Mia Farrow, as photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt for the May 5th, 1967 cover of Life magazine.
It now seems worlds away from that ancient time of the mid-1960s when a young 18 year-old actress named Mia Farrow was the TV celebrity de jour. Ms Farrow then had the attention of most of a nation as she played the lovely and much-loved Allison Mackenzie on “Peyton Place,”a popular, first-of-a-kind prime time soap opera. “Peyton Place” was a TV series about life and love in a small New England town. The series ran in the wake of a popular best-selling novel by the same name by author Grace Metalious. On the TV show, Farrow played opposite Ryan O’Neal.
Today, in late 2010 as this is written, Mia Farrow is far removed from that other time; she is now more activist than actress. But for most of her life, while growing up, and for the next 40 years or more, Mia Farrow lived in the celebrity spotlight — Hollywood parents, her own TV and movie fame, marriages to Frank Sinatra and Andre Previn, a relationship with Woody Allen, and most recently, notice as an inter- national activist. A good part of Mia Farrow’s life in recent years has been given to the plight of others less fortunate, beginning with her own assembled family of 14 children, ten of whom are adopted, some with special needs. Meanwhile, today, Farrow the international activist — quite the hard-charging strategist and political activist when see needs to be — is working on behalf of various causes, sometimes on her own and also through the United Nations.
But who is that person with the powerful, mesmerizing eyes looking out at the world from the cover of Life magazine in May 1967? And how has she come to where she is now? A portion of her story is offered here; a life, it appears, full of twists, turns and metamorphoses, moving from comfort and privilege to doing for others in both large and small ways.
Movie Sets & Polio
January 1933: Actress Maureen O’ Sullivan, Mia Farrow’s mother.
Mia Farrow was born into Hollywood in 1945, the daughter of Australian film director John Farrow and Irish actress Maureen O’Sullivan. She was the third of seven children. She grew up in Beverly Hills and often traveled with her parents to filming locations. At the age of 2, she made her film debut a short subject piece with her mother, and in 1951 she also appeared in the ten-minute Cold War era, Civil Defense Agency film, Duck and Cover. Her sisters, Tisa Farrow and Prudence Farrow, are also actresses. But life dealt Mia some hard knocks early on. In 1954 she contracted polio:
“…When I was nine, I got polio. And I was taken from the security of my family into another world, the Los Angeles General Hospital wing for contagious diseases. It was in the middle of the polio epidemic. I was shown sickness, and uncertainty, and pain, even death. Then I was released from that and dropped back into my life, and I never felt quite the same. It gave me a sense that I had to find a life that was meaningful, and that very definitely has shaped the family that I have. I’ve adopted ten children, most of them with special needs, including one son who is paraplegic as a result of polio. So this is my way of addressing that, sort of over and over…”
Young Mia Farrow with her mother, 1960s.
After Mia had expressed interest in acting in 1957, her father — seeking to discourage her — sent her to convent school in London. But two years later, she made her film acting debut in a bit role in John Paul Jones, a film in fact, directed by her father. At home, meanwhile, tragedy had gripped the family as her brother died in a plane crash in 1958. “…I was thirteen and my family just disintegrated,” says Farrow of her brother’s death. “My parents are Irish, and they started drinking, and my father couldn’t work again. We felt his heart just broke. He died at fifty-eight, after a series of heart attacks.” It was 1963.
Mia Farrow then appeared in a 13-minute film short, The Age of Curiosity, a film profile about the modern teenage girl for Seventeen magazine. She also had her stage acting debut as Cecily in an off-Broadway production of The Importance of Being Earnest. In her early acting career during the 1960s, she appeared in supporting roles in several films. Her first major film role came in 1964’s Guns at Batasi. Farrow also screen-tested for the role of Liesl Von Trapp in The Sound of Music.
TV screen shot of opening “Peyton Place” title card, set against the town’s church steeple; color version used in the show’s later years.
But it was Peyton Place — the prime-time television drama about life and love in a small New England town — that brought Mia Farrow to instant celebrity. Peyton Place the television show had been preceded by a good decade of powerful Peyton Place priming by other media. Peyton Place the novel by Grace Metalious kicked it all off in 1956 — a novel that shocked the nation for its honest portrayal of lives of small town New England. The fictional and picturesque Peyton Place, it turns out, is really a community seething with extramarital affairs, dark secrets, and all manner of difficult human entanglement. The best-selling novel had been quickly followed by Peyton Place the film of 1957, a second novel, and then another film, Return to Peyton Place of 1961.
A17 year-old Mia Farrow holding a “Peyton Place newspaper” as she waits for 20th Century Fox TV contract approval in Santa Monica, CA courthouse. Photo, Los Angles Times, June 17, 1964.
An hour-long pilot for the TV series was first shot in 1962, but disagreements forced it being dropped as a new version was used for the September 15, 1964 debut of the Peyton Place series. For the ABC television network — then the third-ranked of the three national TV channels — Peyton Place was something of gamble. A primary concern of the network was that the TV show would follow the novel’s controversial reputation and become an affront to family values. Another concern was the show’s novel scheduling. In the fall of 1964, Peyton Place was offered twice each week, on Tuesday and Thursday nights, a first for American prime-time television. Neither concern, however, appeared to hold the show back, at least in its early run.
Fears of a family values backlash faded as the show began running, as more “sex and sin” was implied than actually delivered. Although the book had some daring plot lines that involved incest, for example, the TV series went with less controversial themes such as teen pregnancy. The show was criticized for these and other sexual themes, but it still became a top hit. A month after Peyton Place premiered, ABC rose in the Nielsen ratings to No. 1 for the first time. Peyton Place was the first prime-time soap opera and it became something of a model for others that followed. The show developed a very loyal following of fans around the world. In fact, by June 1965, because of its success, it was increased to three showings a week. ABC considered developing a spin-off serial, and both CBS and NBC announced they were developing similar prime-time serials.
Some of the actors who appeared in the “Peyton Place” TV series, including at center, Barbra Perkin, Mia Farrow in white, and Ryan O’Neal, lower right.
Among the key characters in the early years of the series were: Dorothy Malone, who played bookshop owner and mother of Allison, Constance Mackenzie. Constance has her own dark secret surrounding the birth of daughter Allison. And Allison’s real father, viewers later learn, is in prison. Allison becomes romantically involved with rich kid Rodney Harrington, played by Ryan O’Neal, who is pursued by another young woman named Betty Anderson, played by Barbara Perkin. Betty becomes pregnant, has a miscarriage, but marries Rodney without telling him about the miscarriage. And there area also a number of other characters who figure into one or more plot twists through the life of the series — Rodney’s brother, Norman Harringon; Rodney’s father, Leslie Harrington, who runs Peyton Mills; Dr. Michael Rossi, a young physician who has set up shop in Peyton Place; a tavern keeper’s daughter, Rita Jacks; Martin Peyton, the town’s patriarch — and more. In fact, in the long run of this series, more than 200 actors appeared in various primary and secondary roles. A total of 514 Peyton Place episodes were broadcast between September 15, 1964 and June 2, 1969 — the early years in black in white, and later years in color.
Mia Farrow as “Allison Mackenzie” in early episode of “Peyton Place” TV show, 1964.
Mia Farrow, as the beloved Allison, only appeared in the first two years of the series. But those were quite enough, as these episodes marked the relationship between she and Ryan O’Neal’s character, and both of their careers were boosted by these roles. Farrow, especially, became firmly established in the eyes of the viewing public and enjoyed great public notice as Allison Mackenzie. “I played Allison Mackenzie well because I knew her,” she would tell a Life magazine reporter in 1966. “I knew every inch of her. I was Allison Mackenzie.” But in August 1966, Allison Mackenzie suddenly “disappeared” in the Peyton Place storyline — occasioned by Mia Farrow’s real world departure for her 1966 marriage to Frank Sinatra. Peyton Place never fully recovered from Farrow’s departure, though news of a distant Allison was worked into the storyline to keep the character alive. In fact, some two years later into the series, a young woman appeared with a baby she claimed was Allison’s. Peyton Place, meanwhile, continued to run for several more years. Ryan O’Neal remained through its entire run. The series also holds the distinction of being one of the few prime time soaps to have never appeared as re-runs.
Mia Farrow, meanwhile, received professional plaudits for her work in the1960s — a 1965 Golden Globe award for Most Promising Female Newcomer and a 1966 Golden Globe nomination. But her life by then had taken a new direction with her marriage to Frank Sinatra.
Frank & Mia
Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow in the 1960s when her hair was still in the early "Allison Mackenzie" mode.
Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow had first met in the fall of 1964 when they were both working on the 20Century Fox film lot in Hollywood — when she was filming for Peyton Place and he was working Ryan’s Express, World War II film.She was 19 at the time and he was 48. Their courtship and marriage became a topic of much public interest and some concern among both their friends, given their age difference. Dean Martin, one of Sinatra’s Rat Pack buddies, is alleged to have quipped that he had a bottle of Scotch older than Farrow. And when she and Sinatra were courting they were hounded by the press wherever the went, as once on a boat ride off Cape Cod that became more of a national event than private getaway. In any case, the two were married on July 19, 1966, when she was 21 and he was 50. Sinatra was enjoying a wave of renewed popularity with his music by then, as the song “Strangers in the Night,” for example, was at the top of the Billboard charts within weeks of their marriage. But Frank Sinatra was a pretty demanding kind of guy, who had urged Farrow to quit Peyton Place earlier. In 1967, meanwhile, Farrow played the title role in the ABC-TV remake of Johnny Belinda, based on the play of the same name. She also appeared in some print ads for Foster Grant Sunglasses.
Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow cutting their wedding cake, July 1966.
In 1968, Farrow had agreed to work in a film with Sinatra called The Detective. But she also began working on the Roman Polanski film, Rosemary’s Baby. Sinatra asked her to quit that film and come work with him on The Detective. After she refused, Sinatra had her served with divorce papers on the film set of Rosemary’s Baby, in front of cast and crew. Farrow broke down after reading the papers, but nonetheless, continued with her film work that day. In an effort to save her marriage, Farrow asked Paramount Pictures executive Robert Evans to release her from her film contract, but he persuaded her to remain with the project. A divorce between Farrow and Sinatra was finalized later that year. The Sinatra-Farrow pairing had become regular fare for the tabloids and there continued to be questions about the marriage for years. But in a 2006 interview with Esquire, Farrow reflected on her time with Sinatra:
Part of the tabloid fare on the Sinatra-Farrow watch, 1966.
