Paley, William (1901-1990)

Published on .

Reprints Reprints

Most Popular
William Paley was born in Chicago on Sept. 28, 1901, to Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. He attended Western Military Academy in Alton, Ill. After attending the University of Chicago, Mr. Paley completed his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a B.S. in 1922.

At age 27, Mr. Paley left his father's successful Congress Cigar Co. Intrigued with radio's potential as a medium for advertising the company's products, he acquired a 41% stake in the 16-station CBS in September 1928 for $417,000. His 41% ownership of the company assured him the presidency and the opportunity to make some revolutionary moves that shaped the future of broadcasting.

In 1933, Mr. Paley formed the Columbia News Service, the world's first radio network news operation, and launched the first international daily news summary, "The CBS News World Round Up," five years later. In 1937, CBS listed its stock on the New York Stock Exchange and entered the recorded music business by acquiring American Record Corp.

In the early years of the network, Mr. Paley took an active part in attracting advertisers, including Creamo Cigars, a product of the American Tobacco Co. Mr. Paley, however, banned the advertising of such products as laxatives and deodorants, and limited the time allotted to commercials, setting standards later adopted industrywide. He also declared a policy of no opinions or personal comments in news broadcasts, a move that discouraged advertisers from using the news as a platform for political opinion-making.

Mr. Paley served as a colonel in North Africa and Italy during World War II, working in psychological warfare, an area that prepared him for the rough-and-tumble reality of early TV. He returned from the service determined to seize control of his network's program content and talent—which previously had been handled entirely by advertisers and their agencies—by establishing an in-house entertainment production unit and limiting advertisers to buying 30-second blocks of time.

As chairman of CBS, Mr. Paley presided over 30 TV affiliates in 1948. In the years that followed, he launched a series of TV news hallmarks, including "The CBS Morning News" (1957) and "60 Minutes" (1968). CBS challenged and overcame NBC program dominance with "I Love Lucy," "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "All in the Family."

Mr. Paley nurtured such personalities as newsmen Edward R. Murrow, John Daly and Robert Trout, as well as entertainers Lucille Ball, Carroll O'Connor, Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen. Walter Cronkite anchored "The CBS Evening News" under Mr. Paley's tutelage for two decades.

For more than two decades, Frank Stanton handled daily management of CBS, freeing Mr. Paley to exercise his programming genius. But in later years, after fending off failed takeover attempts by Ted Turner, Mr. Paley often found himself overruled by CBS executives whose primary interests were financial and who felt that news and other programming should pay its own way.

Despite illness and depression, Mr. Paley made a surprising comeback in tandem with Laurence Tisch, chairman of Loews Corp., who became CBS' primary shareholder and business leader. After a five-year, self-imposed sabbatical, Mr. Paley deposed Thomas Wyman, who had been named CBS' chairman in 1983 and mandated a great deal of financially ravaging change.

Although confined to a wheelchair, Mr. Paley spent time almost daily in his 35th-floor executive suite in CBS' headquarters in Manhattan. An avid patron of art and theater, he was chairman of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and founded the Museum of Broadcasting.

Mr. Paley died on Oct. 26, 1990 from a pneumonia-related heart attack.

Biography

Born in Chicago, Sept. 28, 1901; graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, 1922; acquired Columbia Phonographics Broadcasting System, a network of 16 radio stations, 1928; renamed Columbia Phonographics as Columbia Broadcasting System, 1929; started experimental TV broadcasts, 1931; formed Columbia News Service, the world's first radio network news operation, 1933; launched a series of TV news hallmarks, including "The CBS Morning News" (1957) and "60 Minutes" (1968); died in New York on Oct. 26, 1990.

In this article: