William S. Paley, 89, founder and chairman of the Columbia Broadcasting System and one of the most powerful and influential figures in the history of American radio and television, died at his home in New York City Friday night after an apparent heart attack. He had pneumonia.
Mr. Paley began his career at CBS in 1928 at the age of 27 with the purchase of a failing Philadelphia-based network of 16 radio stations for $400,000, which he obtained from his family. Over the next six decades he built it into a multi-billion-dollar news, entertainment and advertising conglomerate that set the tone and character for American broadcasting and helped determine the style and direction of American politics and culture.
His particular gift was an uncanny and certain sense of how best to entertain the American public. "The challenge," Mr. Paley said in "As It Happened," his autobiography, "is to know what the public is seeking before the public even knows it is looking for something else."
From the beginning, he made a point of signing top talent. Band leader Paul Whiteman and comedian Will Rogers were among the network's early stars. Others included Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball, Arthur Godfrey, Amos 'n Andy, Jack Benny, Red Skelton and Ed Sullivan. In the 1930s, Mr. Paley began Sunday afternoon broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic.
At that time, he also put on a series of daytime melodramas that came to be known as "soap operas" because many of their sponsors were soap companies. Shows such as "Our Gal Sunday," "Just Plain Bill," "The Romance of Helen Trent" and "Ma Perkins" became part of daily life for millions of Americans seeking escape from the cares and concerns of the Great Depression and later the savagery of World War II.
The essential ingredient in all of them, said Mr. Paley, was "likable, intriguing characters who capture the imagination, interest or concern of the audience. The best of them take on the aspects of real people to such an extent that the audience wants to know from week to week what happens to them."
It was also during the early years that Mr. Paley presided over the organization of a CBS news division that dominated broadcast news for years. In "The Powers That Be," David Halberstam said a key move on Mr. Paley's part was hiring Edward Klauber, a former New York Times editor, to run the division. Klauber was credited with attracting a staff whose members became household names and setting a tone of authority and restraint that stood in sharp contrast to the sensationalism that characterized much of broadcast journalism.
During World War II, CBS correspondents broadcast the first eyewitness accounts of the Allied landings at Tunis, Algiers and Leyte. Correspondents such as William L. Shirer, Eric Sevareid and Howard K. Smith became known to millions. Edward R. Murrow, CBS's legendary chief foreign correspondent, reported the Battle of Britain live from London with the sound of German bombs exploding in the background.
At his death, Mr. Paley owned only 8 percent of the CBS stock, but his name and that of CBS were synonomous throughout the industry. He was president of the company from 1928 until 1946, when he became chairman of the board and chief executive officer.
Mr. Paley stepped aside as chief executive officer in 1977, but he continued as chairman until he retired in 1983. In 1986, he returned as chairman after a power struggle on the CBS board of directors that saw the ouster of chairman and CEO Thomas H. Wyman and the selection of Laurence A. Tisch, a billionaire businessman, as president and CEO.
In Mr. Paley's later years some of the CBS lustre dimmed, and he often was criticized for failing to yield control of the company at a time when he was no longer abreast of the industry's technological developments.
But from 1955 through 1976, CBS led all other networks in audience ratings. It was overtaken in 1977, and since then has not achieved such a run of uninterrupted dominance. Similarly, by the 1980s, the CBS News division no longer enjoyed the unchallenged position at the top that it had once claimed. Falling profits forced major cost-cutting and layoffs.
Mr. Paley could be autocratic and ruthless, and he had widely publicized disagreements with several of the network's top people, including Murrow. In the 1950s, he canceled Murrow's highly regarded news magazine show, "See It Now," after removing it from the prime-time schedule to make room for more profitable entertainment programs.
In private life, Mr. Paley was an elegant dresser, a lover of gourmet food, world-class collector of post-Impressionist art and longtime chairman of the board of trustees of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He had a suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City, an 85-acre estate in Manhasset on Long Island, two residences in the Caribbean and a summer house in New Hampshire.
He was married twice: to Dorothy Hart Hearst, the former wife of John Randolph Hearst, whom he wed in 1932 and divorced in 1947; and to New York socialite Barbara "Babe" Cushing Paley, whom he married five days after his divorce. A famous beauty, she was a daughter of Harvey Cushing, a noted Boston surgeon. One of her sisters became Mrs. John Hay Whitney and the other became Mrs. Vincent Astor. Mrs. Paley died of cancer in 1978.
