Each year the Greater New Orleans Broadcasters Association honors six individuals whose outstanding contributions to the broadcasting industry and to the community make them worthy role models.
Jim Tolhurst is the first television photographer to be inducted into the New Orleans Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Long-time friend and colleague Phil Johnson accepted the Hall of Fame award for Tolhurst who was unable to attend. Johnson also wrote and delivered the above video at the induction ceremony.
1995 Hall of Fame Inductees:
Arlene Cuccia • Buddy Diliberto • George Mayoral • Sid Noel • John Pela • James H. Tolhurst
Text from the above video clip:
Why are we honoring Jim Tolhurst tonight as part of the Greater New Orleans Broadcast Hall of Fame? Certainly not because he is a champion equestrian, with enough blue ribbons to paper a wall; nor is it because he is a prize-winning sailor, on Lake Pontchartrain and elsewhere. And not even because he served his country in the Air Force, as an air traffic controller at a military base in Japan. No, none of the above.
We are honoring Jim Tolhurst tonight for a very simple reason: he is the best damn photographer to point a lens in this city since television began here 48 years ago. That's it - he is the best.
Who says so, besides me? Well, the Peabody Awards judges say so. They call the Peabody Award the Pulitzer Prize of television. Tolhurst has won it . . . not just once, but three times, competing with the best in the business, shooting documentaries in Israel, and in China, and in Greece. He was the first local market cameraman in America to be allowed into Red China . . . that was in 1972. And he brought back images of this sprawling, yet impoverished country and of its people, honest, proud, hardworking . . . people like you and me he photographed living, loving, having children, looking to the future. In Israel he covered the guerilla war with the fedayeen, the bombers and the border crossers. He used people to illustrate his story . . . again hardworking people, who protected their children in dugouts covered with 10 feet of dirt and rock and concrete, and who looked to the future.
In Greece he looked to the past, and made a search for Alexander, showing the glory that was Greece: the magnificent Parthenon, the Elgin Marbles, and even the treasures of hand-wrought gold found in the tomb of Alexander's father, Philip of Macedon.
Indeed, Jim Tolhurst traveled the world to bring back these ideas and images to his Channel 4 audience. When the Tut exhibit was coming to New Orleans, he went to Egypt to put the King Tut treasures in context. He went into the Valley of the Kings, and filmed in Tut's tomb, and showed the magnificent golden coffins that held his body.
He went to Paris in the bicentennial year of 1976 to chronicle the pilgrimage of a plane load of Cajuns, going back to France to seek their roots. And he found New Orleans as it looked in 1917, built by a French musician and train buff and installed in the attic of his Paris apartment.
But Tolhurst did not neglect New Orleans itself. His very first documentary was about St. Michael's School for retarded children in the old Irish Channel. It was a moving, yet bouyant portrayal of the children of St. Michael's and the feisty lady who makes the school work, Sister Lillian, who runs it still. And the miracles are happening still. Oh, yes, we forgot to mention . . . for this, his very first documentary Tolhurst won the National Emmy Award, a singular honor.
It was quite a turnaround from what he'd been doing previously. He began as a news cameraman for WDSU-TV and he covered the integration wars at the University of Mississippi, being followed night after night outside Oxford by hard-eyed men with red necks, wads of tobacco in their jaws and buckshot in their shotguns. He lost his news car once. It was overturned and set on fire by a mob just outside the University. Like the guerillas in Israel, these guys played for keeps. But when the Mississippi conflagration died down, he yearned for something new. He'd had his fill of disasters, of floods, of people in trouble. There was beauty in the world. And he wanted to show it. And he did. He did a series of documentaries on houses . . . in the Garden District, in the French Quarter, and along the rivers and bayous, Louisiana's magnificent plantation homes. He did another documentary called "My House," on the need for better housing for the city's poor, shot in miserable neighborhoods, but with dignity and respect. He has portrayed the problems of troubled children . . . and of handicapped children, and a moving piece on teaching deaf children to speak.
In essence, he has done it all. And he has done it uncommonly well. His body of work is enormous, impressive, impeccable. His vision, his thinking is brilliant. The finished product as close to perfection as can be. And he is more than just a shooter. He edits everything he shoots. He even scores his documentaries, picking the music, cutting it into the action.
We end with one of his finest imaginings, this shot of two old comrades-in-arms, at the military cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach in Normandy. It is a professional tour-de-force, showing as it does the awful cost of war, and the love and devotion of the men who remember . . .