Interview Date: Thursday January 17, 2002
Interview Location: Los Angeles, CA
Interviewer: Rebecca Lim
Collection: Hauser Collection
LIM: This is the oral and video history of Leonard Goldenson, who was a visionary in television programming, management and innovation. It’s going to be told in the third person by his daughter, Loreen Arbus and also by author, Marvin Wolf, who wrote a book concerning Mr. Goldenson called Beating the Odds. Today we are recording, January 17th, 2002, at Loreen Arbus Productions in Los Angeles, California. This is part of the Gus Hauser Foundation Oral and Video History Program of The Cable Center, located in Denver, Colorado. I am Rebecca Lim. For today’s recording, we are going to follow the format: first some questions related to Mr. Goldenson answered by Marvin Wolf, and then we will move on and talk with his daughter, Loreen Arbus about her father’s career, as well as her distinguished career in cable. So with that long introduction, let’s get right to the questioning. Could you just tell me first, Marvin, a little bit about Mr. Goldenson’s background – you know, where he came from, what his roots were?
WOLF: Mr. Goldenson grew up in a small town called Scottdale, Pennsylvania, about 40 miles as the crow flies from Pittsburgh, but a lot further in pace. You couldn’t really say it was suburban Pittsburgh. It was a farm town. His parents had a traditional marriage for the time; his father ran a dry goods store, his mother ran the home. He had two sisters and he was something of a prodigy in school. He finished high school at 16, he excelled in sports, although he was a rather diminutive man. He hardened himself, physically, by digging post holes in summers, and taking a job in a steel mill in Pittsburgh, and he entered Harvard without ever taking an exam. He had never taken one in his life.
LIM: So the Pennsylvania background really made a difference to his character, you reckon?
WOLF: I think it did. He grew up during the Depression, watching his father, knowing how people were suffering, taking the time and the interest in his clientele. He carried a lot of those farmers, Mr. Goldenson did, and he carried them for years and years and years. Many times people came to the store and they paid them not in cash, but in kind. They brought eggs, they brought apples in season, they brought livestock, and Leonard used to talk about helping his mother and his sisters out on the back porch canning all this stuff so it wouldn’t go to waste.
LIM: So do you think his roots there made a difference in how he operated in his professional career?
WOLF: Absolutely. I think he expected the best from people. He also came along in that time, his life began right at the start of broadcasting, and he remembered going out in the backyard and listening to a crystal radio set that he bought, and just marveling at how this sound was coming out of the air.
LIM: Can you just tell me a little bit about Mr. Goldenson’s love of the movies and how he worked at a theater when he was a young man?
WOLF: Sure. His father had interest in the town’s two movie theaters. One of them just showed serials and was only open on the weekend, the other was a standard movie theater, and although he had to work in the family store, he used to slip away and go to the theater and he’d watch every movie, and he’d stand near the doorway after the show was out and he’d stop people and he’d ask them, “What did you like about this movie?” And then when that was all through, he’d go see the manager and say, “Why did you get this movie? What made you choose this movie?” So he was interested, even then.
LIM: So tell me how he developed the early part of his career then, after the theater and how he got into Paramount and some of the early bits of his career.
WOLF: He graduated from Harvard Law School at the base of the Great Depression, when there weren’t many jobs for many people. Interestingly enough, he had been offered a job in a law firm in Pittsburgh, but he turned it down. He went to New York to try and find his fortune and for six months he walked the pavement looking for a job. Finally, he find a job clerking for a railroad lawyer, a man who knew railroad lawyer, and it was the most boring job that he could ever imagine. One day, one of his Harvard classmates called him up and said, “Paramount is going into receivership,” – bankruptcy laws were somewhat different in those days – “and they’re looking for lawyers and accountants. Here’s a guy you can call.” So he went over there and he met with a man named Stephen A. Lynch, and Lynch had been a minor league baseball player and he had come up in the Carolinas and Tennessee and he had acquired an enormous chain of movie theaters, and this chain of movie theaters was picked up by Paramount in the ’20s and ’30s as they built the company. Now that they were in receivership, they were looking for a way to put the company back together. So, Leonard was hired to go up and straighten out the New England theaters, and what he had to do was learn the business from the ground up. He had to go up there and talk to these old showmen and see how each theater ran, and see where the money was coming from and where it was going, and he had to negotiate, or re-negotiate, leases. He had to concern himself with every aspect of the business. And so he did, and it was a great education for him. He was hanging out with these people, picking their brains, and then every week he’d catch a train down to New York and he’d have a meeting back with Mr. Lynch, in Mr. Lynch’s office. He’d send letters, he’d send notices, he sent everything back down to New York, and in this way he became very, very important to putting Paramount back together. When Paramount emerged from bankruptcy, they repaid the creditors a hundred cents on the dollar. There aren’t many companies that can say that. He had a role in that. And he was picked by a man by the name of Frank Freeman, Y. Frank Freeman, who was the head of Paramount’s theaters. Paramount had about 1,500 theaters, more than any other entity, and Freeman was the head of them in New York, and he picked Leonard to be his right hand man. A couple of years went by and then Freeman went out to run the studio, and he gave Leonard his job. And so, at a very young age, around 30 or 31, Leonard became the biggest booker and buyer of motion pictures in the world.
LIM: So that would have been around ’35?
LIM: So what kind of movies? What kind of movies were on in those days?
WOLF: Musicals were big. Romances were big. One of his innovations, very early on, was he realized that they old way of doing business in the movie business was coming to an end. In the old days, the theaters pretty much took whatever the studios gave them, but under the new Paramount, the theater owners and the circuit theater owners, men and women who owned more than one theater, were now their partners. And so Leonard instituted a practice of having these people come out to Hollywood and meet with the producers and tell them what they thought of movies that were in production, what they thought they could do with them or what they thought they couldn’t do with them, and so as a result of that, some movies never got made and others did. He had another wonderful idea. He noticed that every movie had a soundtrack, or every movie should have a soundtrack, and people were going around humming this as they walked out of the theaters, so he asked Bonnie Balban, one of his early heroes, the head of Paramount, why couldn’t Paramount release a soundtrack record album on vinyl? And after that, every movie at Paramount, and pretty soon every movie at every studio, had a soundtrack, and most of them were released separately on records.
LIM: So it all really ties back to his days of asking people when they came out of the theater what they liked.
WOLF: Yes, and listening and paying attention.
LIM: And he applied it, right, to the practice. So, Marvin, tell me then how Mr. Goldenson transitioned into the television industry from the theater biz.