“…When I married Frank Sinatra, my father had recently died, and he [Sinatra] had just turned fifty, and people said, “Oh, you’re looking for a father.” It’s hard for me to, um, deny or confirm. But what I will tell you is that he was the coolest, handsomest, sexiest guy. I don’t think there are many women of any age who could have resisted him. He was utterly charming. Absolutely adorable. So you can talk father all you like — he wasn’t anything like my father….”
“…Frank Sinatra had a very strong moral structure. He was actually quite staid in certain respects, very much the Italian father. There was a part of him that would say, ‘break his legs,’ but there was a part of him that wouldn’t actually do it. And there was a part of him that was an excellent father and an excellent friend, who wouldn’t lie, who would do the right thing for other people and seek no reward….”
In the aftermath her break up with Sinatra, Farrow traveled to India in early 1968, where she spent time at the ashram of the Maharishi in Rishikesh studying transcendental meditation. This gathering gained worldwide media attention at the time due to the presence of the Beatles, Donovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and Farrow’s younger sister, Prudence, who inspired John Lennon to write the song “Dear Prudence.”
Film stars Dustin Hoffman & Mia Farrow on the cover of Time magazine, 7 Feb 1969.
1960s’ Film Roles
Mia Farrow’s first leading film role was in Rosemary’s Baby, the June 1968 Roman Polanski horror classic. The film was a major critical and commercial success at the time and continues to be widely regarded as a classic of the horror genre. Rosemary’s Baby raised Farrow’s star power to new heights. For that role, she won a Golden Globe award for new star of the year; a David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Actress; and a Golden Laurel Award. She was also nominated for Golden Globe best actress in a motion picture drama and a BAFTA best actress nomination.
By February 1969, she was on the cover of Time magazine with actor Dustin Hoffman, the two then cast in a new movie together, John and Mary. They were both fresh from the success of major films: she with Rosemary’s Baby and he, The Graduate. At the time in 1969, Rosemary’s Baby was ranked among the top 50 all-time movie hits and The Graduate was then the third largest money earner in movie history. In 1969, however, Farrow turned down the starring role of feisty teenager Mattie Ross in the western True Grit. In that role she would have played opposite John Wayne. The movie became a classic, with Wayne winning a Golden Globe and an Oscar, and also a BAFTA film award nomination for Kim Darby, who played Mattie. Farrow later admitted that not taking the True Grit role of Mattie was a major mistake.
Robert Redford and Mia Farrow on the set of 1974's “The Great Gatsby.”
In 1970, Mia Farrow married German-born composer André Previn, nearly 16 years her senior. During their nine-year marriage, the couple had three biological children and also adopted three orphans. During the 1970s, Farrow also made 11 more films, among them: See No Evil (1971); Follow Me! (1972); The Great Gatsby (1974); Full Circle (1977); A Wedding, Avalanche, and Death on the Nile (all in 1978); and Hurricane (1979).
Through the 1970s, she was very much the Hollywood star in the public eye, landing on the covers of major magazines. In 1974, for example, she appeared on the covers of the Saturday Evening Post and the premier issue of a new magazine called People, in both cases dressed in period garb touting 1974’s The Great Gatsby. By the end of the decade, the marriage of Mia Farrow and Andre Previn had ended.
Woody Allen & Mia Farrow on a film shoot, undated.
In 1982, while filming A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Farrow fell in love with director/co-star Woody Allen. She wound up appearing almost exclusively in Allen’s films over the next ten years.
She and Allen made 13 movies together: A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), September (1987), Radio Days (1987), Another Woman (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), New York Stories (1989), Alice (1990), Shadows and Fog (1991), and Husbands and Wives (1992). Farrow also played Alura, mother of Kara in Supergirl (1984) and voiced the title role in the animated film The Last Unicorn (1982).
Mia Farrow in 1978 with some of her children: Mathew, 7, Sasha, 7, Soon-yi, 7, Lark Song, 5, Fletcher, 5, and Summer, 3.
Mia Farrow has been mother to some 15 children, most adopted. With Andre Previn she had three biological children — twin sons Matthew Phineas and Sascha Villiers, born in 1970, and Fletcher, born in 1974. During her marriage with Previn, she also adopted three other children — Soon-Yi, Lark Song, and Summer Song (aka Daisy Previn). She had one biological child with Woody Allen, born in 1987: Satchel Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow, known today as Ronan Farrow. She adopted two children while with Allen: Moses Farrow (aka Misha) and Dylan O’Sullivan Farrow (aka Mallone). She also adopted six additional children as a single mother: Tam Farrow, Isaiah Justus Farrow, Quincy Farrow (aka Kaeli-Shea Farrow), Frankie-Minh Farrow, Thaddeus W. Farrow and Gabriel Wilk Farrow. Tam Farrow died in March of 2000 at age 19 of a heart ailment. Lark Farrow died in December of 2008 at age 35.
1973: A younger Mia Farrow with adopted baby Lark and then husband Andre Previn.
In a January 2006 interview with Gaby Wood of The Observer in London, Farrow was asked if she ever feared that she wouldn’t be able to manage it all. “I’ve often thought how presump- tuous I was — to assume that I could be good enough to be the person that all of them need,” she said. “I just knew that … it’s a philosophical question: if you walk by a pond and there’s a baby drowning, are you allowed to walk by the pond? Well, people are walking by the pond all the time.” Still, in recent years, as Farrow became involved in human rights activities around the world and away from home, some have suggested she should be focused more on her own family. Wrote Sue Reid in the London Daily Mail in May 2009: “Many of Farrow’s friends must have won- dered why the actress — about to be embroiled in a New York courtroom row which promises to revive salacious details of her family life with former lover Woody Allen, and also recovering from the death of her own troubled daughter — does not devote more of her time to her own children and grandchildren.”
Mia Farrow's 1997 book, "What Falls Away."
Although Farrow spent many years with Woody Allen through the early 1990s, she did not marry him. They had a biological son together, Ronan, and also adopted two children — Moses and Dylan. Their break-up in 1996 became major news not just because they were both celebrities, but because Allen was carrying on an affair with one of Farrow’s adopted children, Soon-Yi Previn. Farrow also charged Allen with child abuse involving their adopted female child, Dylan, but those charges were eventually dropped.
Farrow worked less frequently in film during the 1990s, tending to her children, and later, the battle with Allen. Nonetheless, she appeared in leading roles in several notable films, included the Irish film Widows’ Peak (1994), and Miami Rhapsody and Reckless, both in 1995. She also appeared in several independent features and made-for-television films throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. Farrow would later write the 1997 book, What Falls Away, her memoir of her Hollywood childhood, her two marriages, her TV and film careers, her children, and her years with Woody Allen. The book became a best seller and its literary quality was generally regarded as a cut above many other Hollywood memoirs.
Mia Farrow speaking at Oct 2008 Free The Children's ‘National Me to We Day,’ Toronto, Canada.
It is not exactly clear when Mia Farrow’s activism began, but she and others in London, including Vanessa Redgrave, participated in anti-war protest marches in 1970. Farrow’s first adoptions with second husband Andre Previn — two Vietnamese girls — also appear to have been a kind of activism and social statement by Farrow, occurring during the Vietnam War. “It was absolutely a time when we felt that, if you could [ adopt orphaned Vietnamese children], it would be a great thing..,” she explained in a 2006 interview with The Observer in London. Farrow has also stood with human rights leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel. While in South Africa during 1997 and 1998, she traveled with Nelson Mandela to support the work of The Nelson Mandela Foundation Children’s Fund.
UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, ap- pointed her as Special Representative at the first Global Polio Partners Summit in September 2000. Farrow has worked extensively to draw attention to the fight to eradicate polio, a diseases which she survived as a child and also contracted by her son, Thaddeus. In recent years, Farrow has expanded her UNICEF and humanitarian work into other activities, mostly on behalf of children and refugees, especially in embattled regions, predominantly in Africa. She has become a determined and high-profile advocate for children’s rights and refugees.
Farrow & Darfur
Mia Farrow became a UNICEF ambassador in 2000, shown here with her son, Ronan, looking on at right.
In early April 2004, Farrow read an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times that sent her on a new humanitarian venture. The piece, by Samantha Power, was about the tenth anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, but its focus was on needed action in the Sudan — a very powerful piece which Farrow later described as making her knees buckle. “…[I]t was completely beneath the media’s radar,” Farrow would later say of the situation in the Sudan. “I had to scrounge around the Internet to find anything at all. I was astounded that this was ongoing and astounded that it was not being reported.” Farrow also read a longer piece on Darfur that Powers had written for The New Yorker, and with that, she decided she needed to go there and get involved. Since she was already a UNICEF ambassador, UNICEF helped her get to Darfur. “I got to Darfur that first year in 2004 and [it] absolutely transformed my life,” she later explained. She has since traveled to Darfur nearly a dozen more times to advocate for Darfuri refugees, once as part of a documentary film expedition. Her photographs of Darfur appeared in People magazine in July 2006 and are also found at her website. Farrow authored articles herself on the crisis in 2006 and 2007 that appeared in the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. In early August 2007, Farrow offered to “trade her freedom” for the freedom of a Sudanese rebel leader then being treated in a UN hospital but afraid to leave. She offered to be taken captive in exchange for his safe passage out of the country.
Mia Farrow shows a photo to Sudanese children at a refugee camp in eastern Chad. August 5, 2008.
In 2007, Farrow became involved in a Dream for Darfur campaign aimed at bringing public attention to China as a key enabler of the genocide in Sudan by being the major buyer of Sudanese oil. In 2008, activists and Farrow began a special focus on the 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing, some calling them the “Genocide Olympics.” In that campaign, Farrow also targeted Steven Spielberg, who had been named an artistic adviser to the 2008 Olympics broadcast. In a March 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed, written with her son, Ronan, Farrow aimed her commentary at Speilberg and television sponsors of the Games: “Does Mr. Spielberg really want to go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl [ a German filmmaker who produced a 1934 propaganda film for the Nazi Party] of the Beijing Games? Do the various television sponsors around the world want to share in that shame? Because they will. Unless, of course, all of them add their singularly well-positioned voices to the growing calls for Chinese action to end the slaughter in Darfur.” Speilberg stepped down as advisor in February 2008. During the Olympic Games broadcast, Farrow also ran a televised message via the internet from a Sudanese refugee camp to highlight China’s involvement in the region.
Sample of Darfuri children’s drawings photographed and shown on Mia Farrow’s website.
