Chester Kukiewicz’s childhood in Amsterdam was not exactly filled with the happiest of memories. His mom died shortly after he was born on this date in 1939. Then in 1954, his dad Albert , who worked in an Amsterdam rug mill, passed away “suddenly” at their 31 Jay Street home. Now an orphan,15 year-old Chet moved in with his Uncle Joseph while he finished high school at Wilbur Lynch.
The young man had a good voice and a love for performing. He got involved in drama in high school under the tutelage of Bert DeRose, performed as a singer at various functions around Amsterdam and eventually became a regular on WRGB’s Teenage Barn Television show, where he was good enough to be invited to become part of the popular program’s touring road production. He also worked summer jobs at WCSS.
DeRose was an alumnus of Ithaca College and he convinced Kukiewicz to attend that school where Chet studied television and radio performance. He became quite the celebrity on campus and the college radio show he hosted became so popular, it got better ratings than most of the commercial station competition he faced in his time slot. The good-looking young man also met Helen Wagner, who would become his first wife. She happened to be the secretary of the dean of Ithaca’s School of Television and Radio!
He accepted a job offer from CBS, working for both radio and television affiliates of that network, first in Washington D.C. and then New York City. In 1968, he moved to Boston’s ABC affiliate, WCVB-Channel 5. He changed his family name to Curtis, divorced his wife and over the next 30 years became the most recognized and respected newsperson in the history of Boston television news.
His career really skyrocketed when WCVB paired him on the anchor desk with Natalie Jacobsen in the early 1970’s. Their on-air chemistry was instant and dynamic propelling their newscast to the top of the ratings. The couple’s off-air chemistry was pretty hot as well and the two were married in 1975. That made them the very first husband and wife co-anchors paired together on the same major market newscast in television history and Boston viewers ate it up.
Curtis became known as the “Mayor of the Newsroom” and was legendary for his abilities to ad-lib when reporting breaking news events and for being able to intelligibly carry an interview on any topic imaginable.
By the 1990’s however, cable news had started cutting into the dominance of local newscasts and by the end of the decade, Internet news sites further eroded their appeal. When Curtis and Jacobsen separated in 1999 and eventually divorced, their already reduced viewer ratings plummeted
Curtis moved to New England Cable News during the last decade of his career. In 2012, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he succumbed to the disease in January of 2014, at the age of 74. In 2013, he was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. He left behind three daughters.
After all those years and all that fame and celebrity, what feeling if any did Chester Kukiewicz have for Amsterdam New York?
He had left instructions that his body be brought back to his hometown for burial alongside his parents in the family plot at St. Stanislaus Cemetery. His partner during the final fourteen years of his life was a woman named Kerry Kristine. She left the following poignant message to Amsterdam at the Betz, Rossi Bellinger & Stewart Web Site;
“Chet was my partner for the last 14 years. He was so proud of his roots in Amsterdam and he never forgot where he came from. An accomplished news anchor, pilot, boat captain, singer and most importantly, a beautiful person. Chet was well loved by everyone who met him and he never missed an opportunity to share the stories of his past and his Polish ancestry. His biggest regret was shortening his name from Kukiewicz to Curtis. RIP Chet-I love you very much.” Kerry
Here’s a You Tube clip of a look back at Chet Curtis’s career as an anchor at WCVB in Boston.