WOLF: There were two really important events. The first was that in 1939, he went to the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow, New York, and he saw for the first time television, and he was enchanted. He looked at television and he saw the future, and he wanted to get into that. He asked Bonnie Balban to start a television station, and they did, WBKB in Chicago, the second commercial television station in the world, but then the war came along and all of his technicians got drafted, so they mothballed it. There had been a lawsuit just before the war, by a man who owned theaters in Texas, who had sued Paramount and the Texas theaters that were their partners, because he couldn’t get first run movies, and they put that lawsuit on the shelf during the war, too. After the war, the suit came out and Tom Clark, the Attorney General of the United States, joined the suit as a plaintiff. At the end of that lawsuit, 1950, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that Paramount, and by implication all the other studios, had been operating as a vertical monopoly and this wasn’t allowed. So they told Paramount to get rid of their theaters. At this time Mr. Goldenson was offered the opportunity to remain with Paramount as a vice-president. He elected instead to become the president of a new company that only had theaters. That company was called United Paramount Theaters, and he had to preside over that company with no cash in the till, because the day before the separation, Paramount took all their cash, but from that moment on he was very hot to get into television. Not long after that, an opportunity arose. There was a small, struggling collection of stations called ABC, American Broadcasting, that had been patched together from an earlier radio network that had been started by NBC, the “blue” network. They had five stations, they had eight other affiliates, they had maybe 10 hours of programming a week, all the other programming was local. But Leonard realized that there wasn’t going to be another television network come open for sale anytime soon. It was losing a million dollars a year. He bought it from a man named Edward Noble, who was a noted skinflint, the sort of fellow that would take his staff to lunch and then whip out a thousand dollar bill to pay for it, so that someone else had to pay for it.
LIM: He was the lifesaver, right?
WOLF: Yes, his lifesaver came.
LIM: So really, Mr. Goldenson turned out to be the lifesaver for ABC.
WOLF: He did. And ABC wasn’t the third network. It was the fourth network. There was NBC, which was the first major broadcasting company, and there was CBS, and then there was the Dumont Network, which was the first network. But the Dumont Network was controlled in part by Paramount, because they owed a great deal of money to Paramount. Leonard Goldenson was not worried about Paramount because he knew that unless you put money into programming it was never going to amount to anything, and he knew that Bonnie Balban, who to him was almost a second father, was never going to put any money into Paramount. He was another skinflint.
LIM: So when he first took the helm and got ABC, when he managed to talk Paramount into buying in…
WOLF: No, you missed something.
LIM: I’m sorry – tell me the transition.
WOLF: United Paramount Theaters became a separate entity January 1, 1951. He immediately opened negotiations to buy ABC. After they were concluded – it was an enormous struggle to get his board of directors to get along with that – but when that was completed, then they had to go through a series of hearings by the Federal Communications Commission. The Federal Communications Commission chose to lump a couple of other issues into the same hearings, and these things dragged on forever, and people attacked Leonard Goldenson from all sides. They said that he was a movie man who was buying this network in an effort to strangle the infant television in its cradle. The movie people said, “Leonard, you’re a traitor. Why are you doing this?” He was the man in the middle, but he had a vision. He knew how he was going to do this. Before Leonard Goldenson, television was radio with pictures; it was all live. But he knew that it didn’t matter whether it was live or on film – tape hadn’t come along yet – people wanted a good show, and he knew that the best shows were made in Hollywood. So his idea was, never mind what the other networks have, “I know all these people in Hollywood. I will convince them to make programs for television.” Well, after the FCC allowed the sale to go through, he went out to Hollywood to try to convince them, and they spit on him. They spit on him because they were terrified of what television would do to motion pictures. How can you give it away when we’re trying to sell it? They just didn’t get it. They didn’t get it. His break came when Walt Disney came to him. He knew Walt Disney for a long time, and Walt Disney had had this dream, stupid dream, the bankers didn’t get it, for a 5-6 scale amusement park, an amusement park for children, and he wanted to build it in some little bean field out in Anaheim, a place that nobody had ever heard of, but he didn’t have any money. Disney was never a major studio in those days, he never had theaters. All their films were animated. It took forever to make a profit from an animated film in those days because they were all hand drawn – they took years to draw them. It took them 14 years to see a profit from Snow White. In order to get the money to build a scale model, Disney hocked his life insurance. He built a scale model and then he went to the banks and the banks said, “No, we don’t think so.” So, he went to NBC, he went to see General Sarnoff, and explained what he wanted to do, and he asked Sarnoff to guarantee 5 million dollars in loans so he could borrow the money to build his dream, and in return, he told Sarnoff, he’ll open his film library – he had 600 animated films – Sarnoff was offended. “Television is a medium of spontaneity. People will never watch films on television.” So, he went to Paley at CBS. Paley got rich watching Sarnoff, so in the end, he sent him away too. And finally he came to Leonard, and he didn’t even have to ask him what he wanted, because everyone knew by that time, but he had made his little pitch and Leonard said, “Well, first of all, you don’t need 5 million dollars, you need 15 million dollars. You’ve got to build this, you’ve got to train people, you’ve got to operate it. We’ll give you the 15 million dollars. We’ll sign the loan, but I want something from you. I want you to produce an hour a week television program.” So that was the deal they made. Oh, one thing more. Leonard was an exhibitor. He knew about concessions. He got the concessions at Disney Land for six years, that was part of the deal, and that broke the boycott. Then he went back out to Hollywood and he had a four and a half hour lunch with Jack Warner and convinced him to put a young person, as it turned out, his son-in-law, Bill Orr, in charge of a new division to make programs for television. And so they came up with Jack Warner presents, or Warner Brothers presents, which in the beginning was three rotating shows, but two of them died, and the one that stayed was, of course, Cheyenne, the start of the Westerns.
LIM: So he basically looked at what was out there and thought about the customer need, or what viewers might want to see and he trusted his gut to fund Disney to do these innovated type programming.
WOLF: That’s part of it. There’s even more to it. He saw, as very few people did, immediately, the television set in someone’s living room is just like a theater. You’ve got to bring to this theater things that people want to see. What do people want to see? He knew what people wanted to see. He’d been learning what people wanted to see for a long time. He was not the sort of guy that would sit down and write a series, but he was exactly the sort of guy that would listen to someone tell him about the series and say, “Yes, people will want to see that” or “No, they won’t.” To the very end of his days, he screened pilots, and I can tell you, in his 90s, if Leonard Goldenson didn’t like a pilot, it didn’t go anywhere.
LIM: So, the same sort of story with the Disney example of “no, no, yes” was a similar thing with “The Fugitive”, there was no, no, and then Mr. Goldenson said yes.
