In the late 1970s, a mountain man from Deep Gap became a celebrity. He had a thick mustache that reached halfway down his chin, and he carried a musket with a barrel as long as a tobacco stick. His name was Willard Watson.
Another man, a news reporter by the name of C.J. Underwood, who had city-styled wavy, brown hair, was the one who gave Watson his fame — the one who made sure thousands of people tuned in to hear Watson say, “I must be partly lizard cause I outrun [the sheriff] skewtin’ on my belly.”
Underwood, a reporter with WBTV in Charlotte, gave hundreds of people their 15 minutes of fame back in the ’70s and ’80s. He started “Carolina Camera” in 1971, and for years, toured the Carolinas and interviewed anybody with a story. There was the woman who had 26-year-old cats; the woman who sold meals for 75 cents; and, of course, Watson.
Johnny Carson and Paul Harvey called the station to ask for people they’d seen on “Carolina Camera.” A couple married for 75 years was on the “Paul Harvey Show.” A man who made jewelry out of bird droppings appeared on the “Tonight Show.”
In the early ’90s, WBTV pulled the plug on the program. Nobody remembers why. But in 2010, after the station ran a special show on “Carolina Camera,” people begged the station to revive the program.
Today, Christine Nelson and John Carter serve as hosts of “Carolina Camera” once a month. But people still call and request copies of Underwood’s original episodes.
“People remember that moment when C.J. talked to them,” Carter says. “You met him, and you felt like he’d been your friend your whole life.”
Even after Underwood and Watson’s deaths, the “Carolina Camera” video lives online — 15,000 people have watched the pair stroll down the dirt road in Deep Gap where Watson first felt fame.
Sarah Perry is an associate editor at Our State. Her most recent story was about the North Carolina Arboretum (April 2012).