An unsparing, generally absorbing appraisal of the possessive patriarch of CBS. The man, not the medium, is the message...


EMPIRE: The Life and Times of William Paley

An unsparing, generally absorbing appraisal of the possessive patriarch of CBS. The man, not the medium, is the message here, but Paper offers informed observations on the radio/TV industry whose formative years were dominated by Paley and his RCA/ NBC counterpart, David Sarnoff. An attorney, Paper (Brandeis, 1973; The Promise and the Performance, 1975) gained access to a number of archival sources, which include an evident wealth of material not in Paley's 1979 memoirs. He also secured the cooperation of family members, friends, colleagues, and (albeit to a limited extent) the subject himself. As a result, Paper is able to provide telling details on Paley's privileged youth (as the son of a prosperous Chicago cigar-maker) and his upwardly mobile career as a pioneering broadcaster. Among other distinctions, Paley had the vision to buy a foundering radio network in 1928 (when he was just 27) and the acumen--as well as ambition--to make it a communications colossus with global reach. Paper devotes the bulk of his text to a balanced account of Paley's above-the-battle role in the growth of CBS. As much a showman as a businessman, he had a sharp eye for journalistic entertainment, and managerial talent. Many star performers--Ed Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, among others--made names for themselves at CBS, as did executives like Frank Stanton and Jim Aubrey. They and a host of other luminaries nonetheless served at the pleasure of a man who has outlasted them all. Indeed, following the latest in a series of corporate upheavals and a brief, unwanted retirement, Paley is back in power at ""his"" company. As Paper makes clear, there have been many dark chapters in the Paley story. A world-class womanizer whose personal and professional relationships can most charitably be described as distant, Paley has consistently lavished his considerable charms on those in a position to grant him social or political preferment. The author, however, provides cold comfort for moralists who might like to believe misery is a concomitant of affluence and influence. For all his faults and tosses, octogenarian Paley retains a zest, even lust, for life that awes far younger associates and acquaintances. Whether he can still contribute to either CBS or the public interest is another question--one that Paper's anecdotal and insightful narrative wisely leaves open. (16 pages of black-and-white photographs: not seen).

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 1987


Page Count: -

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1987