Mia Farrow has also been active on the public speaking circuit on behalf of humanitarian causes. In October 2007, for example, she joined political strategist Donna Brazile and the late Meet the Press moderator, Tim Russert, as a keynote speakers at the Public Relations Society of America’s International Conference in Philadelphia where she gave a General Session keynote. In 2007, she joined a campaign to urge certain U.S. pension and mutual funds to divest their investment holdings in companies doing business in the Sudan. Farrow’s activism has sometimes gone beyond speaking, writing, and photo ops. As the 2008 Summer Olympic Games opened in Beijing, Farrow began web-casting her own “Darfur Olympics” from a refugee camp on the Sudan-Chad border in an effort to shame China into using its influence with Khartoum to end the Darfur conflict. Farrow has also put her own personal health on the line during her campaigning. In March 2009, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, after which Sudan expelled 13 international aid agencies from Darfur. To raise awareness of this action, Farrow began a water-only fast in late April and early May 2009 before health concerns forced her to stop. In addition to the Sudan, Farrow has also been involved in humanitarian activities in Chad, the Central African Republic, and projects helping survivors of the Rwandan genocide. Her website features a guide on how to become involved with Darfur activism along with her own photographs.
Mia Farrow testifying at trial of Charles Taylor, August 2010.
Farrow’s activism has been honored with various international and humanitarian awards, including in 2008: the Refugees International McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award, for “extraordinary service to refugees and dis- placed people;” the Tiannamen Square Award; and the French Legion of Arts and Letter award. In 2008, she was selected by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world. In 2009 she received the Leon Sul- livan International Service award. In August 2010 Farrow was in the news regarding the trial of former Liberian Presi- dent Charles Taylor. Farrow testified that model Naomi Campbell told her she received a diamond from Taylor, contradicting Campbell’s testimony. Farrow’s testimony also contradicted Taylor’s denials of any involvement with the illicit “blood diamonds” trade, gems so called for their funding of African wars.
Mia Farrow with Danny Glover in a scene from the 2008 comedy film, "Be Kind Rewind."
Although Mia Farrow’s activism has taken her all over the world in recent years, she has continued to work in film and on stage. Some of her acting work in the last decade, for example, has included the 2004 TV movie Samantha: An American Girl Holiday; the off-Broadway play Fran’s Bed in 2005; and feature films, such as The Omen of 2006 and Be Kind Rewind, a 2008 comedy with Jack Black, Mos Def, and Danny Glover. Farrow has stated, however, that she regards her acting and film profession as secondary to her humanitarian work. And while her considerable acting career stands out for the range of her characters and performances, the use of her celebrity in causes that few others would bother with certainly mark her with distinction.
For additional stories at this website please see those listed on the Home Page, various category pages, or in the Archive. Thanks for visiting.
Kathryn Harrison, Book Review of Mia Farrow’s What Falls Away, “Intimate Strangers: Mia Farrow’s Memoir of Two Marriages, 14 Children and a Disastrous Affair with Woody Allen,” New York Times, February 23, 1997.
Mia Farrow, What Falls Away: A Memoir, New York: Nan A. Talese / Doubleday, 1997, 370 pp.
Sue Reid, “The Folly of Mamma Mia: Wouldn’t Mia Farrow be Better Off Helping Her Own Dysfunctional Family?,” Daily Mail (London, U.K), May 12, 2009.
“Frank Sinatra & Mia Farrow on What’s My Line?”You Tube video of Mia Farrow in the mid-1960s appearing as mystery guest on the TV quiz show What’s My Line? with Frank Sinatra serving as one of the show’s panelists during the time of their marriage.
Edward Cody, “Naomi Campbell Testimony to War Crimes Tribunal: Not Clear Gift Was Diamonds,” Washington Post, Thursday, August 5, 2010
“The Influence of Writers and other Artists on Human Rights & Public Policy,”Spring 2009 Study Group: Art and Politics, Harvard University Institute of Politics, Harvard.Edu, Study group led by IOP Fellow Rose Styron. Session V: Guest: Mia Farrow: How the celebrity created by our great interest in film can be used to marshal political action, March 17th, 2009.
Sarah El Deeb, “Mia Farrow To Air ‘Darfur Olym- pics’,” HuffingtonPost.com, August 7, 2008.
Sam Rubin and Richard Taylor, Mia Farrow: Flowerchild, Madonna, Muse, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.
Edward Z. Epstein and Joe Morella, Mia: The Life of Mia Farrow, New York: Delacorte Press, 1991.
April 1987 Newsweek cover. "I'm an image whose time has come,” says Max Headroom.
A 1980s’ offering of sci-fi television with a sense of humor and a good bit of satire that perhaps got a little too close to the truth, was the 1987-1988 British-derived ABC-TV show named Max Headroom. The show was quite popular in its limited American run, but was pulled off the air before its final two episodes ran. Still today, the show has something of a cult and on-line following and remains one of television history’s more engaging self- critiques.
Max Headroom was a show about an acci- dentally-created, computer-generated being named “Max Headroom” who lived inside a television network’s computer system. Max, as he was known, was forever randomly popping up in each of the televised episodes with pearls of wit and wisdom, delivered in his trademark computer-to-blame stutter, often aggravating friends and foes alike. Still, Max was a generally likeable creation once viewers got to know him.
Max Headroom the character was “born” when an actual news reporter named Edison Carter — ace investigative, mini-cam-toting reporter for Network 23 — had a near-death encounter in pursuit of a story. On a motorcycle, Carter was racing into a parking garage on the trail of some hot information when he smashed through, and was knocked out by, an automated entrance gate emblazoned with the warning phrase “maximum headroom.” That was the last phrase the erstwhile reporter recorded in his brain.
Ace reporter, Edison Carter, inadvertently becomes the basis for the computer-generated 'Max'.
…And to make a long story short, Carter’s brain is somehow scanned into a computer, because his TV network doesn’t trust him. The network is after something in Carter’s brain; something he’s discovered. More on that later.
In the process of Carter’s brain being scanned into the computer, a digital being is created — i.e., “Max” — who in appear- ance and manner resembles the real-world Edison Carter. The new entity is officially dubbed “Max Headroom” after he stutters through that phrase in his first on-screen appearance. Max, of course, lives in the computer.
Ace reporter Edison Carter, meanwhile, fully recovers from his trauma and returns to video reporting. Max, however, begins to evolve on his own as a mostly uncontrolled character and independent agent wandering around inside his the television network’s computer world. With that, more or less, the Max Headroom TV series was introduced to the American audience. The first episode aired on the ABC network in March 1987.
Edison Carter & Theora Jones at Network 23 with Max Headroom in the background.
In addition to Edison Carter and Max, who both are played by Canadian actor Matt Frewer, there are several other mostly regular characters who inhabit the U.S. TV version. Back in the studio — though plugged into Carter’s ear while he is in the field — is his good-looking controller, Theora Jones, played by Amanda Pays. These two are sort of a item, and they continue their romantic tension throughout the series. Other characters include teenage computer whiz and hacker, Bryce Lynch, played Chris Young, who is also Network 23‘s one-man technology research department. Bryce often deals with Max as he pops up in the computer network and is also involved in some of the network’s nefarious doings (he scanned Carter’s brain into the computer, for example, and helps design other computer-TV manipulations). Bryce, however, has sympathies for Edison, Max, and Theora.
Edison Carter, Theora Jones, Murray, Ben Cheviot, and boy-wonder Bryce at top.
Murray is the studio manager, played by Jeffrey Tambor (red tie in photo). Ben Cheviot, the top man at Network 23, is played by George Coe in bow tie at right in photo. Ned Grossberg, not shown, is the former head of Network 23, forced out after Edison Carter’s near death, and then becoming head of rival Network 66. Grossberg is played by Charles Rocket.
A character called Blank Reg is one of the “blanks” — those without computer identities. He is played by W. Morgan Sheppard. Blank Reg is the renegade cyberpunk owner of the outlawed and underground BIG Time TV station. At times, Blank Reg is also a friend to Edison Carter.
Dark, Grimy World
The "Max Headroom" series depicted a dystopia where TV sets were strewn about everywhere, even in the city's slums.
Max Headroom had a range of influences in its creation — the cyberpunk movement, MTV, early 1980s’ science fiction, and post-apocalyptic films, to name a few. The 1984 novel, Neuromancer, by William Gibson, a book which brought public attention to the cyberpunk movement, was one influence on the show. It was Gibson’s book that introduced the term, “cyberspace” into the English language.
Films such as The Road Warrior (1981)and Bladerunner (1982) are also believed to have influenced the look and tone ofthe world of Max Headroom and the show’s setting. The world in which Edison Carter does his reporting is a tough, grimy-streets type of world where life is not always valued. Youth punker gangs inhabit this world. As do “blanks,” citizens that have managed to avoid being recorded in the corporate databanks of the day, and live outside the system as subversive have-nots. There is also a mafia-organized sport called “raking,” a deadly form of motorized skateboarding.
Newtork 23 corporate executives shown at board meeting where they can also monitor "intant tele-ratings."
But the “big evil” at the center of this world and throughout the series is corporate domination through television. The setting is not pretty. Satellites monitor all activity. At every street corner “securi-cams” monitor the population. “Electro-democracy” has arrived, but it is controlled by the networks which rig “instant tele-elections.” Still, the world has 4,000 TV channels, and that’s what the corporations are fighting about. Among their battle techniques — and those also used occasionally by the underground — is “zipping,” or computer hi-jacking /inter- rupting of satellite signals. But mostly the networks are just greedy; primarily interested in controlling viewers for commercial gain and power. Ratings and advertising are monitored minute-to-minute in real time, and executives are called on the carpet immediately for any slippage. Television sets, in any case, can’t be turned off — and they’re everywhere, even built into the sides of trash cans.
The "Network 23" building headquarters in "Max Headroom" TV series.
Zic-Zac is the name of the corporation that owns Network 23, where Edison, Theora and Bryce work and Max lives. Zic Zac and other companies do battle for consumer hearts, minds and loyalties, using television and all manner of unseemly technologies to manipulate their behavior for the benefit of television ratings. Carter discovers, for example, that his own network is using “blipverts,” a form of advertising that compresses thirty seconds of commercial messaging into three seconds. However, blipverts can cause neural over-stimulation in viewers, leading in some cases to death — this, the big secret that Edison Carter has uncovered. There is also “neurostim,” cheap give-aways which hypnotize people into irrational acts of consumption by implanting memories directly into their minds; and “Whacketts,” a mindless but addictive TV game show. And when the networks run out of new creative exploits to use for programming, they turn to using the audience’s dreams as broadcast material. But this, too, has unpleasant side effects.
More city slums with ubiquitous TVs.
Beyond the TV and corporate machinations in this world aimed at controlling and manipulating viewers, there are also a variety of scam artists at work. In one episode called “Dieties,” an old flame of Edison’s is running a TV ministry that promises to resurrect people after they die by restoring their personalities from copied profiles stored in a computer. The old flame tried to use Edison to retrieve the computer-generated version of Max, as her church wanted to learn Max’s secrets so it could offer the technique to preserve its members’ personalities eternally — just like Max.
