EMPIRE: The Life and Times of William Paley by Lewis J. Paper

EMPIRE: The Life and Times of William Paley

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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. 31st, 1987
Publisher: St. Martin's