“What the hell am I gonna do, quit and go down to Florida and play shuffleboard?” he asks, making it clear that’s not an option.
“Chet and I are good friends. I respect him immensely... [and] I’ve said to him, ‘Why do you need this?’” asserts Jim Thistle, a former Channel 5 colleague who directs BU’s broadcast-journalism program. “I say more power to him. This is Chet.”
“I’m a crooner”
Growing up in upstate New York, the young Curtis dreamed of a singing career. As a teen, he sang on a show out of Schenectady, New York, and once even auditioned for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. He still likes karaoke and recently sang with the Pops at the Spinazzola Foundation’s food-and-wine festival. But Curtis insists that his vocal range is nothing to get excited about.
“I’m a crooner,” he shrugs.
That word might also define the style of Curtis’s TV career, which began at WTOP in Washington in 1963 and passed through WCBS in New York, before landing at Channel 5 in Boston in 1968. (Curtis left New York because “I wasn’t so good that I was gonna light the world on fire. I was never gonna be the next Cronkite.”) Crooning implies an ease of performance, if not artistic excellence. Crooning suggests something soothing and pleasant. And crooning conjures up Dean Martin — the likable star who played the sidekick to both Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra.
At Channel 5, Chet and Nat (who were married in 1975) were the hottest thing in Boston TV news, so embedded in the communal culture that they received about 5000 cards when their daughter was born in 1981. Of the two, Jacobson had more star power and charisma. Curtis was the solid and eminently watchable sidekick.
“Chet had a comfort and ease on the anchor desk unrivaled in the marketplace,” says Paul La Camera, the former Channel 5 general manager who now runs WBUR-FM. “She brought the intensity, so they complemented each other pretty nicely.” (Jacobson declined to comment for this story.)
“What made Chet so good with his relationship with his wife on the air, was he was relaxed,” adds one TV insider. “For Chet everything rolls off his back. [But] this is a female market. You take a look a Chet and Jack,” he adds, referring to Jack Williams, who was paired with Liz Walker at Channel 4. “They were side acts.”
Even if Jacobson burned with higher wattage and Curtis made his job look as simple as rolling out of bed, it’s also easy to underestimate his skills.
“Nat was very good at doing the interview,” says Thistle. “But Chet was driving the ship. He knew where you were going, he understood television.”
“To be a real news person, you need to be a Renaissance man and Chet is that,” adds Emily Rooney, a former Channel 5 news director who now hosts Greater Boston. “If the prompter went down, you’d have to go chapter and verse on anything. And Chet could do that.”