Cover of VHS for original U.K. "Max Headroom" film.
Max Headroom originally began as a British invention. The idea came from Peter Wagg of Chrysalis Records, and with the help of others, was further developed. In 1984, the Channel Four TV network in the U.K. commissioned “The Max Headroom Show”. However, this was not the dramatic series that most Americans came to know, but rather, a British music video show in which Max, in his computer-generated form, appeared on a large screen as the show’s electronic host. This “Max” was also played by Matt Frewer, who gave sharp and witty opinions on the pop music videos that he introduced and played as the show’s “host.” This video show proved to be a giant success in the U.K., and it was decided to give Max more substance and provide him with an origin and storyline. That project evolved into a feature-length TV movie, Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into the Future, cast in the cyberpunk genre and set in a society where television has completely taken over, similar to the storyline that would later appear in the U.S. series. The British-made hour-long movie ran on Channel 4 in the U.K. in early April 1985. The film was used to introduce Max Headroom, Edison Carter, Theora Jones, Murray the controller, Bryce Lynch, and another character, underground TV station owner, Blank Reg.
Some of the Max Headroom “New Coke” promo items for short-lived ad campaign.
Max & Coke
Meanwhile, the U.K.’s Max Headroom TV video show continued running for a few more seasons. There were also a few related TV specials. The Max Headroom video show format then migrated to the U.S. in a somewhat different form, where Max, for a time, became a late night talk show host. From there, Max became more widely known in the U.S., especially after he picked up a commercial advertising gig with Coca-Cola, becoming the “spokeshead” for Coca-Cola’s “New Coke” advertising campaign. These ads used the slogan “Catch the Wave” — or in Max stutter- speak, “Ca-Ca-Catch the Wave.”
Max Headroom for Coke. "Catch the Wave."
Max’s advertising deal with Coke was then reported to be worth $4 million. Coke’s decision to use Max to pitch New Coke was partly motivated by its desire to reach the younger consumers then being won over by Pepsi — the 12-to-30-year-old market, the key consumer group in the huge $25-billion-a-year soft drink market. Coke wanted a spokesperson that would appeal to this audience and Max was their “man.” Using Max was seen as a way make gains against rival Pepsi, which had TV ads featuring pop singer Michael Jackson and also TV star Michael J. Fox, then in TV’s popular “Family Ties” show. The Max Headroom campaign, said some advertising executives privately, was the most exciting Coca-Cola campaign since their popular “Coke Is It” series that featured actor Bill Cosby. But Pepsi didn’t seem threatened. “If you look at the Max Headroom commercials, they look very hip; they look like Pepsi commercials,” said Pepsi’s Stuart Ross in a November 1986 Los Angeles Times story. “But even his (Max’s) considerable talents are not enough to help Coke. You have to keep your product and your image fresh, too.”
Max Headroom Coke ad.
“New Coke” had been announced with great fanfare in late April 1985. Coke and Max did TV ads, print ads, posters, t-shirts, buttons, and mugs. For a time, Max was “Coking it up” — as one reviewer put it — practically everywhere, and the campaign and its related merchandise were generally well received. New Coke the product, however, was another story. Despite Max’s best promotional efforts, the product was a flop. Some reports have Max continuing to appear in Coke ads through 1987-88. The consumer outcry against New Coke, however, was loud and immediate. Less than three months after its introduction, in mid-July 1985, Coke announced that the old version, which never went off the market, would return as “Coke Classic.” New Coke, meanwhile, wasn’t immediately halted. It was renamed Coke II in 1990, and continued to be manufactured in the U.S. for another decade or so until it was dropped sometime after 2002. Reportedly, it continued to be sold abroad for a time thereafter.
Cinemax, Talk Show
Max, meanwhile, went on to further TV fame and popular notice. By the mid-1980s, there were a variety of Max Headroom stories appearing in the mainstream media, includ- ing those on Entertain- ment Tonight, CNN Head- line News, and NBC News. Max did a two-part interview — via television screen, of course — on the David Letterman Show July 17, 1986. That inter- view can be found on You Tube and other online video sources. In August 1987, the Cinemax pay-TV cable channel in the U.S. aired the earlier U.K. Max Headroom video series under the title, The Original Max Talking Headroom Show, which included six episodes of his talk show interviews and music. The original U.K.-made Max Headroom TV film was also released on home video in 1987. The video package included a sweepstakes promotion featuring Max explaining the rules of the game at the beginning and end of the film. Portions of that video are offered above to give readers unfamiliar with Max Headroom a sampling of his style and mannerisms as he appeared on screen in his various TV roles. This video is edited to include only the “sweepstakes” portions of the tape with Max explaining the game’s rules. Again, this video is offered only as a sample for those who have never seen the TV show or know little of the character, as this clip does provide a good cross-section of his mannerisms and on-screen humor.
Max Headroom, TV star!
In the U.S., the Max Headroom TV series began as a mid-season replacement in the spring of 1987, and was renewed for the fall season. The spring season ran from March to May 1987 on Tuesday evenings in the 10-11 p.m. time slot. The fall season ran August-October 1987 on Friday evenings in the 9-10 p.m. slot. The show initially developed a loyal following of fans, but it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. With its cyberpunk characters and its “set-in-the-future” storyline, Middle America didn’t always get it, and at least part of that market was needed for success. Viewer ratings could not be sustained. Max also had some stiff competition, as the show ran in the same time slot as CBS’s Top 20 hit, Dallas, and NBC’s Top 30 hit, Miami Vice.
“Max Headroom” U.S. Episodes
The Addiction Game
_____________________ *Never aired.
As as result, Max Headroom was cancelled part-way into its first broadcast season, with leftover episodes aired in the spring of 1988. But some felt the show’s biting satire — aimed at TV itself, and TV management in particular — was part of the reason for its abrupt demise. In some quarters it was felt that ABC “suits” were among those being lampooned. So, after only 14 episodes, two of which were never aired, Max was cancelled. But the show did leave an impression.
“Critics admired the series’ self-reflexivity, its willing- ness to pose questions about television networks and their often unethical and cynical exploitation of the ratings game,” observed Henry Jenkins in one synopsis of the show for the Museum of Broadcast Communications. Max Headrooom also parodied game shows, political adver- tising, tele-evangelism, news coverage, and TV commer- cials. At it’s peak, the Max Headroom show was seen on cable TV in 20 countries. In England, meanwhile, Max had two best-selling books, one of which was titled Max Headroom’s Guide to Life. There was also a range of Max Headroom merchandise, including T-shirts, which at the time and in some locations reportedly outsold Madonna T-shirts. As Newsweek put in April 1987: Max Headroom had become “the world’s first computer-simulated megastar.”
The Max Message
"Max Headroom" being interviewed by David Letterman, believed to be July 1986.
But the Max Headroom show may well have been onto something else — offering a warning about the darker side of com- mercial advertising. One of the show’s segments had been about “blipverts,” the compressed commercial messaging tech- nique — and the secret story Edison Carter had uncovered in Network 23’s files that almost cost him his life. Carter had discovered that “blipverts” could have a very unpleasant adverse effect on viewers. In fact, “blipverts” could over- stimulate viewers and cause some of them to literally explode — all in the full science-fiction sense of a good show, of course. Still, in real world commercial advertising testing, there have been experiments and broadcasts of compressed commercial messages and subliminal advertising going on for some years. And as well, Max Headroom was also a very direct and perhaps too effective skewer of corporate television power; taking on the “don’t-go-there” storyline that may well have contributed to its untimely ending.
Cover of the August 2010 DVD, "Max Headroom: The Complete Series."
Some TV analysts, however, dismiss that notion and simply point to the show’s poor numbers: In early October 1987 the Max Headroom show was the lowest-rated prime-time series on the three networks, ranking 67th, with only a 12 percent share of the viewing audience. So, by October 30, 1988, Max Head- room was summarily replaced with two half-hour sit coms filling out the hour slot — a returning comedy named Mr. Belvedere at 9 p.m., and a new sitcom about a young college professor, The Pursuit of Happiness, at 9:30. Two left-over Max Headroom shows aired in the spring of 1988.
Max Headroom, in any case, didn’t die after its 1987-88 short-circuited run at the prime-time American market. As personality and show, Max Headroom went on to live another day in cable. In 1994-95, the series was re-shown on the Bravo cable TV channel. In 1995-96, the U.S. series also ran on SyFy cable channel; in 2002, it appeared on Tech-TV. And today, the series lives on in various forms at any number of websites, some of which are listed below in “Sources.”
"Maximum headroom" warning.
In August 2010, Max Headroom: The Complete Series, was issued on DVD in the U.S. and Canada. That set also includes a roundtable discussion with many of the cast members and interviews with the writers and producers.
To view more story choices at this website please visit the Home Page, the Archive, or any of the category options offered at the top left nav bar or in the dark blue area at the very bottom of this page. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle
Max Headroom, a film by Steve Roberts, From an original idea by George Stone, Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel. Directed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, produced by Peter Wagg; Executive Producer Terry Ellis, Chrysalis Visual Programming Ltd., for Channel 4. This movie ran in the U.K. on Channel 4 — April, 4th 1985 @ 9.30-10.35 pm. The film was used to introduced Max Headroom, Edison Carter, Theora Jones, Murray, Bryce Lynch and Blank Reg. The U.K. television film was later rewritten and cut down to become the American TV series season opener, “Blipverts.”
John J. O’Connor, “TV Review; ‘Max Headroom Show’,” New York Times, October 30, 1985.
Kurt Loder, “Max Mania: A ‘Computer Generated’ Talk-Show Host, Max Headroom Has Become TV’s Latest Overnight Sensation.” Rolling Stone, August 28, 1986.
John J. O’Connor, “Cable’s Max Headroom, a True Media Creation,” New York Times, October 2, 1986.
Jube Shiver, Jr., “C-C-C-Catch The Wave. Max Headroom New TV Marketing Star Finds Success Is Going to His Head,” Los Angeles Times, November 17, 1986, Business, p. 1.
John J. O’Connor, ” ‘Max Headroom’ Series Premieres on ABC,” New York Times, Tuesday, March 31, 1987, p. C-18.
Harry F. Waters, Janet Huck & Vern E. Smith, “Mad About Max: The Making of a Video Cult,” Newsweek, Cover Story, April 20, 1987.
Terry Atkinson, “The Mixed-up World of Max Headroom Creators,” Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1987, Calendar/Entertainment, p. 1.
John J. O’Connor, TV Reviews, “Max Headroom as Host Of an Interview Show,” New York Times, August 6, 1987.
