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    FDR writes to William S. Paley of CBS regarding programming standards.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt: Typed Letter Signed as President.
    -May 16, 1935, Washington, D.C. One page. 7" x 9". White House letterhead.
    -To: Mr. William S. Paley, President, Columbia Broadcasting System, New York City.
    -Overall light browning, fingerprint stains on verso, paperclip outline on upper left corner, folds, else very good.

    FDR writes "Thank you for your thoughtfulness in sending me the pamphlet outlining the new policy Columbia has adopted in an effort to establish higher program standards than any yet known to broadcasting and, at the same time, afford greater enjoyment to the listening audience of the country. I note with interest your plans to improve children's programs, to eliminate offensive advertising and to set time limits for commercial announcements. This, in my opinion, is a most commendable undertaking and I am happy to extend best wishes for its success."

    William S. Paley (1901-1990) was one of the most powerful broadcasting executives. Paley organized the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and ran if for a half century. In 1928, Paley bought control of the struggling CBS network and grew it into one of the three most powerful radio networks in the country. He then successfully moved into television. In 1934, CBS began broadcasting "Voice Of The Crusaders", an anti-New Deal program backed by corporations and advertising firms. The rhetoric became increasingly harsh, until CBS eventually dropped the program. In 1935, Henry Ford backed the "Ford Sunday Evening Hour" that featured classical music. During the intermission, a Ford executive attacked the New Deal and praised Henry Ford. Eventually, Paley canceled that program too, but not until after an outraged Ford yelled "send that Jew to me!" In this important letter from FDR to Paley, the President was personally thanking the President of CBS for eliminating these two programs from the airwaves during a critical period for the New Deal.


