William Samuel Paley (September 28, 1901 – October 26, 1990) was the
chief executive who built the Columbia
Broadcasting System (CBS) from
a small radio network into one of the foremost radio and television
network operations in the United States.
1 Early life
3 Other interests
4 Personal life
4.1 Marriage to Dorothy Hart Hearst
4.2 Marriage to
Barbara Cushing Mortimer
4.3 Other affairs
6 Awards and honors
7 In popular culture
8 See also
10 External links
Paley was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Goldie (Drell) and
Samuel Paley. His family was Jewish, and his father was an immigrant
from Ukraine who ran a cigar company. As the company became
increasingly successful, Paley became a millionaire, and moved his
family to Philadelphia in the early 1920s. William Paley
Western Military Academy in Alton,
Illinois and later
received his college degree from the
Wharton School at the University
of Pennsylvania in expectation that he would take an increasingly
active role running the family cigar business.
In 1927, Paley's father, brother-in-law and some business partners
bought a struggling Philadelphia-based radio network of 16 stations
called the Columbia Phonographic
Broadcasting System. Samuel
Paley's intention was to use his acquisition as an advertising medium
for promoting the family's cigar business, which included the La
Palina brand. Within a year, under William's leadership, cigar sales
had more than doubled, and, in 1928, the Paley family secured majority
ownership of the network from their partners. Within a decade, William
S. Paley had expanded the network to 114 affiliate stations.
Paley quickly grasped the earnings potential of radio and recognized
that good programming was the key to selling advertising time and, in
turn, bringing in profits to the network and to affiliate owners.
Before Paley, most businessmen viewed stations as stand-alone local
outlets or, in other words, as the broadcast equivalent of local
newspapers. Individual stations originally bought programming from the
network and, thus, were considered the network's clients.
Paley changed broadcasting's business model not only by developing
successful and lucrative broadcast programming but also by viewing the
advertisers (sponsors) as the most significant element of the
broadcasting equation. Paley provided network programming to affiliate
stations at a nominal cost, thereby ensuring the widest possible
distribution for both the programming and the advertising. The
advertisers then became the network's primary clients and, because of
the wider distribution brought by the growing network, Paley was able
to charge more for the ad time. Affiliates were required to carry
programming offered by the network for part of the broadcast day,
receiving a portion of the network's fees from advertising revenue. At
other times in the broadcast day, affiliates were free to offer local
programming and sell advertising time locally.
Paley's recognition of how to harness the potential reach of
broadcasting was the key to his growing
CBS from a tiny chain of
stations into what was eventually one of the world's dominant
communication empires. During his prime, Paley was described as having
an uncanny sense for popular taste and exploiting that insight to
CBS network. As war clouds darkened over Europe in the late
1930s, Paley recognized Americans' desire for news coverage of the
coming war and built the
CBS news division into a dominant force just
as he had previously built the network's entertainment division.
During World War II, Paley served as director of radio operations of
Psychological Warfare branch in the
Office of War Information
Office of War Information at
Allied Force Headquarters in London, where he held the rank of
colonel. While based in England during the war, Paley came to know and
befriend Edward R. Murrow, CBS's head of European news who expanded
the news division's foreign coverage with a team of war correspondents
later known as the Murrow Boys. In 1946, Paley promoted Frank Stanton
to president of CBS.
CBS expanded into TV and rode the post-World War
II boom to surpass NBC, which had dominated radio.
CBS has owned the
Columbia Record Company
Columbia Record Company and its associated CBS
Laboratories since 1939. In 1948,
Columbia Records introduced the
33-1/3-rpm long-playing vinyl disc to successfully compete with RCA
Victor's 45-rpm vinyl disc. Also,
CBS Laboratories and Peter Goldmark
developed a method for color television. After lobbying by RCA
David Sarnoff and Paley in Washington, D.C., the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) approved the
RCA color system
RCA color system as the
CBS sold the patents to its system to foreign
CBS was the last of the three broadcast
networks to adopt color television, having to buy and license RCA
equipment and technology, taking the
RCA markings off of the
equipment, and later relying exclusively on
Norelco for color
equipment beginning in 1964.
PAL or Phase Alternating Line, an
analogue TV-encoding system, is today a television-broadcasting
standard used in large parts of the world.
"Bill Paley erected two towers of power: one for entertainment and one
60 Minutes creator
Don Hewitt claimed in his autobiography,
Tell Me a Story. "And he decreed that there would be no bridge between
them.... In short, Paley was the guy who put
Frank Sinatra and Edward
R. Murrow on the radio and
60 Minutes on television."
Paley was not fond of one of the network's biggest stars. Arthur
Godfrey had been working locally in Washington, DC and New York City
hosting morning shows. Paley did not consider him worthy of CBS, being
a mere local host. When Paley went into the Army and took up his
assignment in London, and Frank Stanton assumed his duties, he decided
to try Godfrey on the network. By the time Paley returned, Godfrey was
a rising star on the network with his daily
Arthur Godfrey Time
program. Paley had to accept the entertainer, but the two were never
friends. Godfrey would, on occasion, mock Paley and other CBS
executives by name, on the air. Godfrey's massive revenues from
advertising on the popular morning programs and his two prime-time
shows Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts and
Arthur Godfrey and his
Friends, protected him from any reprisals. In private, Paley and his
colleagues despised Godfrey.
