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Frank Stanton; Pioneer and Longtime President of CBS

CBS President Frank Stanton, right, shown here with network Chairman William S. Paley in 1951, brought Jackie Gleason and Lucille Ball to early CBS programming.
CBS President Frank Stanton, right, shown here with network Chairman William S. Paley in 1951, brought Jackie Gleason and Lucille Ball to early CBS programming. (Cbs Photo Archive Via Associated Press)

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By Frazier Moore
Associated Press Television Writer
Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Frank Stanton, a broadcasting pioneer and CBS president for 26 years who helped turn its TV operation into the "Tiffany network" and built CBS News into a respected information source, died Dec. 24 at his home in Boston. He was 98.

No precise cause of death was reported. "He took an afternoon nap and never woke up," said a longtime friend, Elisabeth Allison.

Mr. Stanton once summarized his duties as "keeping the company going." But during his long association with CBS founder William S. Paley, the psychologist helped build the company from a modest chain of radio affiliates into a communications empire whose centerpiece became the nation's preeminent TV network.

As the head of CBS beginning in 1946, Mr. Stanton oversaw varied enterprises that included Columbia Records, CBS Laboratories, a book publisher, a toymaker and, for a brief time, the New York Yankees.

Paley, a radio man, didn't initially grasp the potential of television.

"He thought it would hurt radio," said Mr. Stanton, who took a chance on the new medium by signing a comic with untested appeal named Jackie Gleason, then nailing down a new sitcom, "I Love Lucy," which might otherwise have gone to NBC.

"Who else had the opportunity to take a new medium, television, and plot its future?" Mr. Stanton once said. He called the job so interesting "I would have almost paid them to do it."

While he shepherded CBS to leadership status among the skyrocketing number of television viewers, Mr. Stanton also made CBS News a priority.

His belief in the First Amendment was genuine. In 1971, subpoenaed by Congress to produce unaired footage from a controversial CBS News documentary, Mr. Stanton risked jail by refusing. A contempt motion failed, but only narrowly.

A less admirable chapter of Mr. Stanton's career found him overseeing CBS's blacklisting policies in the 1950s and '60s. These included the creation in 1951 of a security office to investigate political leanings of CBS employees.

When Federal Communications Commission chief Newton N. Minow declared in 1961 that network television was a "vast wasteland," Mr. Stanton countered that Minow had taken a "sensationalized and oversimplified approach."

Mr. Stanton's interests and expertise were far-flung. He once explained that his success came from knowing more than anybody else about every problem and from "staying ahead of everybody."


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