WOLF: Yeah, but it was all done within his own shop. He had a relationship with Roy Huggins, that’s to say he knew who he was. Roy Huggins was a very, very clever young writer, and he had the strange idea, walking on the beach on New Year’s Day, to do a story about a man unjustly convicted. But when he brought this to ABC, he took it to the head of the network at that time, Tom Moore, and Moore started berating him that it was un-American. “What do you mean? He was convicted of murder. How can this guy be the hero?” And they were about basically ready to throw him out when Goldenson spoke up, and he said, “That’s the best idea I’ve heard in a long time.” That’s how it got on. He wasn’t about embarrassing anybody, he was just not letting him leave with that idea.
LIM: So he really went against the naysayers, even in his own company, you know, even people who worked for him.
WOLF: When necessary. When ABC came along, they could reach a very small percentage of the country. They only had five stations that they owned and eight other affiliates. CBS and NBC had upwards of 50 each around that time, and in the interval between when he applied to the FCC and the FCC allowed the purchase to go through, they added more stations. He was way far behind. So he had to do things that nobody else was doing. He decided that since television programming in that era, the early ’50s, had grown out of radio and all the big stars had been radio stars – Bob Hope, Jack Benny – that they appealed to people with set tastes, older people. He would go after the younger people; he would give them something that they couldn’t get on the other networks, counter-programming. I don’t know that he invented counter-programming, but he damn sure showed us what it was.
LIM: And that model has been followed successfully by others throughout the industry.
WOLF: Yes, yes, right. If the other two networks are showing movies, don’t show a movie.
LIM: Can you tell me just a little bit – we talked a little bit about the programming innovations, but specifically how would you characterize the top three most fundamental breakthroughs that he helped orchestrate?
WOLF: Well, aside from a lot of trends, like caper shows and Westerns and medical shows, I think a far more fundamental breakthrough was in wresting control of his programming schedule from the advertisers. Once again, television broadcasting grew out of radio, and in radio, broadcasters sold blocks of time to advertisers and the advertisers produced the programs. In those days, if you had a show to pitch, you didn’t go to the network, you went to an advertising agency. Goldenson hosted, or ABC hosted the U.S. Steel hour, and that was a variety show, and when it acquired an audience, they took it away and put it on NBC. He realized that they would never, ever be able to control their network until they controlled the schedule. And so he created a whole daytime schedule and he refused to let the advertisers control his schedule. They started making programs; they cut the advertising agencies out of the equation. This was a sea change, fundamental change. It changed television, it gave them the opportunity to put shows on in the order that they wanted to put them on, to take an established show, for example, and put it on at 9:00 in primetime, so that immediately afterwards you could introduce a new show, or perhaps a show that wasn’t doing so well, and try to keep as much of that audience. You couldn’t do that when the advertisers controlled your schedule, and he saw that very clearly. That’s a major programming innovation.
LIM: So, how did the advertisers respond to that? Probably at first it was difficult, but they came around. I mean, he did have a lot of advertiser support.
WOLF: I don’t think the problem was so much with the advertisers as it was with the advertising agencies. The agencies, of course, were functioning as production entities, and so they were making money on that. One of the things they did is they got the Congress to pressure the FCC to keep television networks from owning most of the programs that they aired, and so those production entities became larger and more important.
LIM: Let’s switch over for a second now and talk a little bit about his perceptions about cable. Cable television when it first came… initially it was really people that couldn’t get a signal and then it started building in the bigger cities. How did Mr. Goldenson perceive cable?
WOLF: Well, he embraced it at first because he had so few affiliate stations that anything that could increase the reach of any of those stations was welcome to him, so that if he didn’t have a station, say, in Gary, Indiana, or Indianapolis, an affiliate, that they people there could get cable and could get the Chicago station, why, he was all for it. He got to thinking about cable when the other two broadcast networks were saying, “Oh, this is going to take our business away”, he realized that if cable was going to fulfill its potential of being a more reliable signal, a better signal, a clearer signal, and remember, television sets were not what they are today, someone was going to be in that business. Well, if someone was going to be in that business, why not them? He actually took a page from the advertising agencies, and from the advertising business, Proctor and Gamble learned very early on that if you created one kind of a soap and it has a possibility of having competition, create your own competition. Make another rival brand and market them both, and maybe somebody else won’t get into that. He understood very clearly that cable was going to be a growth industry. Networks were not allowed, in that early time, and probably still aren’t, to own the physical facilities for cable. So, what could they do? Their strength lay in programming and knowing what to do. He had a relationship with the head of Hearts, Frank Bennick, Jr., and he went to him and he said, “Why don’t we start some cable networks? You guys have content, you have magazines, you know what good stories are, you have an audience. We know how to do this.” And out of that came a couple of cable networks: the Arts Network, which later became Arts & Entertainment, and what eventually became Lifetime.
LIM: What about ESPN? Did he have a role in ESPN?
WOLF: He did. ESPN was created over by the Getty people, an oil company, as an investment and it was a little thing in, I believe, Greenwich, Connecticut, and they bought time on a satellite. That was the big deal. Goldenson saw what that could be and he bought a small share in it. I think he bought 10%, if memory serves me. When the opportunity came to get the rest of it from Getty, he jumped. It was an enormous investment at the time, it was 100 million dollars, but well worth it. ESPN very soon became one of the few immediately… in fact, became the most profitable cable network and returned that investment many times over.
LIM: What year do you think that might have been?
WOLF: Late ’60s or early ’70s, if memory serves me, but I’m not certain.
LIM: So his interest in sports – I mean, the Wide World of Sports that was some extreme groundbreaking there might have set up part of the acceptance of ESPN.
WOLF: Well, I think he saw by then that there was a certain large minority of the audience that really enjoyed looking at sports, even sports that weren’t familiar to them. Wide World of Sports proved that. When the people came to him, when Roone Arledge came to him, and said we want to do a show, we want to show events that happened last week in Turkey, sporting events, he thought it was a stupid idea, but he listened, and he realized that Ruen Arledge was not a stupid man. One of his great strengths was in knowing how to pick people, so he said, “We’ll try it.”
LIM: And so, can you just describe a little bit to me about the evolution, maybe, of Wide World of Sports and then how it segued later into Monday Night Football.
WOLF: Well, it didn’t really segue into Monday Night Football, that’s a separate program.
LIM: Well, but I mean the sports…
WOLF: Sports came to ABC in a very strange way. They really needed a sporting department, and they didn’t have enough people with that ability in hand. They bought a small production company that had been started by a man named Edgar Sharik, and Edgar Sharik came in and essentially became the head of sports for ABC and his principal assistant was Ruen Arledge. Ruen Arledge had the idea one day to create this show, the Wide World of Sports, and to bring the most interesting and the most exciting sports from all over the world, and to do this as a weekly show. The fact that the event had already happened, that the results were already known was kind of off-putting at first until he came to realize that what people were interested in was not always the score. It was also how did it happen, what was this about? So when that idea was tried out, it became a success rather quickly. When it became a success, it emboldened Leonard Goldenson and all of ABC to try to do more in sports. Edgar Sharik really didn’t want to be in sports, he wanted to be the head of programming, a job that he got, and when he got that job Ruen Arledge became the head of sports.