The relationship between Paley and his news staff was not always
smooth. His friendship with Edward R. Murrow, one of the leading
lights in the
CBS news division (and by then a vice president of CBS),
suffered during the 1950s over the hard-hitting tone of the
See It Now series. The implication was that the
network's sponsors were uneasy about some of the controversial topics
of the series, leading Paley to worry about lost revenue to the
network as well as unwelcome scrutiny during the era of McCarthyism.
Alcoa withdrew its sponsorship of See It Now, and eventually
the program's weekly broadcast on Tuesdays was stopped, though it
continued as a series of special segments until 1958.
James T. Aubrey Jr.
James T. Aubrey Jr. became the president of CBS. Under
Aubrey, the network became the most popular on television with shows
The Beverly Hillbillies
The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan's Island. However, Paley's
personal favorite was Gunsmoke; in fact, he was such a fan of Gunsmoke
that, upon its threatened cancellation in 1967, he demanded that it be
reinstated, a dictum that led to the abrupt demise of Gilligan's
Island, which had already been renewed for a fourth season.
During the 1963–1964 television season, 14 of the top 15 shows on
prime-time and the top 12 shows of daytime television were on CBS.
Aubrey, however, fought constantly with
Fred W. Friendly
Fred W. Friendly of
and Paley did not like Aubrey's taste in low-brow programming. Aubrey
and Paley bickered to the point that Aubrey approached Frank Stanton
to propose a take-over of CBS. The takeover never materialized and,
when CBS's ratings began to slip, Paley fired Aubrey in 1965.
In 1972, Paley ordered the shortening of a second installment of a
CBS Evening News series on the Watergate, based on a
complaint by Charles Colson, an aide to President Richard Nixon. And
later, Paley briefly ordered the suspension of instant and often
negatively critical analyses by
CBS news commentators, which followed
the Presidential addresses.
Over the years, Paley sold portions of his family stockholding in CBS.
At the time of his death, he owned less than nine percent of the
outstanding stock. In 1995, five years after Paley's death,
Westinghouse Electric Corporation
Westinghouse Electric Corporation and, in 1999, by Viacom,
which itself was once a subsidiary of CBS. Today,
CBS is owned by the
CBS Corporation, after being spun off from
Viacom in 2006. National
Amusements is the majority owner of the
CBS Corporation and the "new"
In the 1940s,
William Paley and Leon Levy formed Jaclyn Stable, which
owned and raced a string of thoroughbred race horses. Paley formed a
modern art collection with as many as 40 major works, and he enjoyed
Picasso in Cap d'Antibes. Like Picasso, Paley drove an
exotic French Facel Vega Facel II, the fastest four-seater car in the
world in the early 1960s.
CBS purchased the
New York Yankees
New York Yankees from Del Webb.
Subsequently, the storied baseball team fell into mediocrity, not
making the postseason for the next ten years. In 1973, Paley sold the
team at its low ebb for $8.7 million to
Cleveland shipbuilder George
Steinbrenner and a group of investors. Under the Steinbrenner regime,
the Yankees grew in value to what, in April 2006, Forbes magazine
estimated was $1.26 billion, or about $280 million in 1973 dollars.
Samuel L. Paley library at Temple University, named for William S.
Encouraged by Paley's avid interest in modern art and his outstanding
collection, Paley became a trustee of the Rockefeller family's Museum
of Modern Art in the 1930s and, in 1962, was tapped by then-chairman
David Rockefeller to be its president. In 1968, he joined a syndicate
with Rockefeller and others to buy six works by
Picasso for the museum
from the notable
Gertrude Stein collection. He subsequently became
chairman, stepping down from the museum post in 1985.
The Paley Center for Media
The Paley Center for Media in
Los Angeles and
New York City
New York City was
founded by Paley in 1976, when it was known as the Museum of
Broadcasting. From 1991 to 2007, it was known as The Museum of
Television and Radio; its new location was known as the Paley
In 1974, Paley dedicated the second building at the S.I. Newhouse
School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. He also
personally dedicated the Samuel L. Paley library at Temple University
named in honor of his father.
Marriage to Dorothy Hart Hearst
Paley met Dorothy Hart Hearst (1908–1998) while she was married to
John Randolph Hearst, the third son of William Randolph Hearst. Paley
fell in love with her, and, after her Las Vegas divorce from Hearst,
she and Paley married on May 12, 1932, in Kingman, Arizona.
Dorothy called on her extensive social connections acquired during her
previous marriage to introduce Paley to several top members of
President Franklin Roosevelt's government. She also exerted a
considerable influence over Paley's political views. She later said:
"I can't believe he would have voted Democrat without me."
Dorothy began to become estranged from Paley during the early 1940s
because of his infidelity. They divorced on July 24, 1947, in Reno,
Nevada. She retained custody of their two adopted children, Jeffrey
Paley and Hilary Paley. In 1953, Dorothy married stockbroker Walter
Hirshon; they divorced in 1961.
