests and tests and tests and tests, and the last six months, it got frantic. And I was in Ireland, and on June the 18th Charles wrote me a letter and said...
KING: I've got that hear. I'm going to read it. SHANNON: ... they couldn't find out what was the matter and they were taking him into the hospital. In that letter, he said you should inherit...
KING: Let me read it. June 18th, 1997, Charles Kuralt writing to Pat Shannon. This was the key in the case, wasn't it?
KING: Because intent, as I understand it. There you see the letter in front of you.
"Something is terribly wrong with me and they can't figure out what. After CAT scans and a variety of cardiograms they agree it's not lung cancer or heart trouble or a blood clot. So they're putting me in the hospital today to concentrate on infectious diseases.
"I'm getting worse, barely able to get out of bed, still have high hopes for recovery, if only I can get a diagnosis. Curiouser and curiouser. I'll keep you informed.
"I'll have a lawyer visit the hospital to be sure you inherit" -- this is underlined in the note -- "the rest of the place in M-T" -- that's Montana -- if it comes to that. I send love to you and Shannon. Hope things are better there. Love, C."
SHANNON: Shannon is my youngest daughter.
KING: And that was the last you heard from him?
KING: What did he die of?
SHANNON: I -- I don't know.
KING: Lupus was what the paper said.
SHANNON: Well, they've had two different releases: One said lupus and one said of a heart attack. I would like to know.
KING: Did you go to the funeral?
SHANNON: I did.
KING: Where did you sit?
SHANNON: I didn't sit.
KING: No. I mean, were you up-close, were you...
SHANNON: No. They had a marquee. It was a small funeral, a large memorial service, and they did have chairs, of course, as they always do. But we stood outside of the marquee. It was my children and myself.
KING: Had the story broken then?
KING: So you saw the wife and you saw...
SHANNON: Yes, we tried -- and I talked to Izzy Bleckman, who was Charles' cameraman for the whole time he was on, "On the Road."
KING: You talked to him at the funeral.
KING: How did you learn of the death?
SHANNON: When I received Charles' letter, I called J.R., who is my son, who kept calling Charles and couldn't get an answer. And finally, Petie Baird answered Charles' telephone, which she did not normally do.
KING: His wife.
SHANNON: Yes. And told J.R. that Charles was in the hospital but that everything was fine, he'd be coming home in a few days. So I asked J.R. to call Izzy Bleckman, who was one of Charles' best friends, and he didn't know he was in the hospital.
So Izzy called and did talk to Charles, and Charles told him not to come to New York, he was feeling much better and would be going home. And so Izzy told J.R. and J.R....
KING: How did you learn that he died?
SHANNON: J.R. had called to say that he had talked to Charles, and Charles said he would be going home in a day or two and would call me, and not to worry.
KING: And then what happened?
SHANNON: And I called the hospital to leave a message, and they told me he had just died.
KING: You were in Ireland?
KING: Come right home?
KING: We'll be right back with Pat Shannon on LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KURALT: To spend a day with a totem pole carver and another day with a steamer captain and another day with a cowboy, the real thing, is the essence of life to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHANNON: He called almost every night during the next six weeks, and at one point he sent me a volume of -- of "The Wilderness," which was a book on the Sierra, and he wrote a note and he said "Pick a place and we'll go there." And he came back in September, and we did go hiking in the Sierra.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Were you shocked, Pat, when you came forward and then the news broke, the reaction to it?
SHANNON: I was surprised and I'm still puzzled.
KING: Did you get a lot of criticism?
SHANNON: Well, I sort out of hide out in Derry Navan (ph) and Conamarna (ph) and in...
KING: So do you get a lot of mail?
SHANNON: ... in the cabin.
KING: Are people...
SHANNON: So I do get -- I do get some.
KING: Angry mail?
SHANNON: Some. Some. But I just think the whole -- I think that it was unfortunate, and I don't know what caused it.
KING: When you brought your lawsuit, it was for the finances you felt due you, right?
SHANNON: It was -- it wasn't for finances. It was just for the Montana property, which Charles...
KING: And was the family claiming that that was theirs?
SHANNON: They -- the basis of the suit was that the letter of intent had no legal bearing, yes.
KING: And as we know, the courts ruled and the appeals court ruled that a letter of intent in Montana is...
SHANNON: Is. They said that's the bedrock of Montana law. I do want to say that my brilliant Bozeman attorney, Jim Goetz, is responsible.
KING: He's been (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
SHANNON: Oh, he's wonderful.