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    Franklin D. Roosevelt. Typed Letter Signed. One page (conjoining leaves), very special content, The White House, Washington, May 16, 1935, marked "PERSONAL" to William S. Paley, the President of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). FDR writes: "My dear Mr. Paley:/ Thank you for your thoughtfulness in sending me the pamphlet outlining the new policy Columbia has adopted in an effort to establish higher program standards than any yet known to broadcasting and, at the same time, afford greater enjoyment to the listening audience of the country./ I note with interest your plans to improve children's programs, to eliminate offensive advertising and to set time limits for commercial announcements. This, in my opinion, is a most commendable undertaking and I am happy to extend best wishes for its success./ Very sincerely yours,/ Franklin D. Roosevelt." William S. Paley (1901-1990) was one of the most powerful broadcasting executives. Paley organized the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and ran if for a half century. In 1928, Paley bought control of the struggling CBS network and grew it into one of the three most powerful radio networks in the country. He then successfully moved into television. In 1934, CBS began broadcasting "Voice Of The Crusaders", an anti-New Deal program backed by corporations and advertising firms. The rhetoric became increasingly harsh, until CBS eventually dropped the program. In 1935, Henry Ford backed the "Ford Sunday Evening Hour" that featured classical music. During the intermission, a Ford executive attacked the New Deal and praised Henry Ford. Eventually, Paley cancelled that program too, but not until after an outraged Ford yelled "send that Jew to me!" In this important letter from FDR to Paley, the President was personally thanking the President of CBS for eliminating these two programs from the airwaves during a critical period for the New Deal. Just eleven days after FDR wrote this letter to Paley, the Supreme Court of the United States nullified major portions of the New Deal, May 27, 1935, a day referred to by progressive New Dealers as "Black Monday." Thus began FDR's "Second Hundred Days" of progressive reform in the United States. Responding to the setbacks by the Supreme Court, a new skepticism in Congress, and the growing popular clamor for more dramatic action, FDR proposed or endorsed several important new initiatives. This "Second New Deal" was more radical, more pro-labor and anti-big business than the "First New Deal" of 1933-1934. The National Labor Relations Act (July 5), also known as the Wagner Act, revived and strengthened the protections of collective bargaining contained in the original (and now unconstitutional) NIRA. The result was a tremendous growth of membership in the labor unions comprising the American Federation of Labor. Labor thus became a major component of the New Deal political coalition. FDR nationalized unemployment relief through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), headed by Harry L. Hopkins. The WPA created hundreds of thousands of low-skilled blue collar jobs for unemployed men and women as well as for white collar workers. The National Youth Administration was the semi-autonomous WPA program for youth. Its Texas director, Lyndon Baines Johnson, later used the NYA as a model for some of his Great Society programs in the 1960s. But the most important achievement of 1935, and perhaps the New Deal as a whole, was the Social Security Act signed into law by FDR on August 14, 1935, which established a system of insurance for the aged, as well as unemployment insurance, and welfare benefits for dependent children and the handicapped, establishing a framework for the American welfare system. In context of these momentous happenings in Washington, D.C. during the spring and summer of 1935, FDR's letter to Paley is all the more significant in that FDR was trying to fight the conservative-financed media war against his Administration and the New Deal. In this very letter to Paley, the President personally thanks the key figure in American broadcasting, using clever language, for dispensing from the airwaves of CBS anti-Roosevelt, anti-New Deal broadcasts, a truly remarkable and historic letter from the leader of the American government to the leader of American broadcasting. Paley, William S. Paley (September 28, 1901-October 26, 1990), broadcasting executive, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Samuel Paley, a cigar manufacturer, and Goldie Drell. Paley received a B.S. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1922. He then went into his family's successful cigar business. In 1927 he became interested in broadcasting when his family business began advertising over a Philadelphia radio station. In 1928, when the financially troubled Columbia Phonographic Broadcasting System, then consisting of twenty-two affiliates and sixteen employees, came up for sale, the Paley family purchased it for $400,000. It was renamed the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), with William Paley as its president. Paley, who until the purchase of CBS had not been highly regarded as a businessman, soon showed great acumen as the head of the fledgling network. Aware of the fact that the programming his network offered was not as popular as that of its major rival, NBC, Paley offered stations across the country free programming in exchange for an option on advertising time on their evening schedules. This practice would eventually become the industry standard. Paley also showed imagination in luring advertisers to CBS, including allowing them to mention prices on the air. In addition, early on he gave evidence of what would be his strongest asset, choosing talent for the new network. Within a short period he launched the radio careers of young singers such as Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, and Morton Downey. In 1932 Paley married Dorothy Hart Hearst; they adopted two children and divorced in 1947. That same year Paley married Barbara "Babe" Cushing Mortimer; they had two children. Despite Paley's early success (he sold Paramount a half share in CBS for $5 million in 1929), CBS still lagged behind NBC, particularly in the area of programming. As a result, Paley decided to make a major effort in the field of broadcast journalism, where NBC did not hold such a commanding lead. He hired in 1930 Edward Klauber, a former editor for the New York Times, as his right-hand man; in 1933 he recruited former United Press reporter Paul White to head the CBS News division. CBS News began to rival NBC. Nevertheless, it was not until 1935, when Edward R. Murrow was hired as the CBS director of talks, that CBS News really came of age. Murrow was dispatched to London in 1937. In 1938, on the heels of Adolf Hitler's invasion of Austria, CBS launched the first broadcast – by William L. Shirer and others – of what would become "CBS World News Roundup." Murrow also hired a group of reporters, including Eric Sevareid, Howard K. Smith, Richard C. Hottelet, and Charles Collingwood, whose reporting changed the nature of broadcast news. During World War II Paley served in the Psychological Warfare Division of the Office of War Information. After the War he was determined to capture the lead in entertainment programming from NBC. In 1948 he lured to CBS some of NBC's brightest stars, including Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and Red Skelton. "Paley's Raid," as it became known in the broadcasting industry, became the basis of CBS's lead in entertainment programming for the next twenty years. That lead became strongest during the rise of network television. At first Paley was unwilling to get involved in television, but under prodding from Frank Stanton, whom he had appointed CBS president in 1946, he soon realized the potential of the new technology. He used the stars he had taken from NBC, along with shows such as "I Love Lucy," "Gunsmoke," "The Ed Sullivan Show," and "Arthur Godfrey and His Friends," and CBS became known in industry circles as the "Tiffany network." The network's reputation for high quality was also a result of Paley's other public activities. He worked to aid the Museum of Modern Art, serving on its board from 1937 and as its president from 1968 to 1972; he also amassed a substantial art collection of his own. He led in the building of the architecturally distinguished CBS headquarters in Manhattan and in the founding of the Museum of Broadcasting (subsequently renamed the Museum of Television and Radio). In addition, CBS, which through most of its history had lagged behind NBC in technological development, was introducing new electronics products, including the long-playing record and the first version of color television. In 1974 the Columbia Broadcasting System changed its name to CBS, Inc., acknowledging the fact that it was no longer just a broadcasting company but a mass media conglomerate. The corporation owned magazines (such as Woman's Day), the publishing house of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Columbia Records, and even (from 1964 to 1973) the New York Yankees. Although many people expected Paley to retire, he kept the reins of the company, ignoring his own retirement edict, which he had used to force the exit of his heir-apparent Frank Stanton in 1973. In rapid succession Paley hired, then fired, a series of presidents and chief executive officers: Arthur Taylor in 1976, John Backe in 1980, and Thomas Wyman in 1986. The last firing occurred during a period when CBS was fighting a takeover bid from Ted Turner, as well as an effort by Senator Jesse Helms to get conservatives to buy stock and take over CBS. In order to oust Wyman, Paley allied himself with investor Laurence Tisch who, as head of Loew's Corporation, owned 25 percent of CBS stock. With Wyman gone, Tisch took over the real power in the company; Paley was reinstalled but was largely inactive as executive committee chair. As one of the founders of modern broadcasting, Paley tried to balance demands for mass entertainment with the need for artistic and informational programming. He also created an image of leadership in this new, immensely powerful industry that was consonant with the traditional elite of American society. He died in New York City. This is a very significant personal letter from FDR to Paley during a critical period for the New Deal during the spring of 1935.



    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2008
    7th Saturday
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