LIM: So, Marvin, let’s switch over to sports for a minute. There were some major renovations, Wide World of Sports, and then later on, Monday Night Football. Can you just explain a little bit to me about how the evolution of those took place through the leadership of Mr. Goldenson.
WOLF: Leonard had an open door. Anybody could come and talk to him about anything in a way that very few CEOs and very few leaders of large organizations really do. Many of them give lip service, but he really did. So when a young man named Ruen Arledge decided that he had an idea that he wanted to pitch to him, of course he came up with his boss, Edgar Sharik, and they talked about what became the Wide World of Sports. And his notion was that there was a certain large segment of audience, American men, who would watch any kind of sports even if they knew the score. They’d watch a football game, if it was a good football game, and he had the idea to bring these other kinds of sports, which most Americans were not familiar with, to the audience. That was the show. Leonard’s first reaction to this was, that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard. But he had a gut for who was smart about things. He knew how to pick people, and he knew that Ruen Arledge was a very smart young man. So, it didn’t cost that much to try it. He gave him a few weeks to see if it would work, and it did work. Not long after that, Edgar Sharik took over as the head of programming, which was the job he’d wanted all along, and he put Ruen Arledge in charge of sports. ABC was in a different situation with professional sports than CBS and NBC. They did not have long standing relationships with professional football, and long-term contracts, which cost enormous sums of money, had been let. Sunday was pretty much not ABC’s game, but Monday night primetime sports, that was different. Goldenson had the notion that he could sell this to Pete Rosell, who was the commissioner of football to do a program in primetime and to turn it into an event, and by doing it on Monday rather than on Sunday, you would get a whole different audience. And once again, Arledge deserves a lot of credit here. His idea was the other networks bring the viewer to the stadium. We’re going to bring the stadium to the viewer. We’re going to put cameras on people’s helmets, we’re going to shoot the audience, we’re going to see people jumping up and down with joy, or with their heads covered in sorrow. We’re going to show them just what they’d see if they went to the stadium, and that became the legend that was Monday Night Football.
LIM: Talk to me a little bit about the technical innovations that were partly born through that sports effort, slo-mo, instant replay, some of the things that were pioneered in just what you’re talking about to try to get the audience more involved.
WOLF: Leonard was not a technical guy, but he knew when someone brought him something if it could make the story better, the show better, he could see that in a minute, and so Monday Night Football pioneered a whole bunch of hardware. Around the time that they were doing this, the Japanese were developing an American product that had been designed in California, videotape, and they were developing smaller, lighter videotape cameras. Well, once you had videotape then you could have an instant replay. You could play back over and over again. If you could make a camera smaller and lighter then you could put a camera on the sidelines, a handheld camera. That was another Ruen Arledge idea. So they gave money to Japanese electronics companies to develop specific products for them to try to fulfill that vision. Leonard’s role in this was to write the check, to say, “Yes, we can do this. Let’s try it.” That translated into the Olympics, it translated into every sport, so now you see it everywhere. It completely revolutionized sports. Sports is an enormously profitable enterprise. If it wasn’t, why would networks spend billions of dollars for NFL contracts and for NBA contracts.
LIM: So he took what would have been early on called a sort of niche… you called it a large minority, but sort of the niche concept, and really pioneered into what people would want to watch, what they would want to pay for, not just in sports, in other areas like international programming. Do you want to speak to me about that just a bit?
WOLF: Yeah. Leonard came out of the film business, and one of the things that Paramount did, when he was with Paramount, is they had about 200 theaters in Europe and much of Paramount’s product, as well as the other studios was exported, and not just to England, but also throughout Europe and in some cases to the Far East, to Hong Kong. And so Leonard decided that if a television set in someone’s living room was just no different than a theater, why couldn’t some of those television sets be in other countries? And so he created a division of his company called ABC International and he put a young Canadian man named Don Coyle in charge of this. His idea was let’s get networks started as partnerships in other countries and we’ll then sell them our programming. The problem was he was about 25 years ahead of himself. The problem was that distribution was a problem. There weren’t satellites yet. So they started television networks in Central American, in the Mid East, in Europe, but they were never really able to get that off the ground, they never really made any money on it. One of the interesting things about that is he tried to get television in Israel and David Ben-Gurion wouldn’t hear of it. “We don’t have time for television”, he said. Now, he took that same idea a little further. He didn’t believe for a minute that Americans had a monopoly on good ideas or good shows. He knew there were some very talented European filmmakers, and Europe, especially in the ten or fifteen years after World War II, was a place where you could make a movie for a lot less than you could make one in the United States, and there were some very talented people, like Carlo Ponti, who were making movies. He believed that you could take a good show that was made in Italy or in France and show it to Americans and they’d watch it. Of course you’d have to dub the sound, and so he was the first person to bring large numbers of films and show them on television, foreign films.
LIM: Could you describe for me the difference in his legacy, Mr. Goldenson’s legacy, to his counterparts of the time at CBS and NBC?
WOLF: Well, I think that at the time when they were the leading networks, General Sarnoff had a reputation, he spent an enormous amount of energy burnishing it, created a legend about himself, and he was very much celebrated for his prescience. So much so that during World War II, they made him a Brigadier General and ran something for the Army. You know, he’s very proud of that. They only made Paley a colonel and he regretted it his whole life. Paley lived the highlife. He became high society and took credit for everything that happened at CBS, whether he even knew about it or not. He went away for years during the war and even afterwards to be in the Army and serve the country and left Frank Stanton in charge of the company, but when he came back it was his company and his innovation. So he bought the line that he was the boss, it all ought to be his. Everything that happened was his responsibility; he got the credit for it. Well, as a result of that, you saw him in Life Magazine, you saw him in the newspaper society pages, he hung out with the Whitneys and the other social lions. Leonard Goldenson had a really different feel. He tried to tiptoe around the edge of the spotlight and let other people get credit. The result of it was that during his lifetime, his contribution was not really appreciated. He’s only been gone two years now, a little over two years, but we already see that his greatest contributions are being recognized. People are seeing that he had a vision that no one else had. He wasn’t an opportunist, he wasn’t an egoist. He had a vision for broadcasting as a public trust, a sacred duty, and we’re seeing now, as history lends a little perspective to it, that his contributions are being more and more recognized. I think that’s partly because, number one, he didn’t want any publicity when he was around, he was very happy to let other people take credit, and two, as time goes by we see how perishable vanity is as a commodity.