KING: Are you going to write a book about all this?
SHANNON: I -- well, not about the trial, because the trial doesn't really have anything to do with Charles. I mean, that's extreme.
KING: You're going to write a book about Charles.
SHANNON: Well, I have written a book. It's called "Charles and Me: Notes in the Margin." and I titled it that because as I said earlier Charles' life was, I have always thought, a gift to the American people.
KING: You're going to submit it for publication? You haven't submitted it.
SHANNON: I have not submitted it. I would like to.
KING: Charles would be proud of it?
SHANNON: I think he would. I worked very hard on it. And I wrote -- I wrote another little book that he helped me with, so I had -- I was lucky enough to have some input from him earlier.
KING: Our guest is Pat Shannon. When we come back, some more moments with her, and then when Pat leaves us, we'll be talking about the legal aspects of this extraordinary story with the longtime companion of Charles Kuralt, Pat Shannon.
I'm Larry King. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This may come as surprise to you, but there are more greased pig contests than there are Senate hearings. So, the job keeps us busy 52 weeks a year.
KURALT: Fourth of July in Salina, Kansas. Have a piece of watermelon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: By the way, Charles Kuralt would die on the 4th of July.
KING: Appropriate in a way. He was so American.
SHANNON: Yes, with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. KING: Also died on the same day. Pat Shannon's the guest. Let's get a call in.
Monterey, California. Hello.
CALLER: Yes, I'm calling to ask Mrs. Shannon just what did she expect to have received from Charles Kuralt if he had given life and his children, a marriage and then she is going to get just the left- overs, and I'm incensed with Larry King to have her on the program.
KING: OK, people are mad at you.
SHANNON: Yes, well, I understand that, and it was an unusual situation and not one that everyone can understand or accept. But I do believe that Charles took care of his obligations to his wife, to his daughters. Even though they were adopted and were no longer legally his, he always considered them his daughters. And he gave a great deal to the country, and what was left I was quite satisfied with.
KING: By the way, the lawyers for the late wife and the family were invited and they declined. He also sent a check to your son, right, for $50,000 saying, if I should die, highly unlikely they tell, cash it immediately. Don't fail
KING: Did he eventually get that money?
KING: The estate didn't honor it.
SHANNON: Well, the estate -- I think the estate perhaps felt we were bogus, you know, and acted on that assumption.
KING: What did you learn from all this?
SHANNON: Well, I guess -- I mean people ask me do you have advice for someone else and I would say, well, yes if this happens, join a convent or flee to Tibet.
KING: But you're not sorry it happened. You're not sorry you knew Charles Kuralt.
SHANNON: No, I would do it again in a heartbeat, Larry.
KING: In a heartbeat.
SHANNON: In a heartbeat.
KING: You never felt guilty about his wife.
KING: Because? SHANNON: I believed, and I believe now, that I did her no harm.
KING: When you think of him, what do you remember most?
SHANNON: Oh, I remember -- I mean, we always use -- our life was very quiet and we used to read all the time. And so, in the evenings, you know, you really miss him and after dinner we would always -- he would have that last glass of wine and we would sit on the sofa, and I would always curl up and put my feet in his lap and every night he read to me and we read, you know, Emily Dickinson or Mark Twain. We read Henry Steele Commager and we read the history all the way through and Charles said we're the only people in America that have read Henry Steele Commager out aloud cover to cover.
KING: Did he ever talk the business with you? Television? People he worked with?
SHANNON: Yes, I always felt -- I suppose that was part of the shock when all this happened, and no one from back East has ever contacted us because I always felt they were part of the family.
KING: You never heard from anyone.
SHANNON: I did hear from one photographer, a wonderful man, Robert Mitchell in Boothbay Harbor, Maine and he writes me frequently.
KING: How about any of the news men at CBS?
KING: North Carolina, where he is an institution. I was down there speaking. Charles Kuralt is a major factor at -- he loved that university.
SHANNON: Oh, he was a Tar Heel born, Tar Heel bred.
KING: All right, let's get in one more quick call.
Cherry, Washington, Hello.
CALLER: Hi, Larry. Mrs. Shannon, it's a delight to talk to you. I am so glad that he had you, and I would like to know if Charles Kuralt knows or knew how much he meant to so many million people?
KING: Was he aware of impact on this country?
SHANNON: I don't know. Charles was awfully -- he was a modest man, and he always thought television was so ephemeral and he wanted -- and that it didn't last and he wanted to write something that would last. He was going to do it in Schoolhouse. And it was an epic poem for Lewis and Clark, and the refrain was and they heard the meadow lark sing. So, no, I don't think he knew, really. He thought out of sight, out of mind.