Terry Atkinson, “The Mixed-up World of Max Headroom Creators,” Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1987, Calendar/Entertainment, p. 1.
Diane Haithman, “N-N-N-NO M-M-MORE ‘M-M-MAX’,” Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1987, p. C-1.
A three-disc DVD compilation of 32 'Person to Person' shows was released by CBS in 2006.
Among the first television shows to bring celebrities into the homes of millions of Americans was Person to Person, a 1950s show produced by CBS. Prior to this show, which debuted in 1953, most Americans learned about the lives of film stars and other famous people through magazines or by way of short features in movie newsreels.
Person to Person was created by the legendary newsman, Edward R. Murrow, a celebrity himself who first gained notoriety with his World War II radio broadcasts from London during that city’s bombing by the Germans. Following the war, Murrow moved his radio show, Hear It Now, over to television, calling it See It Now. From his war days on, Murrow became known as a no-nonsense newsman who would take on tough, controversial subjects, including abuses of power.
In the early 1950s, when much of the nation was being terrorized by the communist witch-hunt of U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy, Murrow exposed McCarthy for the demagogue he was in a classic 1954 televised showdown. Yet Murrow also became well known for the success of Person to Person, an early version of “celebrity TV” and today’s hyped-up successors like Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood. With Murrow as host, Person to Person ran every Friday night from October 1953 to June 1959.
Edward Murrow at left as home of movie star Kirk Douglas is shown on studio screen, 1957.
Edward Murrow interviewing guests.
...with Mr. & Mrs. Kirk Douglas, 1957.
The Douglases with one of their children.
The show’s format basically featured Murrow, cigarette in hand, visiting with Hollywood stars, TV celebrities, sports figures, authors, and politicians in various informal settings. Guests were typically shown at their homes or in other settings, and through the magic of televsion, were projected on a wall-size screen in the CBS studio with Murrow seated in an easy chair asking questions.
Using two to six cameras in production, the program usually opened in a celebrity’s home, with Murrow taking his viewers on room-by-room tours as he spoke with his on-screen guest. The range and variety of famous people Murrow interviewed was unprecedented for network television at the time. Among some of Murrow’s more illustrious guests were performers and actors such as: Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, Liberace, Julie Harris, Mary Martin, Milton Berle, and Sophia Loren; authors such as Walter White and John Steinbeck; pianist Van Cliburn; boxer-in-training Rocky Marciano; former U.S. president Harry Truman; and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Other notable shows included his October 1953 interview with the recently married U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy and his new wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, a former Washington newspaper reporter. An April1955 session with the 31 year-old Marlon Brando came after Brando had starred in movie On the Waterfront, for which he won an Academy Award.
During one three-week period in 1957, Murrow interviewed political cartoonist Herbert Block, media market researcher, A.C. Nielsen, and Robert F. Kennedy, then Chief Council of the Senate’s Select Committee.
In a 1957 interview with movie star Kirk Douglas, then at the peak of his film career, Murrow took his viewers on a tour of the Douglas home, with Kirk and wife showing off their tennis court, swimming pool, and lovely home, and one of their children. Then Murrow asks a typical “Person-to-Person” question: “Kirk, is all this part of the reason why you wanted to be a movie star?” To which Douglas replies:
“Well, you know, Ed, very seriously, I never even dreamed of being a movie star. My hope in life was always to be a Broadway actor. I’ve done about ten Broadway shows, but they were all flops. At least I was consistent. Then a friend of mine, Lauren Bacall, got Hal Wallis interested in giving me a screen test. I was a little frightened at first, I didn’t think I was the type. But then after another flop… I thought maybe I oughta give Hollywood a try. So I came out here, Ed, and I will say Hollywood’s been pretty nice to me.”
Murrow also interviewed Fidel Castro at one point. And while Castro’s appearance on Person to Person had the potential to alienate viewers — and the program did attract government criticism at the time — Murrow survived. In fact, after Person to Person’s inaugural season, Murrow won an Emmy for the Most Outstanding Personality in all of television.
Show Biz v. Journalism
Still, Murrow and his show received frequent criticism in the press. Some called Person to Person aimless chatter with empty-headed movie stars. These critics argued — as Murrow himself would on more than a few occasions — that television programming demanded more substance and depth. Someone of Murrow’s stature, they suggested, should be doing more important things. Yet Murrow had initially thought the show might feature a wide variety of everyday working people and less privileged Americans, including blacks, Indians, farmers, and laborers.“Person to Person was an historical step to building the cult of personality in news programs.” But it failed to do that. He also believed the series could help “revive the art of conversation.” Yet the conversation that resulted on most shows was pretty thin, and even with politicians Murrow avoided the controversial. Celebrity and image proved to be the show’s more powerful appeal. “The program existed from the start much more in the world of show business than of journalism,” wrote David Halberstam in his book, The Powers That Be. The Museum of Broadcast Communications has stated that Person to Person “was an historical step to building the cult of the personality in news programs. The personalities were divided into two camps, with the entertainment and sports figures in one, and the second containing all others, including artists, writers, politicians, lawyers, scientists, and industrialists…”
Murrow in 1954 when ‘See It Now’ took on U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy.
In 1956, CBS acquired Person to Person from Murrow who was the sole owner. The show was a money maker for the network, providing a substantial profit; it ranked in the top ten network programs nearly every year it ran. Person to Person also made Murrow more of a celebrity than he already was, providing him with more leverage at the network — at least for a time. It also embroiled him in controversy and network in-fighting when some accused the show — at the height of the TV quiz-show scandal with its rigged outcomes and coached contestants — of deceit and dishonesty, claiming Person to Person‘s guests were also scripted and coached. While the controversy had its ill effects at the network, it did not appear to have injured Murrow publicly.
By the Fall of 1959, Charles Collingwood, a Murrow associate since WWII, became the show’s host. Person to Person‘s ratings success translated to Collingwood, as the show continued to feed the public’s appetite for the celebrity interview. In 1961, Murrow left CBS after newly elected President John F. Kennedy asked him head up the U.S. Information Agency.
Although Edward R. Murrow is perhaps best known today for his prescient warnings about the potential dangers of television, he also had a hand through Person to Person in opening up television to its preoccupation with all things celebrity. At the time he ran the show, however, Murrow defended Person to Person. He believed that a variety of guests had value for viewers.“Television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insu- late us.” – Edward R. Murrow, 1958 He noted that by interviewing prominent authors his viewers might be prompted to buy books and read more, or that a guest like pianist Van Cliburn could encourage children to take up the piano. But even before Murrow had left the show and CBS, his views on the potential downsides of television were stated quite emphatically in his famous October 1958 speech before the Radio-Television News Directors Association. In that speech, Murrow alluded to the rising power of television’s “elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies and sponsors…” But his central message had to do with the potential misuse of television: “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire, but it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.” A month later, in December, Murrow wrote in a TV Guide article that viewers must recognize “television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us.”
Edward R. Murrow on the cover of Time magazine, September 1957.
Nearly fifty years later, the debate continues on the “news-vs-entertainment” issue — which in Murrow’s day was focused more on how much money the broadcast networks were spending on each and how to keep news and entertainment separate from one another. Today, with cable TV plus the internet and the “always-on” news cycle, separation of the two seems almost quaint, as news has increasingly become a form of entertainment. There is also the broader and more pervasive impact of TV- and web-aided celebrity on business, politics, and popular culture. Person-to-Person was a stepping stone in all of this, innocent perhaps, but part of the evolution nonetheless.
For those interested in the Person-to-Person contribution to this portion of television history, there is a good sampling of the show’s legacy on tape and DVDs. There is also a sampling of clips on line at Google, Yahoo, You Tube and various websites. One 2006 DVD set on the Person to Person series also includes a good sampling of the show’s interviews.
Liz Taylor and husband Mike Todd on 'Person to Person,' April 1957.
Edward R. Murrow: The Best of Person to Person, is introduced by CBS newsman Bob Schieffer, and includes 32 interviews on three discs. Disc One, “American Icons,” features interviews with: Dick Clark, Billy Graham, Andy Griffith, Oscar Hammerstein, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Norman Rockwell, Eleanor Roosevelt, Danny Thomas, Art Linkletter, and Esther Williams. Disc 2, “Hollywood Legends,” includes interviews with: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, Gene Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and Elizabeth Taylor. And Disc 3, “Legendary Entertainers,” features interviews with: Milton Berle, Jonathan Winters, Sammy Davis Jr., Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sid Ceasar, Carol Channing, Helen Hayes, and Liberace. An earlier VHS version by 20th Century Fox, released in August 1993 and introduced by Connie Chung, is also available and includes a shorter but somewhat different selection of interviews, as follows: John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Mike Todd, Duke Ellington, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Arthur Rubenstein, Sophia Loren, Robert Kennedy and Harpo Marx.
This four-disc DVD set from CBS News is available and includes some of Murrow's news broadcasts & interviews.
Murrow The Newsman
Much more, of course, has been written about Ed Murrow the newsman — his years in radio, his reporting abroad, and his influence generally on news and TV journalism (see sources below). There are also DVD’s available on a number of Murrow’s news broadcasts and related shows, such as the one displayed at right. In 2005, Good Night and Good Luck, a Hollywood film produced by movie star George Clooney was released, focusing on Murrow’s famous 1954 confrontation with U. S. Senator Joe McCarthy. Clooney has also been interviewed about the making of this film by Charlie Rose on The Charlie Rose Show.
In mid-December 2011, CBS News announced it would launch new version of the Person to Person series, with co-hosts Charlie Rose and Lara Logan. The new show, according to CBS, will retain many of the elements of the original format, with the TV hosts taking viewers into the private homes of singers, actors, directors, political leaders, and other newsmakers and celebrities. The new version of Person to Person will debut in February 2012. Reportedly, for years CBS had dreamed about bringing back “a modern version” of the series. For other stories at this website dealing with the news business and society see “Media & Society” or go to the Archive for additional choices. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle
An estimated 30 million Americans watched the 'Kefauver hearings' in 1950-51, some in movie theaters like this one. (Photo - M. Rougier/Life).
In May 1950, a little-known U.S. Senator named Estes Kefauver, a 47 year-old Democrat from Tennessee, began a series of investigative hearings on organized crime. These formal hearings of the U.S. Senate — which came to be known as the “Kefauver Hearings” — were unique in the history of politics, also heralding the power of television. They became the first congressional hearings to draw a large national audience. Beginning in Washington, D.C. in May of 1950, the Kefauver hearings lasted 15 months with sessions held in 14 cities. More than 600 witnesses gave testimony. It was not the first time that congressional hearings were televised, but it was the first time that a large national audience became involved in a national issue by way of television. Although fewer than half of all American homes had TV sets in 1950-51, many people were able to watch in bars, restaurants, and businesses. Some movie theaters also ran the hearings.
