Walter AnnenbergWalter Annenberg (March 13, 1908 - October 1, 2002) was a billionaire publisher and philanthropist.
He was the son of Sarah and Moses "Moe" Annenberg, a rough-hewn Chicago newspaper salesman for the Hearst organization, who built his fortune to the point of being able to purchase the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1936, and who continued to grow a successful publishing company called Triangle Publications, Inc. Moe's fortunes ended when the Roosevelt administration (to which his papers had been less than kind) convicted him of tax evasion and sentenced him to three years. His health failed during that time, and he died in 1942 shortly after release. He was 65.
Walter Annenberg graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1931. Walter's early life was that of a playboy, dropping out of school and going to Hollywood parties. He wrote a gossip column for the Miami Tribune, also owned by his father, called "Boy About Town". But at age 32, after his father's death, he took over the family businesses and even made successes out of some that had been failing. He bought other print media as well as radio stations and television stations, successfully managing them as well.
His biggest success was the creation of TV Guide in 1952, which he started against the advice of his financial advisors. He also created and made fortunes from the Daily Racing Form and Seventeen magazine.
While he ran his publishing empire as a business, he was not afraid to use it for his own ends, both good and bad. The Inquirer was influential in ridding Philadelphia of its corrupt city government in 1949. It attacked Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s when most other publications feared him. It campaigned for the Marshall Plan after World War II. He also made many enemies: activist Ralph Nader, actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, boxer Sonny Liston, and many politicians became "non-existent" in his newspapers. Their names were never mentioned, and they were even air-brushed out of group photos. He eventually sold the Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News to Knight Newspapers (now Knight-Ridder) for $55 million in 1970.
His first marriage, to Veronica Dunkelman, failed in 1949 after 11 years. His only son, Roger, committed suicide in 1962. Harvard University, where Roger was a student at the time, now has a Roger Annenberg hall in his honor. His second wife, Leonore "Lee" Rosentiel, would be a lasting and fulfilling relationship.
Even while an active businessman, he had an interest in public service. Richard Nixon appointed him ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1969, and he became quite popular in Britain, eventually being knighted. His wife Lee was named by President Ronald Reagan as the State Department's chief of protocol.
Annenberg led a lavish lifestyle, enjoying his riches. His winter estate "Sunnylands" in Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs hosted gatherings with such people as Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Prince Charles. It was Annenberg who introduced Reagan to Margaret Thatcher, and the Regans often celebrated new year's eve with the Annenbergs.
After the sale of the Philadelphia papers, he established the Annenberg School for Comunication at the University of Pennsylvania, which has become the premier school for communication in the United States. He also endowed another school for communication at the University of Southern California. He becomes a champion of public television, gaining many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Reagan and the Linus Pauling Medal for Humanitarianism.
In 1993 he created the Annenberg Challenge, a $500 million, five-year reform effort, and the largest single gift ever made to American public education.
In 1998 he sold TV Guide, Seventeen, and a few other publications to Australian publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch for $3 billion, announcing that he would devote the rest of his life to philanthropy. The Annenberg foundation gave away billions, mostly to educational institutions. "Education...", he once said, "holds civilization together." School buildings, libraries, theaters, hospitals, and museums all over the country now bear Annenberg's name. It is estimated that he gave over $2 billion in his lifetime. His collection of French impressionist art is valued at approximately $1 billion, and has been donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Annenberg died at his home in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania at the age of 94. He was survived by his wife Lee, daughter Wallis, and two sisters, Haupt and Evelyn Hall. Including those by his wife's daughters from a previous marriage (Diane Deshong and Elizabeth Kabler), he left seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.