LIM: You said earlier that he knew how to pick people.
WOLF: He did.
LIM: And certainly some of the people that worked under him, Barry Diller, Michael Eisner, some of the huge names in television and cable today, what was the loyalty, where did it come from? Where did the training… I mean, you explain that he let them take credit more than himself for some things, but how did that manifest in his operational style?
WOLF: A couple of ways. First of all, he was starting a network that was going to go after a young audience, so he picked young people. Michael Eisner told me he sent out a hundred resume, he got one response – from ABC, that was the job he took. Here he was, 26 years old, three or four years later, and he’s in charge of daytime, all by himself. Goldenson didn’t care how old you were. If you had the ability he let you do it. He was looking for talent. He was looking for people who were willing to take chances. Younger people don’t know what they’re not supposed to be able to do, they very often do that. You can’t be young forever, but there was a part of Leonard that was always young, who understood that. At the same time, when an opportunity came for Eisner, and before him, Barry Diller, to make an enormous leap from being a mid level executive at ABC to being the chairman of Paramount, Goldenson was not about to stand in his way. To him, loyalty was a two-way street; it wasn’t just loyalty upward, it was loyalty downward. He knew every man in that building, and every woman, he knew everybody in that building that he worked in and he knew them by name. He got on an elevator and if he didn’t know your name, he’d say, “You’re new. What’s your name, what do you do?” And he wouldn’t forget. He had a phenomenal memory, but he cared. When I first met him he was 85 years old and even then he could remember the names of all of the theater managers and the names of their wives and the towns that they were in Texas.
LIM: That’s pretty impressive. You know, back again to some of the people, what do you think that he tried to convey to them as a manager to them?
WOLF: Show us what you’ve got.
LIM: Creativity first?
WOLF: Show us what you’ve got. He had an alter ego, Cy Siegal, at first. Leonard was Mr. Yes, Cy Siegal was Mr. No.
LIM: So if you had to characterize, sort of overall, his management style, it wasn’t the management style of the time. It really was a forward…
WOLF: No. It’s a people business, he knew it was a people business, show business has always been a people business, and he knew that. He knew that it was show business. Yes, it was big business. There were large sums changing hands, there were enormous stakes, but at the end it was people.
LIM: And in the book that you wrote with him, with the support of over 100 people that you interviewed, what were some of the comments from people about working with him, what they thought of him, kind of in an overview fashion?
WOLF: You know, I didn’t find anybody who had a bad word to say about him, and it wasn’t because he was in a position to harm their careers, by this time he was already retired. I think the one thing that comes through in all of those interviews is the affection that they held him in. The fact that he allowed them to find out how far they could go, to have the opportunity to do the things that most people only get to dream about. He was very, very good at picking talent. Make mistakes – sure, if you don’t make mistakes you don’t live. He told me that.
LIM: He had all this affection, no one said a bad word, but from what you described to me before the interview, he had one enemy.
WOLF: It was an enemy he didn’t mean to make. One day in about 1965 or ’66, a man named Robert Maxwell called him up. Robert Maxwell was a wannabe British publishing baron and he asked Leonard if it was true that ABC owned 6 ½ % of a company called News Limited, and Leonard said that it was true, and he said, “Fine, I’d like to buy it, how much do you want? And he said, “Hold on, wait a minute. Why do you want to buy it?” “Well, because I own 5 ½ % of the company now, and if I have 5 ½ % and another 6 ½ %, then the chairman of the company, Rupert Murdoch, is going to have to let me have a seat on his board, and if I have a seat on his board I can stop him from buying the London Daily Sun, because I want to buy the London Daily Sun.” And Leonard said, “Well, then I’m sorry, I can’t sell it to you. Rupert Murdoch is a friend of mine. I’m very sorry, goodbye.” He had never met Mr. Maxwell, never in his whole life. So then after he hung up, he told his secretary, Marion Ayers, to get Rupert on the phone and he said nothing at all about Robert Maxwell on the phone. He said, “Would it be of any value to you if you guys bought back that 6 ½ % of your company?” He said, “Yes, it would.” He said, “Fine, whatever it closes at on the London Exchange today.” And that was done. About six months before my book came out, before the book that I wrote with Leonard came out, Beating the Odds, Robert Maxwell bought the publishing company. He spiked the book. He made sure that no pictures got in it, he made sure that there was no promotion done.
LIM: So what was the final outcome?
WOLF: He drowned. I don’t think Leonard had anything to do with that.
LIM: No, I didn’t think so. Just a bit about his philanthropic efforts – how would you, as an author and historian, what do you think the real contribution was there?
WOLF: You know, a lot of people if you come up to them and say, “I have this good cause”, they’ll get their checkbook out. Leonard Goldenson got himself out. He founded, co-founded, with the Housmans and his wife, United Cerebral Palsy because there was a need to do it. He spent an enormous amount of his time and energy to found this charity because there was a need for it. He wasn’t just going to write a check. He went out and called in all the favors that he had from all the show biz people, the only time he ever did that, and he said, “I want you guys to go on a telethon for me. I want you to help me glamorize this very misunderstood and little known disease (or condition, not a disease) cerebral palsy.” And they did. Bob Hope, who had essentially a lifetime contract at NBC and rarely, if ever, appeared on ABC, became not just the titular chairman, but the real chairman of this effort, the telethon effort, and stayed in the job for 40 years, long after anybody could expect him to. He did that out of loyalty to Leonard and he did it because Leonard put himself out. It’s one thing to write a check, it’s another thing to go to meetings and to call in favors and to twist elbows and to go around the country. That’s what Leonard Goldenson did.
LIM: If you could kind of crystallize one favorite moment, “ha-ha” moment in his career, what would you say that would be?
WOLF: I think it was the time when he outsmarted Howard Hughes. Howard Hughes made a tender offer to buy the company in the ’60s and he offered so much money per share that the stockholders – he had to take it to the stockholders, he had an obligation to do that – the stockholders had to accept it. They sure as hell didn’t want to sell that network to Howard Hughes, or anybody, so they appealed a ruling to a friendly judge, in fact his name was Friendly, who had been a classmate of Leonard’s at Harvard, and got the expected ruling, which was if Mr. Hughes wanted to buy that network, he’s going to have to personally appear before the FCC and explain how he was qualified to do this. And he did that because he knew that Howard Hughes wasn’t going to appear in any courtroom before any group of people before any cameras. He was going to hang out in the shadows. That was Howard Hughes. And that was the end of the threat. I think that was a big “ha-ha”.
LIM: That was again a full circle of understanding people.
WOLF: Yes. It’s not the answer maybe you would have asked for, but I think it was a big moment.