'Crime Hunter Kefauver'-Time cover, 12 March 1951.
The Kefauver hearings on organized crime proved a fascinating and engrossing revelation to many Americans — introducing for the first time to many viewers terms such as “the Mafia” and the details of how criminal organizations worked. During eight days of hearings in New York City in mid-March 1951, for example, over 50 witnesses described the highest-ranking crime syndicate in America — an organization allegedly led by Frank Costello who had taken over from Lucky Luciano. According to Life magazine, “the week of March 12, 1951, will occupy a special place in history. . . people had suddenly gone indoors into living rooms, taverns, and clubrooms, auditoriums and back-offices. There, in eerie half-light, looking at millions of small frosty screens, people sat as if charmed. Never before had the attention of the nation been riveted so completely on a single matter.”
The Kefauver hearings also had the advantage of being the “best show” in town at the time — and for the most part, the only show in terms of available daytime content. The witnesses, testimony, and interrogation-by-senators offered compelling programming for TV networks then trying to fill up their telecasts. “…Dishes stood in sinks, babies went unfed, busi- ness sagged, and depart- ment stores emptied while the hearings were on.”
- Time magazine Television was still new then, and daytime television was wide open. Prime-time slots were filling up, but daytime needed programming, and the Kefauver hearings fit the bill nicely. Advertisers then could have big chunks of daytime TV fairly cheaply Time magazine, for example, helped sponsor the Kefauver hearings in New York and Washington, promoting magazine subscriptions in its advertising. The TV networks were just beginning operations in some cases, so experience was thin, and broadcast range limited. The New York sessions of the Kefauver hearings, for example, went out live over a “national” network that included twenty cities in the East and the Midwest. Still, in some cities at that time, the purchase of television sets had begun to skyrocket, and the Kefauver “show” no doubt helped push sales along too. In the New York city area, the number of sets had doubled in the 1950-1951 period.
Once the hearings began, they became something of a national event, with TV providing the new means for connecting millions of onlookers all at once. And throughout the country, people began tuning in. Housewives, in particular, who were then more at home in those days than they are today, called their friends to spread the word about the new show. “From Manhattan as far west as the coaxial cable ran,” wrote Time magazine, “the U.S. adjusted itself to Kefauver’s schedule. Dishes stood in sinks, babies went unfed, business sagged and department stores emptied while the hearings were on.” The drama was real life: crime bosses, street thugs, and U.S. Senators; good guys vs. bad guys. “Estes Kefauver came off as a sort of Southern Jimmy Stewart, the lone citizen-politician who gets tired of the abuse of government and goes off on his own to do something about it,” wrote David Halberstam in his book, The Fifties.
April 7, 1951 edition of "The Saturday Evening Post" headlines a story about the Kefauver Hearings.
In the end, Kefauver’s crime hearings attracted an estimated 20-30 million television viewers. However, the hearings didn’t always play well in every city, such as Las Vegas, nor have a positive or lasting result (see sidebar below). But they did make Estes Kefauver a national political celebrity, establishing him in the public mind as a crusading crime-buster and opponent of political corruption. Before long, he was on the lecture circuit, appearing in magazines, and also on television shows like What’s My Line? At one point, Hollywood even called him to play bit part in a Humphrey Bogart movie called The Enforcer. In the Saturday Evening Post, a ghostwritten four-part series about his investigation titled “What I Found in the Underworld” was published under his name in the Spring of 1951. A subsequent book, Crime in America, written with Sidney Shalett, was on The New York Times best-seller list for twelve weeks.
Kefauver in Las Vegas 1950
The producers of the PBS documentary film, Las Vegas: An Unconventional History, covered Kefauver’s hearings in their film, and posted some interesting observations on their web site. An excerpt follows here:
. . . On November 15, 1950, Kefauver and his colleagues arrived in Las Vegas. The committee had already been conducting hearings for five months, and they were tired. Many of the high profile casino owners who had received subpoenas for the committee, like Moe Dalitz, had skipped town. Kefauver and his committee interviewed only six witnesses, and these were hardly helpful. It was the same throughout the hearings; ambiguous answers and flat-out denials were the norm.
After just two hours of interviewing witnesses, the committee took a break to visit Boulder Dam. Upon returning, they continued the hearings for a short time before holding a press conference and calling the Las Vegas portion of the investigation to an end. All told, the hearings barely lasted a day.
To Las Vegans, the hearings were both a relief and almost disappointingly anti-climactic. As a story covering the hearings in the Las Vegas Review-Journal began, “The United States Senate’s crime investigating committee blew into town yesterday like a desert whirlwind, and after stirring up a lot of dust, it vanished, leaving only the rustling among prominent local citizens as evidence that it had paid its much publicized visit here.”
What Kefauver and his colleagues were finding was that the relationship between politicians, authorities and mobsters was not as clear-cut as had been posited. . . . .Syndicate members were often major donors to political campaigns. Many prominent politicians of the day, even those who publicly praised Kefauver’s efforts, had intimate, albeit secret, ties with Syndicate members. Kefauver himself was known to be fond of gambling, and committee member Herbert O’Conor was rumored to have ties to the Mafia.
The Kefauver Committee’s final report was more than 11,000 pages long, out of which only four pages pertained to Las Vegas. [T]he committee came up with little new information about Las Vegas . . . .
To remedy Las Vegas’ apparent inability to keep organized crime out of city lines, Kefauver suggested that the federal government impose a 10 percent tax on all gaming. But such a proposition would have been disastrous for Las Vegas, and Senator Pat McCarran fervently and successfully argued against Kefauver’s suggestion.
. . .Nevada officials were eventually pressured to make steps toward some kind of gaming oversight. In 1955, to weed out gangsters, the state required that any owner of a casino be licensed by the state gaming board. The act inadvertently enshrined organized crime. It ruled out corporations, which have thousands of shareholder “owners,” making personal (and mostly illegal) fortunes the only money readily available. That was Kefauver’s legacy. Later, Nevada created the Gaming Control Board, and adapted more stringent laws in an attempt to weed out gangster applicants for licenses. In 1960, the Gaming Control Board published “the Black Book,” officially entitled A List of Excluded Persons, banning known gangsters from casinos.
. . .While the Kefauver hearings did bring the problem of organized crime to the national consciousness, forcing the FBI and the government to publicly admit that such an organization existed, the hearings did relatively little to damage the strength of the Syndicate. In fact, the hearings persuaded local hoods that they were free from the law — a Senate committee had come to town and nothing happened. The presence of organized crime grew even stronger and more concentrated in Las Vegas, as another wave of criminals, seeking refuge after being run out of their home states, surged into Nevada. The Syndicate would continue to wield control of Las Vegas for two decades after the conclusion of the Kefauver Hearings.
As a result of all the national exposure, Kefauver’s political fortunes rose precipitously, and in 1952 he sought the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. He made history briefly when he defeated President Harry S. Truman in the New Hampshire primary, proceeding to win twelve of the fifteen Democratic primaries. But the primaries at that time were not the main method of delegate selection. At the national convention in Chicago that summer, Kefauver led on the first two convention ballots. But in the end Adlai Stevenson received the Democratic nomination. In the general election, Stevenson and running mate Senator John Sparkman of Alabama lost to the Republican ticket of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon. Estes Kefauver, however, would be back.
1951 hardback edition of Kefauver's crime book published by Doubleday.
Small Town Boy
Kefauver had grown up in the small town of Madisonville, Tennessee in the foothills of the Great Smokies. His father owned a hardware store there and had served as the town’s mayor. Growing up, young “Keef” as he was nicknamed, worked one summer in a Harlan County, Kentucky coal mine living with four other miners and developing an abiding appreciation for coal mine life and labor unions. At the University of Tennessee Kefauver was a fraternity man, who threw discus and high-jumped on the track team, played tackle on the varsity football squad, and was elected president of the student body. After graduating in 1924, he taught math and coached high school football for a year, then went to Yale Law School. In the courtroom, he was good with juries, and according to one of his former partners, used a “country boy” approach to good effect. But Kefauver also used plain language and a straight-forward approach the jurors could understand and never tried to be eloquent or poetic. In 1938, he made an unsuccessful bid for the state senate, then won a U.S. congressional vacancy the following year. In nine years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Kefauver championed public power programs of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and New Deal programs.
In 1947, when he ran for a U.S. Senate seat, he traded country quips and raccoon stories with his opponent. That resulted in one instance with Kefauver donning a coonskin cap which then became something of a campaign trademark for him. He was later shown wearing one on the March 1952 cover of Time magazine (coincidentally, after Walt Disney ran a TV series on Davy Crockett, who also wore the coonskin cap, a “Crockett craze” ensued in 1955 with young boys all across the country wearing the caps). Kefauver won his U.S. Senate seat in the 1948 election.
Time cover in September 1956 as the Democrats' Stevenson-Kefauver ticket sought the White House.
2nd Presidential Bid
In 1956, Kefauver again sought the Democratic Party presidential nomination, scoring a few upsets and winning some important primaries, until losing a key battle in California. At the convention, the nomination was thrown open to the delegates but Adlai Stevenson was again selected the party’s nominee. However, Kefauver did win the Vice Presidential slot in a competition with a young U.S. Senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy. The Stevenson-Kefauver ticket lost to the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket in 1956, and Kefauver returned to his Senate post. (Kefauver was considered the front runner for the 1960 Democratic nomination, but he let it be known in 1959 that he wasn’t going to try again for a third time.)
In the Senate, Kefauver turned his attention to big business and monopoly practices. His U.S. Senate Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee investigated economic concentration throughout the U.S. economy, industry by industry, issuing a major report in May 1963. He found monopoly pricing in the steel, automotive, food and pharmaceutical industries, and recommended among other things, that General Motors be broken up into competing firms. He was also highly critical of excess profits in the U.S. drug industry. The Kefauver-Harris Drug Control Act of 1962 required drug companies to disclose to doctors the side-effects of their products, be able to prove their products were effective and safe, and allow drugs to be sold as generics. In 1956, Kefauver and fellow Tennessee Senator Albert Gore Sr., and Lyndon Johnson were the only three southern Democrats who refused to sign the “Southern Manifesto,” a political document signed by more than 90 other politicians opposing racial integration. On August 8, 1963, Estes Kefauver suffered a massive heart attack on the floor of the Senate, and died a few days later.