William Samuel Paley was born in Chicago. His parents, Jewish immigrants from Russia, had a prosperous cigar business. In 1919, they moved to Philadelphia. There, Mr. Paley attended the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Finance, graduating in 1922.
One day he decided to buy $50 worth of radio advertising for the family business. The response was so great that he decided to go into broadcasting himself. In 1928 he did so, and the following year he changed the name of his company to the Columbia Broadcasting System. In 1931, CBS showed a net profit of $2.35 million, almost equal to that of NBC.
In 1943, Mr. Paley went to North Africa to organize radio activities for the Office of War Information. Later he was commissioned a colonel in the Army, and served during 1945 as deputy chief of the psychological division on Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's staff.
After the war, CBS was faced with the new medium of television. Perhaps because he already had made a name and fortune, Mr. Paley was slow to recognize its significance. It was not until 1953 that the network's television operations, which had run up losses of $60 million, showed a profit.
A year later, CBS radio and television became the largest advertising medium in the world.
Against this background of uninterrupted success, CBS found itself in the middle of a scandal that involved its vaunted integrity. Among the most popular TV programs of the time were quiz programs in which contestants routinely answered seemingly impossible questions, and by the summer of 1958, CBS was airing seven of these offerings a week. The most popular of them was "The $64,000 Question."
A contestant complained that some competitors were being given the answers in advance and an investigation confirmed this. The public blamed CBS, although all of the rigged shows were produced by independent organizations. Mr. Paley responded by canceling all the quiz programs and ordering CBS News to do more prime-time documentaries and expand its "CBS Reports" programs as a way of restoring the network's reputation.
The postwar period also saw the acquisition by CBS of more than 40 other companies ranging from manufacturers of musical instruments to textbook publishers. From 1964 to 1973, the network owned the New York Yankees baseball team. The company had a thriving records division, which in 1987 it sold to the Sony Corp. for $2 billion.
In the summer of 1955, Mr. Paley committed the network to the purchase of a 40 percent interest in a new Broadway musical, "My Fair Lady," for $360,000. The show went on to become one of the leading hits in the history of the American theater. With the attendant record rights and interest in the movie, CBS earned more than $33 million on its investment.
Subsequently, CBS backed such musical shows as "Camelot," "Mame," and "Cabaret," but Mr. Paley's judgment was not infallible. He turned down an opportunity to invest in "Fiddler on the Roof," because he did not like the ending, and it subsequently became a hit show.
On the entertainment side, one of the sharpest breaks with the past came in the 1970-71 season when "All In the Family" was broadcast for the first time. The leading character on the show was a boisterous, working-class bigot named Archie Bunker, and there were grave reservations about it at CBS.
"For the first time, we allowed an entertainment program to deal in a real way with ordinary subjects, using the kind of conversations that one might hear in any household -- ethnic attitudes and all," Mr. Paley recalled in his autobiography.
"All In the Family" went on to make broadcast history, and its success is the stuff of which the legend of William S. Paley is made.
Mr. Paley's survivors include two children from his first marriage, Jeffrey Paley and Hilary Paley Califano, both of New York City; two children from his second marriage, William Cushing Paley of Washington and Kate Cushing Paley of New York City; and two stepchildren, Stanley Mortimer III and Amanda Ross.
Lucille Marie Carnegie Jackson, 66, a retired library media specialist at Whittier Elementary School in Washington, died of a heart attack Oct. 20 at her home in Rockville.
Mrs. Jackson was born in New Haven, Conn. She graduated from Southern Connecticut State University and received her library certification from the University of Maryland.
She moved to the Washington area in 1947. As a member of the PTA, she helped establish a library at Whittier. In 1965, she joined the D.C. school system as a library media specialist, and she was assigned to Whittier until she retired in 1985.
Since her retirement, she sold children's wear at Woodward & Lothrop at Montgomery Mall.
Mrs. Jackson was a former treasurer of the D.C. Association of School Librarians and a member of the Washington Teachers Union and St. Martha's Guild at Calvary Episcopal Church in Washington. She also was a member of various bowling leagues and bridge clubs and the Rose and Thorns social club.
Her husband, Irwin Eugene Jackson Jr., died in April. Survivors include two children, Laureen Jackson Baker of Durham, N.C., and Bruce Carnegie Jackson of Rockvillle; a sister, Dorothy Carnegie Teabout of West Haven, Conn.; and a grandchild.