LIM: You’re the historian. Let’s talk just a minute about who orchestrated the merger with ABC and Capital City.
WOLF: That was Leonard. For many years he had been trying to find a successor for himself. Elton Rule was the man he thought would do the job, but Elton died, became ill and he died. Fred Pierce he thought might do it, but then Pierce wasn’t the right guy. He was coming up on 80 years old, and he was very much aware that ABC dismembered, its stations sold off, was worth a lot more than the book value of ABC if you bought the stock. So he knew they were vulnerable. He chased away the Bass brothers with a phone call to Michael Eisner. He chased away Larry Tisch with a lunch at the Waldorf Astoria, but he knew he couldn’t continue to chase people away; he was 80 years old. So he went looking for some kind of a broadcaster that could manage a company in the manner in which broadcasters should manage companies, as a public trust, and he found Tom Murphy at Capital Cities. And he convinced Tom Murphy that his minnow should swallow the ABC whale. The key to that, of course, was Warren Buffett. You had to find someone who would be willing to put up a huge amount of money, not for the sake of making a short-term profit, but for holding a long-term investment, and Leonard Goldenson knew that Tom Murphy and Warren Buffett had a friendship, a relationship.
LIM: And then that eventually led to Capital Cities/ABC, and the Disney…
WOLF: Well, Disney came later.
LIM: Okay, do you want to…?
WOLF: Long after Leonard had retired, Disney became a company, actually became pretty much the company that Leonard had envisioned ABC would become and the laws changed. The Congress changed laws; the FCC repealed certain laws that made it possible for a production entity like Disney to own a broadcasting network. When ABC was acquired by Disney, I think Leonard saw that as a fruition of his dream. He finally had a company that could do everything under one roof.
LIM: So I’ve asked you lots and lots of questions. Is there anything that I didn’t ask that you feel would be important as part of this oral video history?
WOLF: Yeah, one other thing. All of these executives that Leonard Goldenson recruited over the years and promoted and groomed, this is pretty much a who’s who of the television and cable industry today. That’s another set of his legacy. They saw how he did things and they did them. Rupert Murdoch has told many people that Leonard Goldenson was his guru, his model. He was able to do internationally what Leonard wanted to do but was not able to do because there wasn’t enough technology to do it.
LIM: So in summary, what would you say is his largest contribution to the industry besides the people that you mentioned, or overall what would you say would be…?
WOLF: Leonard Goldenson held a shotgun and forced movies and television to get married.
LIM: Okay. Thank you.
LIM: And now we continue the oral and video history of Mr. Leonard Goldenson with his daughter, Loreen ARBUS:. Loreen, let’s just start off – what’s your favorite memory of your father? What’s the best thing about your dad?
ARBUS: Oh, I have so many wonderful memories of my father. He was an extraordinary man, and an extraordinarily wonderful father. Quality time, not a lot of time, but quality time always. To single out and have one memory, I don’t know that I could do that, but I always think in terms of how he was with other people and I was always so proud, and I think hopefully, hopefully, it shows in my mode in going through life, very influenced by his style. He was so gracious to people, so lovely, and so unself-involved. He always was interested in what other people had to say and he never talked about himself. It took me years to convince him to do the book, to write the book Beating the Odds, and then I was so fortunate to be able to recommend a writer that he enjoyed working with, but getting him to talk about himself was no small task for me. When we would ride in an elevator in the high-rise building that was ABC at the time, in New York, he always would greet people when they came in the elevator. He knew everyone’s name, and if he didn’t, he went out of his way to not only ask them their name but what their experiences in life were, and years later he would ask, “Now, how’s your daughter?” and know the name. It was amazing the interest that he took, and genuine interest. He was always a small town boy.
LIM: That’s great. He was quite different from his contemporaries of the time.
ARBUS: Oh, yes.
LIM: In the way he was perceived. Can you describe that?
ARBUS: The way he was perceived and his style of life. He drove a car – always drove his car himself, never had a chauffeur. He always traveled tourist, the executives at ABC oftentimes, not knowing that, if they were on the same plane had a very rude shock to their systems when they would emerge from the plane to find, and they would be up front coming out of first class, to find that my father was in the tourist… flying coach. And he never, never… to say he was not flashy is the understatement of the century. He was extremely quiet in his personal style, completely. And the other part of the question that you asked was?
LIM: Just how did people that he worked with perceive him?
ARBUS: So gracious. His style was that it was an open door policy, always. Never close the door, and it was the same for me as a child. I mean, you know, even though Saturday and Sunday afternoons he was watching the game and going through piles and piles of work, if I’d come in he’d say, “Would you like to talk with me, Loreen?” or “Is there something on your mind? Come on in, watch the game with me.” I didn’t like sports at all, but just to sit and be in his company was wonderful.
LIM: And kind of back to my earlier question, he was lesser known than his counterparts. That was the other part.
ARBUS: Ah, yes. That was the other part of the question, right.
LIM: Why did that come about that way? How do you characterize that?
ARBUS: He always put everyone else in the Limelight. Celebrities and stars, that was and is what celebrities are and should be about; they are on camera, they do the interviews, they are the personalities, they promote the product, and he was the person always behind the scenes. But he was the same way as far as the executives and people he interacted with in his career. He was so self-effacing, and he believed that it wasn’t important what he had to say, but rather to do what needed to be done, and support others so they would feel good and feel that they had a great endorsement and support, and also, I think, in no small part, because his lifestyle was such a modest one. He was just not interested in the material accoutrements that go with the kind of position he had in life, and the money that certainly he made, and he took much less money actually – made much, much less money by his choice – than certainly his successors and his contemporaries chose to make. A good example, I think, of this, might be the extraordinary art collection that was amassed with his interest and wonderful eye in the course of many, many years, and hung at ABC; he never considered it his collection. It was what went to Cap Cities when the sale was made, when he stepped down, and it really was his art collection. It was an amazing art collection, but he never looked at it that way.
LIM: So he also transferred that love of people to a lot of philanthropic work.
ARBUS: Oh, yes, and he had a genuine interest in science and in medicine. He made, with my mother, what was the largest gift ever made in the history of Harvard, to the Harvard Medical School. It was at the time the 7th largest gift in the history of the United States, in terms of education, and in general, but his reason for doing that was several fold. Number one, he had a great debt of gratitude. He always felt toward Harvard, Harvard gave him connections and confidence, and a kind of a stature to be able to be that small town boy credentialized, as he then found that many doors opened to him as a result of that. Additionally, he had always such a great interest in science and in medicine, and in breakthroughs that would help people to improve their conditions in life, whether psychologically or physically, and he felt so importantly about really trying to make this world a better place, and so he stayed very, very abreast of what developments were occurring across the board. Not only in cerebral palsy, and he, with my mother and the Housemans, did start what is today the third largest health agency in the world, and one of the ones that has the greatest return in terms of the monies raised that go right back out, and this was very, very important to him, that it was, as with everything, not important, and singularly critical to him that money be put into the program, the projects, into the research, and not into people’s pockets, and that was one of the great contributions, I think, along the way that he made as far as cerebral palsy was concerned. The building that is named after my parents at Harvard is dedicated to the study of the brain, and of course the study of the brain is the study of everything that is human because the brain is what effects us altogether, inside and out, top to bottom.