For additional stories on politics at this website please see the Politics & Culture category page. Stories from the 1950s and 1960s are also gathered by decade in the Period Archive, found at the top right corner of this page. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle, “The Kefauver Hearings, 1950-1951,” PopHistoryDig.com, April 17, 2008.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
“It Pays to Organize,” Time (cover story), Monday, March 12, 1951.
“The Rise of Senator Legend,” Time (cover story), Monday, March 24, 1952.
Joseph Bruce Gorman, Kefauver: A Political Biography, New York: Oxford University Press,1971.
David Halberstam, The Fifties, New York: Villard Books/Random House, 1993, Chapter 14, pp. 187-194.
See an extensive collection of photographs of the Kefauver Crime Hearings in Kansas City, Missouri, at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection Photo Database, 222 Thomas Jefferson Library, One University Blvd. University of Missouri, St. Louis, MO (314) 516-5143.
G. D. Wiebe, “Responses to the Televised Kefauver Hearings: Some Social Psychological Implica- tions,” The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 2, Summer, 1952, pp. 179-200.
Jack Anderson and Frederick G. Blumenthal. The Kefauver Story, New York: Dial Press, 1956.
Ivan Doig, “Kefauver Versus Crime: Television Boosts a Senator,”Journalism Quarterly, Autumn 1962, pp. 483-90.
U.S. Congress, Memorial Services Held in the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, Together with Remarks Presented in Eulogy of Carey Estes Kefauver, Late a Senator from Tennessee, 88th Congress, 1st session, 1963. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1964.
Estes Kefauver, with Irene Till, In a Few Hands: Monopoly Power in America, New York: Pantheon Books, 1965.
Joseph Bruce Gorman, “The Early Career of Estes Kefauver,” East Tennessee Historical Society’s Publications, 1970, pp. 57-84.
Philip A. Grant, Jr., “Kefauver and the New Hampshire Presidential Primary,”Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Winter 1972, pp. 372-80.
Harvey Swados, Standing Up for the People: The Life and Work of Estes Kefauver, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1972.
Richard Edward McFadyen, Estes Kefauver and the Drug Industry, Ph.D. dissertation, Emory University, 1973.
William Howard Moore, The Kefauver Committee and the Politics of Crime, 1950-1952, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1974.
James Bailey Gardner, “Political Leadership in a Period of Transition: Frank G. Clement, Albert Gore, Estes Kefauver, and Tennessee Politics, 1948-1956,” Ph.D. dissertation, Vanderbilt University, 1978.
Richard Edward McFadyen,”Estes Kefauver and the Tradition of Southern Progressivism,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Winter 1978, pp. 430-43.
William Howard Moore, “The Kefauver Committee and Organized Crime,”in, Law and Order in American History, Joseph M. Hawes (ed.), Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1979, pp. 136-47.
Charles L. Fontenay, Estes Kefauver, A Biography, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1980.
William Howard Moore,”Was Estes Kefauver ‘Blackmailed’ During the Chicago Crime Hearings?: A Historian’s Perspective,” Public Historian, Winter 1982, pp. 5-28.
Philip A. Grant, Jr., “Senator Estes Kefauver and the 1956 Minnesota Presidential Primary.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Winter 1983, pp. 383-92.
Gregory C. Lisby, “Early Television on Public Watch: Kefauver and His Crime Investigation,” Journalism Quarterly, Summer 1985, pp. 236-42.
Jeanine Derr, ” ‘The Biggest Show on Earth’: The Kefauver Crime Committee Hearings.” Maryland Historian, Fall/Winter, 1986, pp. 19-37.
Hugh Brogan, All Honorable Men: Huey Long, Robert Moses, Estes Kefauver, Richard J. Daley, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Film Clips of the Kefauver Hearings. See, for example, eFootage.com, where the following clips are available: 1.) Morris Kleinman “The Silent Witness” – Cleveland Gambler, Morris Kleinman, remains silent during his questioning at the Kefauver Crime Committee hearing in Washington and then he gets reprimanded by one of the Senators; 2.) Abner “Longy” Zwillman – Abner “Longy” Zwillman on trial during the Kefauver Crime Committee hearing in Washington. The organizer and the founding member of a nationwide crime syndicate talks about his reputation as the “Al Capone of New Jersey” and getting in too deep with the mob; 3.) Senators & Abner Zwillman – The senators involved in the Kefauver Hearings and the notorious gangster Abner “Longy” Zwillman being questioned; 4.) James J. Carroll’s “Fright Factor” – St Louis’ Betting Commissioner James J. Carroll at the Kefauver Crime Committee hearing voicing his opinion that the media presence in the courtroom is a “fright factor” and claiming that he doesn’t know whether he can answer the questions properly with all the cameras present; 5.) James J Carroll Talking – St Louis’ Betting Commissioner at a Kefauver Crime Committee in Washington, denying that he’s ever known a man named Frank Costello or Nicki Cohen; 6.) Jacob “Greasy Thumb” Guzik – Jacob Guzik, one of the heads of the Chicago underworld, at the Kefauver Crime Committee hearing; and 7.) A Crowded Kefauver Committee Hearing – The Kefauver Crime Committee hearing played to a standing room only crowd in Washington, D.C. and were filmed by several news crews.
The familiar logo of ESPN, the sports cable TV network.
In July 1978, Bill Rasmussen of Bristol, Connecticut, a former sportscaster and recently fired communications man for the New England Whalers ice hockey team, came up with the idea of creating a regional sports TV network. Rasmussen had already been thinking about how to syndicate the Whalers ice hockey games and University of Connecticut basketball on the state’s cable systems. Cable television then was still in its infancy. CNN, MTV, HBO or anything approaching a major cable system had yet to emerge nationally. Rasmussen and his son, Scott, a former sports announcer, met with an RCA salesman inquiring about the cost of channel space on a new communications satellite. In 1978, an all-sports cable network was hardly a “no brainer.” The three TV networks combined then broadcast only about 20 hours of sports a week.They learned that it was cheaper to buy round-the-clock time than individual blocks of several hours. But then, the big question became how to use all that time? On a road trip by car to New Jersey in August 1978, Rasmussesn and his son argued about what to do. That’s when they hit upon the idea of “all sports all the time”– offering continuous sports programming over cable around the clock. This plan was hardly a “no brainer” at the time, especially since even the three major TV networks combined only broadcast about 20 hours of sports a week. Still, a Wall Street Journal article that Rasmussen had read pointed up the groundswell and potential in the new cable TV business, and he suspected that he might be on to something. Yet finding the content, the financing, and the help needed to undertake such a venture would be formidable. The next several months were spent organizing, doing paperwork, and seeking sponsors.
After being turned down by a half a dozen or more potential investors, Rasmussen met Stu Evey an executive vice president at Getty Oil who managed a variety of projects for the oil company. Evey used Getty’s financial experts to analyze the market and evaluate what might result from investing in the new venture. In February 1979, Getty initially agreed to put up $43,000 for an option to buy 85 percent of the new cable sports network. Millions more in Getty dollars would follow.Sports Illustrated called ESPN “one of the strangest creations in the history of mass communications.” Stu Evey would become ESPN’s first chairman and would later write a book about the experience (see below). On September 7, 1979, a Saturday evening at 7 p.m., the “Entertainment Sports Programming Network” launched its first program as a regional sports cable channel. It began with a show called “Sports Center.” A few weeks later RCA awarded Rasmussen the satellite space for 24-hour programming. ESPN was on its way, for good or ill. The first few years entailed a hodge-podge of programming — slow-pitch softball, kick boxing, racquetball, volleyball, karate, Australian Rules football, Irish hurling, tractor pulls, and other arcane sports. Broadcasting through the weekends and a few hours each weekday, the station lost millions of dollars. Sports Illustrated called it “one of the strangest creations in the history of mass communications.” Still, ESPN had the industry’s attention.
Former Getty Oil v.p. Stu Evey's 2004 book on the making of ESPN.
Early on, Rasmussen had also rounded up broadcasting rights for University of Connecticut sports events, and later other National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) games, including tape-delayed college football games and NCAA basketball games. In 1979, fan interest in college basketball had been ignited by two young rival players named Magic Johnson and Larry Bird who battled each other in the 1979 NCAA finals. In 1979, fan interest in college basketball had been ignited by two young rival players named Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.However, there was little TV coverage of the games leading up to the NCAA finals until ESPN stepped in with live and tape-delay coverage. Those games proved a big boost to ESPN’s growing following. Gradually, executives and sportscasters were lured from some of the other networks and a handful of anchors became regulars — among them, Chris Berman, Tom Mees, Bob Ley, and Dick Vitale. Rasmussen, meanwhile, became less involved as the network grew more corporate, staying on the board of directors through 1981 but later cashing out.
In August 1982, ABC television agreed to supply some programming to ESPN in exchange for an option to purchase up to 49 percent of the company. ESPN meanwhile, began more coverage of college football in 1982, and a year later began its first professional sports broadcasting with the games of the fledgling United States Football League (USFL). The USFL coverage lasted three years and also included some programming outside of the U.S. ESPN also made a major business change in 1983 by beginning to charge cable companies — rather than paying them — for carrying its programming. Even though this only resulted in pennies per subscriber per year, it nonetheless marked a turning point toward profitability. Still, ESPN was operating in the red but it was now reaching more than 23 million households.
ABC & Cap Cities
In 1984, ABC shelled out more than 225 million to acquire ESPN.
In January 1984, as a result of its earlier programming deal requiring ABC to purchase at least 10 percent of ESPN, ABC acquired 15 percent of ESPN for $25 million, with the right to purchase more in the future. It also turned out that ESPN’s majority owner, Getty, was itself in play, and was sold to Texaco. ABC then shelled out $202 million to Texaco in April 1984 to buy the remaining shares of ESPN. ABC then sold off a 20 percent piece of ESPN to raise cash, a share later owned by the Hearst Corporation. ABC by this time was itself quite prominent in sports broadcasting, having among other things, Monday Night Football, extensive Olympic coverage, and college football coverage under the leadership of Roone Arledge. With ABC as owner, ESPN continued to grow, adding National Hockey League games in 1985. Then in 1986, another change in ownership occurred when Capital Cities Communication, a large broadcasting group, acquired ABC for $3.5 billion. Still, under Cap Cities, both ABC and ESPN continued their growth in sports broadcasting. In November 1987, ESPN began its Sunday Night Football program featuring NFL games. This marked a major development in cable’s arrival as significant player in sports programming. Two years later, ESPN signed a $400 million deal with Major League Baseball.