Barbara Cushing Mortimer
Paley married divorcée, socialite and fashion icon Barbara "Babe"
Cushing Mortimer (1915–1978) on July 28, 1947. She was the daughter
of renowned neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing. Paley and his second wife, in
spite of their successes and social standing, were barred from being
members of country clubs on
Long Island because he was Jewish. As an
alternative, the Paleys built a summer home, "Kiluna North," on Squam
New Hampshire and spent the summers there for many years,
routinely entertaining their many friends, including Lucille Ball,
Grace Kelly, and David O. Selznick. The couple had two children,
William and Kate.
Paley was a notorious ladies man his entire life. Indeed, his first
marriage to Dorothy ended when a newspaper published a suicide note
written to Paley by a former girlfriend. As a result of another
relationship, he provided a stipend to a former lover, actress Louise
Brooks, for the rest of her life. In his later years, he enjoyed
keeping company with several women. Paley was included in a list of
the ten most eligible bachelors compiled by Cosmopolitan magazine in
1985; the irony of the octogenarian Paley being on the list was an
inspiration for Late Night with David Letterman's nightly Top Ten
Paley died of kidney failure on October 26, 1990. He was 89.
As It Happened: A Memoir (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979)
Awards and honors
Croix de Guerre with Palm, 1946
Legion of Honor
Legion of Merit, 1946
Peabody Award, 1958 and 1961
Inducted into the
Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame, 1984
Inducted into the Television Hall of Fame, 1984
Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism, 1984.
In popular culture
In the 1986 television movie Murrow, Paley is played by Dabney
Coleman, while in the 2005 film Good Night, and Good Luck, he is
played by Frank Langella. In the 2006 film Infamous, Paley is played
by Lee Ritchey. Paley is also portrayed by Shawn Lawrence in the 2002
television film Gleason.
The philandering character Sidney Dillon in Truman Capote's unfinished
Answered Prayers is based on Paley.
In "We Shall Overcome," an episode of the
Dark Skies Paley
(played by radio talk show host Art Bell) is presented as a member of
On AMC's series Mad Men, Harry Crane names Paley as the "most
important" person he could ever bring into the office.
The Museum of Television and
New York City
New York City and Los Angeles
were renamed the Paley Center for Media.
History of television
^ a b Gerard, Jeremy (October 27, 1990). "William S. Paley, Builder of
CBS, Dies at 89". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-25. William S.
Paley, who personified the power, glamour, allure and influence of CBS
Inc., the communications empire he built, died last night at his home
in Manhattan. He was 89 years old.
^ a b Bergreen, Laurence, (1980). Look Now, Pay Later: The Rise of
Network Broadcasting. New York: Doubleday and Company.
ISBN 978-0-451-61966-2. p. 57.
^ Bergreen, p. 58.
^ a b Bedell Smith, Sally (1990). In All His Glory. The Life of
William S. Paley. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-61735-4.
^ " ... they have a place at
Squam Lake in New Hampshire, where Paley
tears up the back roads at 80 m.p.h. in his Facel-Vega": Time, Jan.
^ Inflation Calculator
^ MoMA and the Stein collection - see David Rockefeller, Memoirs, New
York: Random House, 2002. (pp.450-58)
^ a b Nemy, Enid (January 31, 1998). "Dorothy H. Hirshon, 89, Dies;
Socialite and Philanthropist". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-26.
Dorothy Hart Hirshon, a glamorous figure in New York society from the
1920s through the 40s who later became active in social, human rights
and political causes, died Thursday in an automobile accident while
driving near her home in Glen Cove, on Long Island. She was 89.
Phil Rosenthal (2009-12-13), "No chance of a list-less columnist
this time of year",
^ Arizona State University. "Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and
Mass Communication". Retrieved November 23, 2016.
^ Gallo, Phil (10 October 2002). "Gleason". Variety (magazine).
Retrieved 10 December 2017.
^ Clark, Gerald. "Bye Society", Vanity Fair (April 1988)
^ "We Shall Overcome"
Dark Skies Broadcast December 14, 1996.
^ Watkins, Gwynne (2012-05-21). "Mad Men's Rich Sommer on Harry
Crane's Sordid Sex Life: The Stream: GQ on TV". GQ. Retrieved
Museum of Broadcast Communication's page on William Paley
Business Week article about William Paley, June 1, 2004
Paper, Lewis J. Empire:
William S. Paley
William S. Paley and the Making of
York, St. Martin's Press, 1987)
Sally Bedell Smith
Sally Bedell Smith (1948- ), In All His Glory: the Life and Times of
William S. Paley
William S. Paley and the Birth of Modern
Broadcasting (New York, Simon
& Schuster, 1990) 782 pages
William S. Paley
William S. Paley (1944, 1969), Dwight D. Eisenhower
William S. Paley
William S. Paley at Find a Grave
Booknotes interview with
Sally Bedell Smith
Sally Bedell Smith on In All His Glory: The
Life of William Paley, December 9, 1990.
Television Hall of Fame Class of 1984
Edward R. Murrow
William S. Paley
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