LIM: He also did a lot for access for disabled people.
LIM: In terms of parking spaces, closed captioning, handicapped access, these kinds of things that were very much ahead of their time, or there wasn’t anybody else that was particularly a champion like he was at that time. Could you just describe that a little bit further, because that must have been back to his love of people doing things for themselves and their self-esteem and the access.
ARBUS: Well, I came across, in going through a lot of papers in the year after my father’s passing, a decree from the Senate that was a recognition of the contributions that my parents made in terms of the innovations and laws that were passed that have made such a huge difference in the lives of the disabled in America. Now, it is my mother who was the unsung heroine, to a very large degree. Many, many of the innovations that occurred and the laws that were passed were her ideas, but my father went to Congress and went and took my mother to NASA after the first man landed on the moon, or after we landed on the moon the first time, my mother was very indignant, very angry. Everybody else was very thrilled and exhilarated watching this amazing event occur, and my mother said, “But what are they doing for people on earth, and all this money is being spent. Where is the application of all this technology and all of these developments to people on earth?” And the long and the short of it is, NASA condescended to have a half hour meeting to appease, in essence, my mother and my father’s efforts to set up the meeting, and it turned into a day, another day, another day, and ultimately the technological innovations – as an example, the light-weight materials that were created, invented, to take man to the moon are now realized in incredibly light-weight wheelchairs and remote control of human bodies through technological, the suits that astronauts wear, and so on, these have had an extraordinary application for the disabled. The Disabilities Act – my parents were instrumental in the passing of the Disabilities Act, and way prior to that, legislation was passed in this country mandating that every public building have parking spaces that are handicap accessible, that the telephone booths be lowered so that they are wheelchair accessible public telephones, that public transportation be wheelchair accessible, buses and so on and so forth. The list is very long of the innovations.
LIM: Someone from the television industry, and cable industry, who took that kind of action is pretty remarkable and rare.
LIM: Tell me a little bit about his interest in the cable industry. In the early days of cable, a lot of people thought it would kill television and vice versa. So, we heard a lot from Marvin about how he bridged the movie industry with the television industry, how did he bridge the cable industry?
ARBUS: My father never, never saw any innovations that occurred as being competitive and never viewed the possibility, as most people did – I think the majority of people have done throughout time and certainly modern history – as a threat to the very wellbeing of the businesses that they have been in. Each time a new innovation has occurred, and new opportunities have… my father has seen the innovations as opportunities, so rather than seeing cable or home video or other innovations as threatening, he saw opportunities to embrace and expand and create synergy.
LIM: And you have a very distinguished career in cable as well.
ARBUS: I love the medium, and of course, the medium, that word understates what it is, it is so extensive, the medium and the product that comes through that medium.
LIM: But as a programming exec at Showtime and also American Health Network, that evolved into Lifetime, how did you use some of the lessons learned from your father in programming innovation?
ARBUS: Well, my father always said to me, “Loreen, I do not believe in nepotism. If you would like you can have an opportunity for a short period of time to train at ABC and be an executive in training, but you must go out and make it on your own.” By the same token, he always said, “Do not expect any money from me. You must make your own way and your own career and your own livelihood altogether. If I can support you in any ways other than financially, I’m happy to do that, in terms of some introductions, but that’s it. You’re on your own.” And when I left ABC, where I did go intern for a short period of time, I had two offers. One was to go with an established very, very large station group to head up the overall head of programming for a very, very significant amount of money, and the other was for very little money with a very little title, comparatively speaking, to a company that – the only way that I could explain who we were was to say who our competition was, because everybody had heard of the competition, more people had heard of the competition, which was Home Box Office. So I would say, and this was at the beginning of Showtime, while we are like Avis… “We are… and have you heard of Home Box Office? This is who we are.” But I think my father’s sense of adventure and of pioneering and of going into the unknown and unchartered waters was something that I truly identified with, and when my lawyer at the time said, “There is nothing to negotiate, obviously, in terms of the choice between these two companies.” I said, “No, I want…” And he said, “I’ll do what you say, but…” Because I saw there were no rules. It was just outlaw territory and you make your own rules, you make your own way. For me to walk into a job where there was already a track record, where there were already ways of doing things, no, no, no. To go somewhere new, start-up and begin, which we did with Showtime and then again with Cable Health Network, which became ultimately Lifetime, was just… it was so exciting.
LIM: And the Cable Health Network, I mean, you were there for the start-up.
LIM: What was that like?
ARBUS: Well, we in three months put together a program slate. We had to program 24 hours, we had virtually no money, and the credit line of $50 million dollars never existed, we didn’t know that. It was so small, I was told that the programming cost had to average $7,500 dollars a half hour, and that meant that the acquisitions had to be for a few hundred so I could get budgets of programming up to maybe 10, 12, 15 thousand dollars a half hour, juggling, juggling, juggling, 24 hours a day, of programming. That was not an easy feat, but the bigger problem was that we only had three months to do it in and we had no staff, no programming person, nothing there and never did, and trying to negotiate all the deals, and then eventually a contracts person came in way after the fact and kind of did some paper and cleaned up some things, but it was quite a challenge. I don’t think it’s the right way to do things. One has to plan and really allow time and really do your research and work a lot more carefully than… you know, it was an outrageous experience. We were renegades. There was an energy like you could never believe in what we were doing at that time, and there was an appetite and a market for what we were offering in the way of health programming. The problem was we did not have the money to promote and market what we had, what we were doing, and that, I think, was a great missed opportunity, and it was a great idea to program 24 hours of health. And of course, the Discovery Networks have long since and substantially proven that the market and appetite is there for reality programming that is for the betterment of us.
LIM: It evolved eventually into Lifetime, which is now, today, 2002, one of the highest rated cable networks targeted towards women.
LIM: You, as a woman, manager, visionary, thoughtful person in the cable industry, how do you think women’s roles have been in the industry through the early ’80s into today?