In 1990, The Wall Street Journal ranked ESPN # 1 on cable, ahead of CNN & MTV, with 54.8 million subscribers. By the early 1990s, the cable TV revolution was in full flower with CNN, MTV, and other major networks. And in the new industry, ESPN was found among the top players. A Wall Street Journalranking of the major cable operators in 1990 placed ESPN at #1 with 54.8 million subscribers, ahead of #2 CNN with 53.8 million, and #6 MTV with 49.3 million. ESPN was still growing. In March 1992 ESPN’s international division acquired 50 percent of the European Sports Network. At home, ESPN Sports Radio was also launched in 1992 and a second TV channel, ESPN-2, debuted in October 1993 beginning a focus on sports such as soccer, in-line skating, and mountain biking. In early May 1994, ESPN acquired Creative Sports a TV/radio sports marketing, syndication, and production company which was later renamed ESPN Regional Television. In January 1995, ESPN distributed the Super Bowl game to television outlets in more than 100 countries. Then came Disney.
Disney Takes Over
In August 1995, the Walt Disney Company, one of the world’s largest entertainment corporations, announced it would acquire Cap Cities/ABC for $19 billion. The deal stunned Wall Street and the entertainment industry. But one of the assets Disney was most pleased about getting in the deal was ESPN. At the time, Disnsey’s chairman Michael Eisner called ESPN “a magic name,” comparable to Coca-Cola or Kodak in brand recognition. The all-sports network by then was seen in 66.3 million American households and 95 million around the world. ESPN had already become a booming profit center for ABC. “The channel has been our biggest growth area on a percentage basis over the past five years,” said Robert A. Iger, ABC’s president in August 1995. Disney’s Michael Eisner called ESPN “a magic name,” comparable to Coca-Cola or Kodak in brand recognition. Media analysts were then projecting good days ahead. ESPN and ESPN-2 were slated to generate cash flow of $350 million in 1995 and $400 million in 1996, making it the most profitable of all cable TV services. ESPN was then worth between $4 billion and $5 billion. Everywhere that Disney CEO Michael Eisner went in New York that August touting the deal — from newspaper and radio interviews to Larry King Live — he couldn’t say enough about ESPN. He also saw the possibility of “brand build-out” just as Disney had done with its own products. “We know that when we lay Mickey Mouse or Goofy on top of products, we get pretty creative stuff,” Eisner said. “ESPN has the potential to be that kind of brand. ABC has never had our resources, and we haven’t had ESPN. Put the two together and who knows what we get.” ESPN’s sports fare was also unique in its live coverage aspects, marketable most anywhere in the world.
ABC and Disney executives had already concluded that the most exportable forms of TV entertainment were sports and children’s programming because they have universal appeal and offend no political position. “But the leverage of those two together in what used to be third world countries, or closed countries, is enormous,” explained Eisner in August 1995. The most “exportable” forms of TV entertain- ment, it was thought, were sports and children’s programming because they had universal appeal and offended no political position. “There are 250 million people in the middle-class of India alone…” Disney also liked ESPN’s aggressive marketing of its sports news and information around the world, from Latin America and Europe to Asia and Australia, seeing additional potential for cable and satellite-delivered, locally popular sports like cricket in India or table tennis in China. “We think sports is a good inter-national language,” said Steven Bornstein, ESPN’s president. Disney technology could then transmit a single channel into every corner of the globe, and was looking for more new and distinct programming to telecast and incorporate into its stores and theme parks.
1997: ESPN Classic begins.
Under Disney’s umbrella, ESPN continued to grow in new ways, including acquisitions. In early October 1997, ESPN acquired Classic Sports Network, a 24-hour, all-sports network that had taken form in the Midwest, since renamed ESPN Classic. This channel initially focused on older, “classic” sporting events and sports stars from the past, and developed a loyal following. Meanwhile, for the year 1997, ESPN registered solid growth and was more profitable than NBC. Disney continued helping ESPN extend its brand with ESPN stores and ESPN-themed products. Prior to the Disney acquisition, one of
'ESPN Zone' restaurant & enter-tainment center at 1472 Broadway in New York.
the first ESPN restaurants had already been planned for Disney’s Boardwalk at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Disney would subsequently help ESPN build more “ESPN Zone” restaurants, some with expanded entertainment centers. There are now at least eight of these restaurant and entertainment centers in the U.S. — Anaheim, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, New York, and Washington — each complete with gaming rooms, big-screen TVs, and hundreds of smaller TV throughout, broadcasting ESPN fare and other programs.
In 1998, ESPN The Magazine was launched, and has since become a serious competitor to Time, Inc.’s Sports Illustrated with nearly 2 million subscribers. In 2001, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society was acquired and became the basis for more than two dozen ESPN Bass tournament and fishing shows. In 2002, ESPN and ABC acquired television broadcasting rights for National Basketball Association (NBA) games. But football continued to be a mother lode for ESPN. In 2005, when ESPN paid $1.1 billion for the rights to Monday Night Football, some business analysts thought the network paid a too rich a price. But by the end of 2006 it was clear that ESPN had captured a worthy share of households and cable viewers — averaging in the 10-to 12-million range — and producing the largest household audiences of the year for at least 16 consecutive weeks. But still more contracts were on the way.
European soccer, 2006.
In December 2006, ESPN and ABC landed rights for the European Soccer Championships, most carried on ESPN outlets, along with Spanish language rights for ESPN’s Deportes network and pay TV in Latin America. For the year 2006, Disney reported that ESPN delivered double-digit growth for company, both in revenue and operating profit. Its ratings overall were also up. During 2006, in fact, more people watched ESPN’s four U.S. cable channels than ever before. And Disney fully expected the trend to continue, especially with the addition of ESPN-hosted NASCAR auto-racing, America’s fastest growing spectator sport.
ESPN, The Magazine, Aug 06.
Today, ESPN is a giant global sports broadcasting and marketing behemoth worth billions of dollars. In December 2006, investment bank UBS announced at a New York conference that they had determined ESPN’s value to be $28 billion, accounting for about 40 percent of Disney’s $70.7 billion market capitalization.In 2006, UBS determined ESPN to account for about 40% of Disney’s market cap. In addition to its four U.S. television networks –ESPN, ESPN-2, ESPN Classic & ESP NEWS — it also has 24 ESPN inter-national networks that broadcast in eleven languages. ESPN also operates a dedicated college sports TV channel, various internet websites, video games, CDs and DVDs, holds a number of mobile-media content deals, and more.
A summary of some of ESPN’s more prominent parts and its ever-growing empire follows below:
The flagship network, ESPN, is now seen in 94 million households with programming that inlcudes coverage of more than 65 sports including MLB, NBA, NFL’s Monday Night Football, NASCAR, FIFA World Cup, WNBA, college football, men’s and women’s college basketball, golf, Little League World Series, and the X Games. ESPN Original Entertainment creates branded programming outside of ESPN’s normal fare, and ESPN on Demand offers sports and other exclusive content from ESPN and outside sources.
ESPN-2 is now seen in over 93 million households. Its programming features NASCAR racing, MLB, college football and basketball, golf, tennis, FIFA World Cup, MLS, and more. It also offers “Cold Pizza,” a two-hour morning show that combines sports with pop culture and “lifestyle features.”
ESPN Classic is available in over 63 million homes. Its programming focuses on sports history, and “classic” games, personalities, and stories from the world of sports, such as shows from the ESPN Big Fights Library. Its documentaries and programming have won Emmy and Peabody Awards, such as for its “SportsCentury” show. Its coverage generally relates to all the major professional sports plus college football and basketball.
Begun in November 1996 with 1.5 million subscribers. ESPNEWS is the only 24-hour sports news network and has established itself as a major sports news and information source in more than 60 million homes.
ESPN-U is the 24-hour college sports TV network that specializes in college sports. It was launched in March 2005. ESPN-U has college marketing agreements with universities and colleges in Kansas, Oregon, and South Florida. In August 2006, ESPNU premiered ESPNU.com., a dedicated website that includes live streaming college sports events, podcasts, and other material from ESPN and elsewhere.
ESPN-U has college marketing agreements with universities and colleges in Kansas, Oregon, and South Florida.
ESPN Regional TV
Also known as ERT or ESPN Plus, ESPN Regional Television is one of the largest TV/radio sports marketing, syndication and production companies, producing more than 900 events annually for ESPN networks, ABC, and other national, regional and local outlets. ERT is the nation’s largest syndicator of intercollegiate sports programming, and produces more than 900 college TV programs, including football, basketball, NCAA events, golf and other events. ERT also produces five ESPN-organized football Bowl games, and also the College Football Awards program. In addition, ERT is the production headquarters for ESPN-U.
ESPN Radio and affiliates comprise the nation’s largest sports radio network, providing content to more than 700 stations nationwide, including those in the 100 top markets. It has 350 full-time affiliates including owned stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Pittsburgh. Its programming is also available to U.S. troops in more than 175 countries through American Forces Networks. Programming includes: NBA and Major League Baseball games, college football playoffs and other coverage. An affiliate web site, ESPNRadio.com is one of the most visited online sports radio sites in the U.S., logging as many as 250,000 online listeners per month, also producing more than 35 original podcasts each week accounting for more than four million downloads per month to portable digital devices.
ESPN’s web site, ESPN.com, launched in April 1995 is the leading sports Web site, averaging 18 million unique users per month, more than any other sports Web site, according to Neilsen Netratings. It produces 350-450 new videos each week, featuring daily highlights, news, interviews, and originally produced exclusive content.ESPN.com is the leading sports web site, averaging 18 million users per month, more than any other sports web site. The site also features up-to-the-minute sports news, statistics, analysis and scores; multiple free and premium fantasy games; free online poker; live event webcasts; live chat with players, ESPN experts, sports personalities; a wide array of sports journalism including that of ESPN The Magazine.
ESPN also provides up-to-the-minute scores, stats, news headlines, video and some exclusive programming to numerous mobile and wireless providers such as Verizon, QUALCOMM and others. It has features agreements with every major U.S. carrier and 35 international carriers. ESPN Mobile TV offers 24/7 streaming video of ESPN news, highlights, live games and events. ESPN’s wireless Internet site is the #1 wireless sports content site, generating nearly nine million unique visitors monthly.
October 9, 2006 issue of 'ESPN The Magazine' -- covers sports mostly, but sometimes a Tom Cruise story or two may also appear.
ESPN Books, started in 2004, is a publishing company operated by ESPN that has published about 20 books so far. ESPN Books also produces ESPN’s yearly sports encyclopedia and operates its own book club.
ESPN The Magazine
Launched in March 1998, ESPN The Magazine has a circulation base of 1.95 million. It covers a variety of sports news and offers in-depth commentary, opinion, and top photography. The magazine also includes occasional stories on celebrities and entertainment. In 2003 and 2006 it won National Magazine awards for general excellence. The magazine’s covers have also been noted by the American Society of Magazine Editors.