by Sally Bedell Smith ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 29, 1990
Smith, formerly a New York Times correspondent, delivers a massive biography of William Paley, society sybarite and longtime CBS chairman, that is as ugly as sin and every bit as fascinating. With the help of his Jewish cigar-maker father, Paley became head of CBS, then a collection of financially rickety radio stations, at the age of 27 in 1928. Over the next 50 years, he built a radio and TV colossus that the public associated with class and innovation--a testament more to the chairman's grand-standing and panache, Smith shows, than to actual performance against RCA/NBC archrival David Sarnoff, who was both more technologically visionary and idealistic. (Indeed, Paley at first viewed TV as a threat to radio, and later squandered early opportunities to form a cable news network and to distribute films on videocassettes.) Unable to step aside in old age, this Citizen Kane of broadcasting forced out a succession of heir apparents (including Frank Stanton, CBS president for 27 years) before his last Pyrrhic victory in 1986, over Thomas Wyman. His last few years have been darkened by mounting infirmities and the painful dismantling of the proud ""Tiffany network"" by unlikely coup ally Laurence Tisch. Drawing on hundreds of frank, often confidential sources, Smith highlights rather than alters traits of businessman Paley drawn by such earlier accounts as Lewis J. Paper's Empire (1987): he is shown as aloof, instinctive, vacillating, greedy, and self-aggrandizing. What distinguishes her appraisal is its pitiless focus on the media mogul's private life. Even into old age, Paley has apparently taken a rude animal delight in life: acquiring priceless art; hobnobbing with celebrities; and womanizing--a habit that evidently resulted in one lover's suicide and made a mockery of his marriage to second wife Babe, an elegantly beautiful fashion style-setter. Smith stresses Paley's overwhelming megalomania and callousness over his undeniable charm. Nevertheless, much like LBJ biographer Robert Care, she has written a breathlessly detailed, stinging page-turner about one of the century's most powerful legends.
Pub Date: Nov. 29, 1990
Page Count: -
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1990
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