KING: So, he was never affected at all by being famous, right? Never. SHANNON: He fought against it very hard and I don't -- I mean some people are easy with celebrity. Charles felt uncomfortable with it, and he always quoted Ed Murrow, who really started CBS News and said, you know, just because you can hear you voice further than the end of the bar doesn't mean that you know any more than you used to, and I think he believed that.
KING: Do you miss him a lot?
SHANNON: Yes, every day. He informs every minute of my life, Larry.
KING: Thank you. Pat.
SHANNON: Thank you.
KING: I'm glad I knew him.
SHANNON: Yes, thank you.
KING: Pat Shannon. When we come back, we'll met her attorney, Jim Goetz; Valerie Vollmar, professor of law and the renowned attorney Raoul Felder and discuss the legal aspects of this. We thank Patricia Shannon, the long-time companion of the late Charles Kuralt. This is LARRY KING LIVE. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURALT: I don't think we've changed so much. I think we're still a natively optimistic kind of people. I never go by polls or anything, and I can't put my thumb on the mood of the America. It's not the thing I have studied, but it's still possible to wander out there along back roads and in the small towns and find a lot of interesting and optimistic people, and in that important way, I think we haven't changed at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURALT: Good morning, I'm Charles Kuralt and this is "Sunday Morning."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Wow, staple of American life. We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE Jim Goetz. He's in Bonner, Montana, the attorney and very successful attorney for Patricia Shannon. In Portland, Oregon is Valerie Vollmar. She is professor of law. Her areas of expertise include wills, trusts, and estates. She teaches at Willamette University College of Law and in New York, the famed, renowned attorney Raoul Felder. He's handled many high profile marriage, divorce and alimony cases. He's also host of his own radio talk show.
Jim Goetz, what was key to winning this property for Pat?
JIM GOETZ, PAT SHANNON'S ATTORNEY: I think the key was Pat's testimony. She was just a great witness, and we had very good facts and the judge, both judges felt very strongly that she was -- she had the long-term relationship and she was entitled. The first judge went against us on the law, but I think she was just a wonderful witness.
KING: The key, Valerie, seems to be intent, and I might add that Janet Ashcroft, the wife our attorney general, who's a lawyer as well and teaches law, is doing textbook and she was going to include this case in her textbook as an example of what the law means by intent. How do you react to this -- the concept of the case and the verdict?
VALERIE VOLLMAR, WILLAMETTE UNIVERSITY: Actually, I'm working on a case book myself and have selected this as one of the cases to be included because it is so interesting. To me, the question is what he intended when he wrote that letter in the hospital. Did he intend that it be a will that operates to dispose of his property when he dies?
And to me, it's pretty clear on the facts here that he didn't intend it to be a will. What he said, and I want to repeat the words that you read earlier from the letter because I think they're very important, what he said is I'll have the lawyer visit the hospital to be sure you inherit the rest of the place in Montana if it comes to that. So, I think it's fairly clear that he intended...
KING: What would that mean?
VOLLMAR: Well, I think what intended was to have a lawyer come down to the hospital and draw up a will that would do that. But the problem is he never followed through.
KING: Raoul Felder, what's your reaction on these two diverse opinions here?
RAUOL FELDER, ATTORNEY: Well, you know, it's an interesting case in that they're both right. It's that old story where have the peasants are having a fight over a horse and the one says to the rabbi, tells him the story and the rabbi says you're right. Then the other one tells him, the rabbi says you're right. Then the rabbi's disciple says, you tell one he's right. You tell the other one he's right. They both can't be right and the rabbi says, you're right.
There's something to what they say. Sure, technically on the face of it, it looks likes an instrument where they intend to make a will. He says if it comes to that, I'll, which means I will, in the future.
However, the court admitted extrinsic facts and it turned out that right about two weeks prior to this '97 will, and right before he died, two weeks before he and two weeks before that, he transferred or I think it might have been two months, he transferred the original 20 acres in a phony sale, interestingly enough, where he gave Miss Shannon $80,000 dollars to then buy it from him and they had arrangements made to consummate the deal on other the 70 acres I think in September.
And so it was clear that this was his intent. So you're faced with the legal argument that it's an intention to make a will. Another argument that this is really what he wanted do. I think these were romantic judges and they felt they did the right thing here.
KING: Jim, do you ever question why the family even, since they know the facts that their relationship being so long, they fought over this piece of property that they didn't even know they had?