ARBUS: I think, of course, a lot is cyclical. For 25 years, and this is our 25th year, a very close friend and I have hosted a luncheon where we have had 25, more or less, different women every month come to lunch, women who are established, not starting out in their careers, and it’s really been quite an insight looking at what has been the evolution. We’ve had 10,000 women to lunch in 25 years. We’ve begun doing this now in New York in the last year, and we see there are times where women are doing much better, and now I think it’s a very difficult time again for women, because the jobs and the reorganizing and acquisitions and compression, in terms of companies and streamlining and downsizing, it’s very difficult and minorities and women are still far more expendable in the scheme of things. But it is cable that gave and has always, historically, given the opportunities to women. Now some of the newer networks, UPN and WB, have, but you look at ABC, NBC, and CBS, there’s never yet been a woman head of the three commercial networks. Fox had very briefly Lucy Salhany. Cable has given women and minorities the opportunities that never otherwise would have existed for us.
LIM: That also ties back to your father. I mean, he was the first to put a woman on a newscast.
ARBUS: The first primetime anchor ever in the history of television, woman anchor, was Barbara Walters on ABC. She was also the first million dollar baby, and the first series ever to be hosted by or to star a minority, Sammy Davis, Jr., was on ABC. My father’s personal hero was Jackie Robinson, of all the people in the world that he met, and he met everybody in the world in power in almost any country, and he traveled extensively where he went, every continent in this world, but I think his single greatest hero was Jackie Robinson. Which wasn’t exactly the question that you asked.
LIM: No, that’s fine. What did he not accomplish that he wanted to accomplish?
ARBUS: Well, on my father’s 90th birthday I went to Florida to celebrate with him, and I said to him, “Dad, I know you never like to look back, not to mention you don’t like to talk about yourself at all, but I’ve got to ask you something and I insist, and I’m not leaving until I have an answer, what would you like to have done that you didn’t get to do, and if you were in the business today, what would it be that you would be doing?” And he said, “I’ll tell you exactly. With the fractioning of the audience, and the difficulty in ultimately being able to finance programming because you have a diminishing core audience in terms of the size and concentration of audience with so many options between home video and the internet, and so on and so forth, for me the challenge would have been to find ways in which we could break through and bring back and create a large enough, sizable enough audience with programming, and I would have loved to have explored the internet and to have been able to find the synergy between the internet and the network.” And I think that was probably his single greatest gift and contribution to the industry. There were so many innovations that took place under his watch, more than, probably in my very objective mind, any other media mogul or leader in the world at any point in time. I think the single greatest number of contributions occurred under my father’s watch, and through his support and in his encouragement of others, and listening to them and giving them the chance to go forward and innovate. But I think his greatest personal contribution was seeing and understanding and embracing the synergy of media. He was involved in and loved passionately and saw the opportunities and brought together the worlds of theater, of music, of course of television, of cable, of home video. He saw the global playground in a way that was years, decades, ahead of his time. There was no area… publishing, magazines, newspapers, books, every aspect of the media was part of and incorporated into what it was that he did, the company that he built.
LIM: So you told me earlier you thought he even orchestrated the timing of his passing. Can you kind of elaborate on what you meant?
ARBUS: Yes. My father passed away three days before the millennium and I learned of his passing – I was in Argentina, and I was not able to get on a plane to come back for his funeral nor for the, at the very end to be there. And I had a lot of time, being at one of the furthest outreaches of civilization, being in Argentina at that time, and literally unable to fly out of the country, and I realized that my father had chosen to pass away before the millennium. He loved life so much, he loved people, he loved his work, he loved what he did, he loved his family, but he felt that he could not continue to make a contribution. In the last year his health had been failing so significantly and he had held on and held on in those last few years as his health went down, and in his 90th year he chose not to enter the millennium and he waited until three days before the millennium, because he would not be on this earth if he could not make a contribution.
LIM: But, as you said, he made so many across his life. With regard to cable what do you think he would be most remembered for?
ARBUS: Well, in terms of cable, I suppose… he saw cable as another means of distribution and a source of product. He saw the possibilities of producing for cable and cable programming airing on network television, and network television programming airing on cable, and he saw the ownership possibilities not being mutually exclusive. For him, the concept was so big that these two giant media, for most people were separate, he saw the union, the possibilities of coming together.
LIM: So Loreen, we talked about some of the firsts in news, the gavel to gavel coverage of the McCarthy hearings: that was something also orchestrated by your father. There are so many things that could go on the list, but what do you think his philosophy, if you will, or his view on the media, if you could summarize it, what would that be?
ARBUS: Well, I think in a way, my father was so innovative because for him rules were made to be broken if it made sense to break them, and what made sense to him was to go with his gut. He always went with his gut, and in terms of rules being broken, CBS is always credited with breaking the McCarthy era by airing the horrendous proceedings of the McCarthy trials, it was in fact – a little known fact – it was ABC alone that carried the McCarthy trials gavel to gavel the entire time. My father never saw the technology as more as the means to the end. When we talk about cable, cable was a technological means for the delivery and the expansion of the possibilities of the delivery of programming, and for him that is where the innovation was, in the programming. In going with his gut, in responding to what people wanted to see or in identifying for people what they might want to see, and it was never for him a matter of what he liked or disliked as far as his personal taste. For him it was always, yes, that is something that I think will be, or I believe will interest people, and he is, as someone has said, they used that term, he was always the man with the golden gut.
LIM: So what was TV to your father?
ARBUS: He loved the medium, and I think one of the greatest common denominators of people who are enormously successful and who have a sense of wellbeing and enjoyment in their lives, is that they have pursued with passion that which they want to do, that which they love, and my father was a truly passionate man. He loved the medium. He lived and breathed it, until his dying day, literally, he wanted to know the ratings, he wanted to watch all the new pilots, he constantly was changing channels. He had three television sets, minimally three television sets on simultaneously, read the newspapers, read the magazines, was always interested in the great wide world beyond, and what we were communicating, and communications for him was the passion in his life.
LIM: And that passion – he quoted before, he said, “After all, it’s pictures on a screen.”
ARBUS: “After all, it’s pictures on a screen.” And I think that he felt that power of the medium, the most powerful too, and the single most important contribution that ever has been made in the last millennium, is in the world of communications, and I think he felt always a kind of humility and a gratitude that he was able to be a part – and he never would say – but I think, the most significant part of that signature of the millennium, this last millennium, which is communications.
LIM: Well, thank you so much for your interview today.
ARBUS: Thank you.
LIM: This has been the oral and video history of Leonard Goldenson, one of the greats in television and cable history, and on behalf of The Cable Center, I thank you for your time today, January 17th, 2002. We also thank the efforts from Marvin Wolf, who is the author of the book called Beating the Odds, co-written with Mr. Leonard Goldenson. This is a part of the Hauser Foundation Oral and Video History Program of The Cable Center in Denver. I’m Rebecca Lim. Thank you very much.