GOETZ: I don't -- we give them an chance to work this out before we went to court and it became public, and I do wonder why they fought so hard on it. I think it became a battle of principle for the family, and I wonder myself whether they don't regret it at this point.
KING: Valerie, doesn't spirit of law count? In other words, yes, he didn't write a will, but certainly from that letter, he, Charles Kuralt, wanted her, Pat Shannon, to inherit that house.
VOLLMAR: I think clearly he did want it to pass to her when he died, but I think this is a perfect example of a saying we have in the law that good facts make bad law because the problem is that many people hand write letters and notes and they may say things in there that they don't necessarily mean.
And the reason we have a rule in the law that says you have to say clearly you mean that document to be a will is that if that person later dies, anyone can come forward with handwritten letters and notes and make claims and the person who wrote it has died.
And that's the reason why we require that the language be clear. I think outcome is great, but I think the law, when it's applied to other people, isn't very good. And I agree, I think the Montana Supreme Court was fairly fact-oriented and they liked outcome.
KING: Do you think also, Valerie, a lot had to do with the kind of guy Charles Kuralt was and the respect people had for him so that nobody thought this was some letter to mistress to keep her happy?
VOLLMAR: Well, I like to think that judges are little bit more unbiased in the sense that they would treat everyone the same. So certainly, that ought not to have an impact, On the other hand, I think what did have an impact was that it was a very long-term relationship, and there were facts that showed this is what he would have wanted.
So in this case, it's a great result. But I don't think it was because he was Charles Kuralt.
KING: Raoul, would you have represented either side?
FELDER: Oh, sure. Lawyers are perfect. You know, as long it's not a legal or moral or fact thing, they take the case. But you know, there's an interesting wrinkle here when you read the case and some of the backup on the case that I think probably affected the judge. I know it affected me.
Mrs. Shannon apparently had fallen on hard times and she was in a precarious financial position and she wanted move the thing quickly. Well, the estate, what they did was very calculated. They tried to slow it up, and I think the judge said he's not going to have any part of it. I know if I were a judge, that would bother me that you have woman after 30 years to man successful and she's really in a bad way and on the other hand, you have an estate that's rather callous, just trying to grind her under the process.
KING: We'll be right back with Jim Goetz, Valerie Vollmar and Raoul Felder. We'll include your phone calls as well. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURALT: This, a dried haddock or cod or something, pretty hard to tell what it used to be; as far back as the 9th century, the Vikings sailed the world trading these things for wine, which was a pretty good deal for the Vikings, if you ask me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Jim Goetz, attorney for Pat Shannon, did you realize one of the difficulties you had was you did not have a will?
GOETZ: Well, I think it was a will or it's a valid holographic will. But yes, I realized the difficulty of the case because of the problems Valerie points out. The language was not crystal clear. We had to use that extrinsic evidence and I think -- but once in a while, the courts do the right thing and I think the Montana Supreme Court absolutely did the right thing here. I think it was clear that Mr. Kuralt wanted that property to go to Pat Shannon.
KING: Valerie, could you rewrite the law better?
VOLLMAR: I doubt it.
VOLLMAR: I think it's very important that when someone has died people not be allowed to come forward and make claims when the words don't support that. And the problem is that people can be very careless when they write things down or they maybe writing what they think the person getting the letter would like to hear. That doesn't necessarily mean that they actually intend to go ahead and write a will when they write that document.
KING: Although in this case, the Montana court believed that he did, right?
VOLLMAR: The Montana court concluded that he did, although actually in their opinion, they kind of ignore that one critical sentence. About the only focus they put on that sentence is to say, well, it has in it the worth inherit, and so it must be a will. But actually, what it says is I'll have the lawyer come to the hospital to be sure you inherit, which is a very different thing.
KING: Pebble Beach, California. You've got a call in. Hello.
CALLER: Yes, my question is for Mr. Goetz. My heart goes out to Pat Shannon. Is she now financially able to live the lifestyle in which she was accustomed when Mr. Kuralt was alive?
GOETZ: No. She's what we call in Montana about many ranchers, land-rich and money-poor. She's got the Montana property now, and it's worth a substantial amount of money, but...
KING: Could she sell it.
GOETZ: Well, as soon as we -- if she wants, and I'm not sure what she wants to do and I wouldn't speak for her. But there are some tax issues outstanding that may be obstacles at this point.
KING: Raoul, could you write a better law?
FELDER: Well, I think Valerie's on the right track. The right decision was reached here, the human decision, but the law should be much more precise here.
By the way, you know, this was further complicated. Mr. Kuralt wrote a will on May 4th, 1994, in which he gave everything to his family. So, that was one written will. I think it was probably the last will. But I think yes. I think sometimes you have to be definite and precise, and maybe the answer is that holographic wills should not really be admitted. Certainly in circumstances today where everybody has access to a lawyer -- maybe too many lawyers to have access to.
KING: Holographic will means a letter, right?
FELDER: Well, it's a letter and it has to have certain requirements called animus testondae (ph), meaning you intend to make this a will, but it should be in your handwriting, it should make sense, and you should (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But it's vexatious, and you see it's more troublesome here because Mr. Kuralt was a man who could pick up a phone and call a lawyer and get a will in a minute, you know. So you want to avoid these future situations, I guess.
KING: Back with our remaining moments with Jim, Valerie and Raoul on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Stay there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURALT: I'm always awfully happy, though, in the mountain west, in Montana and Wyoming and Idaho, that gorgeous...
KURALT: ... that gorgeous country.
KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Hawaii? You like mountains better than water?
KURALT: I like the valleys, the rivers that run through the valleys, the animals that live along the rivers that run through the valleys.
There's a -- there's a kind of a nostalgic and a very happy glimpse of what America used to be still available to be seen in the mountain west.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURALT: Remember, please, when I am gone 'twas aspiration led me on. Tiddly-liddly, toodle-oo, all I want is to stay with you. But here I go. Goodbye.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Charles Kuralt retiring from broadcasting.
Grayslake, Illinois, hello.
CALLER: Yes. My question is for the panel: Did Charles Kuralt's wife know that this affair was going on?
KING: Jim, do you know if she knew?
GOETZ: Yes, we did some written discovery in the case. She never testified and declined deposition, but they stipulated that she did not know. She knew that Charles had some Montana property and that was about it.
KING: Valerie, is that relevant?
VOLLMAR: I don't think that's really the issue here. The issue is what he meant when he wrote the letter. So what she knew or didn't do -- didn't know really doesn't affect that.
KING: All right, Raoul, should everybody, everybody have a will?
FELDER: Everybody should have a will, and every woman in the place of poor Ms. Shannon should try to get a marriage license, because that's a magic piece of paper, and Ms. Shannon's story is not unique in this world as we live it today.
Girlfriends, mistresses -- she doesn't like the word mistresses. Girlfriends are -- used to be the province of the rich and the very rich. Well, it's no longer the case, and you ain't going to be protected unless you've got that piece of paper.
KING: Do you think, Jim, there's a lot of double lives going on?
GOETZ: No, I don't have any evidence of that. I was fairly shocked when I heard that about Mr. Kuralt because of his public persona. I don't really specialize in this.
KING: Valerie, do you think, though?
VOLLMAR: I think it's a very uncommon situation, but I do want to echo the words earlier, that everyone should keep their estate plan current. That was really the problem for Charles Kuralt.
KING: And since a will is private, Raoul, Charles Kuralt could have listed Pat in that will, right?
FELDER: Oh, yes, no question about it. But I believe the wife knew nothing about it, because that's why he arranged this phony purchase by Pat of this property that he had. So he tried to keep it to the very end, and you really can't be all things to all women. I mean, there comes a point in time when you've got to say, I've got to protect somebody, and the only way to protect them is to give them something or marry them.
KING: Jim, though, as you said, Pat Shannon, as she made here tonight a very good guest, must have made a terrific witness.
GOETZ: Yes, she was an incredibly good witness, and I really think that's why we won the case.
KING: And did she handle the cross-exam well?
GOETZ: Yes, in the cross-exam, the Court TV covered part of that. And as she was being cross-examined, the scores that people called in, she kept going up. So she gained points, and that's rare in cross-examination. So she was an incredibly good witness.
KING: Thank you all very much, and we thanked Pat earlier. Jim Goetz, the attorney for Patricia Shannon, Valerie Vollmar, professor of law -- areas of expertise include wills, trusts and estates at Willamette University College of Law. And it's always good to see Raoul Felder, renowned attorney who's handled many high-profile marriage, divorce, alimony cases. He hosts his own radio talk show in New York.
By the way, check out my Web site and send us an e-mail: cnn.com/larryking.
Stay tuned now for "CNN TONIGHT." Don't know who's hosting it, but it's going to be great.
Thanks for joining us. We'll see you tomorrow night with another edition of LARRY KING LIVE. For all of our guests, good night.
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