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About Walter Hubert Annenberg
Walter Hubert Annenberg (March 13, 1908 – October 1, 2002) was an American publisher, philanthropist, and diplomat.
Walter Annenberg was born to a Jewish family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 13, 1908. He was the son of Sarah and Moses "Moe" Annenberg, who published The Daily Racing Form and purchased The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1936. The Annenberg family moved to Long Island, New York in 1920, and Walter attended high school at the Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey, graduating in 1927. He went on to college at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, not graduating. While in college he was a member of Zeta Beta Tau, a traditionally Jewish fraternity.
Annenberg was greatly affected by tax evasion charges and other scandals that involved his father in the 1930s. A significant part of his adult life was dedicated to rehabilitating the family's name, through philanthropy and public service.
In 1942, after his father's death, Annenberg took over the family businesses, making successes out of some that had been failing. He bought additional print media as well as radio and television stations, resulting in great success. One of his most prominent successes was the creation of TV Guide in 1952, which he started against the advice of his financial advisers. He also created Seventeen magazine. During the 1970s TV Guide was making between $600,000 – $1,000,000 profit per week.
While Annenberg ran his publishing empire as a business, he was not afraid to use it for his own ends. One of his publications, The Philadelphia Inquirer, was influential in ridding Philadelphia of its largely corrupt city government in 1949. It attacked McCarthyism in the 1950s, and campaigned for the Marshall Plan following World War II.
In 1966, Annenberg used the pages of The Inquirer to cast doubt on the candidacy of Democrat Milton Shapp, for governor of Pennsylvania. Shapp was highly critical of the proposed merger of the Pennsylvania Railroad with the New York Central Railroad and was pushing the U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission to prevent it from occurring. Walter Annenberg, who was the biggest individual stockholder of the Pennsylvania Railroad, wanted to see the merger go through and was frustrated with Shapp's opposition. During a press conference, an Inquirer reporter asked Shapp if he had ever been a patient in a mental hospital. Having never been in one, Shapp simply said "no". The next day, a five-column front page Inquirer headline read, “Shapp Denies Mental Institution Stay.” Shapp and others have attributed his loss of the election to Annenberg's newspaper.
Philanthropy and later life
Even while an active businessman, Annenberg had an interest in public service. In 1953, he became one of the founding trustees of Eisenhower Fellowships. After Richard M. Nixon was elected President, he appointed Annenberg as ambassador to the Court of St. James's in the United Kingdom. In 1969, under pressure after the Shapp controversy, Annenberg sold The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, which he bought in 1957, to Knight Newspapers for US$55 million. After being appointed as ambassador, he became quite popular in Britain, eventually being made an honorary knight of the Order of the British Empire (KBE).
Annenberg led a lavish lifestyle. His "Sunnylands" winter estate in Rancho Mirage, California (near Palm Springs) hosted gatherings with such people as President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Charles, Prince of Wales and the late Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It was Annenberg who introduced President Reagan to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and the Reagans often celebrated New Year's Eve with the Annenbergs. Leonore Annenberg was named by President Ronald Reagan as the State Department's Chief of Protocol as well. Sunnylands covers 400 acres (1.6 km2) guard-gated on a 650-acre (2.6 km2) parcel surrounded by a stucco wall at the northwest corner of Frank Sinatra Drive and Bob Hope Drive; the property includes a golf course. Annenberg established the Annenberg Schools for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California. He became a champion of public television, acquiring many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Reagan, the Linus Pauling Medal for Humanitarianism, the 1988 Eisenhower Medal for Leadership and Service and was named an Officer of the French Legion of Honor. In 1989, he established the Annenberg Foundation, and 1993, created the Annenberg Challenge, a US$500 million, five-year reform effort and the largest single gift ever made to American public education. In 1993, he and his wife, Leonore, were awarded the National Medal of Arts. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1995.
He sold TV Guide, Seventeen, and a few other publications to Australian publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch in 1988 for US$3 billion, announcing that he would devote the rest of his life to philanthropy.
During his lifetime, it is estimated that Annenberg donated over US$2 billion. "Education...", he once said, "holds civilization together". Many school buildings, libraries, theaters, hospitals, and museums across the United States now bear his name. His collection of French impressionist art was valued at approximately US$1 billion in 1991 and was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City upon his death in 2002. In 1990, he donated $50 million to the United Negro College Fund which was the largest amount ever contributed to the organization.
Annenberg's first marriage, to Veronica Dunkelman, ended in divorce in 1950 after eleven years together. While married, Dunkelman and Annenberg had two children: a daughter, Wallis, and son, Roger. Roger committed suicide in 1962; to commemorate his death, Harvard University, where Roger was a student at the time, now has a Roger Annenberg Hall named in his honor. Annenberg's 1951 marriage to his second wife, Leonore "Lee" Cohn, was, by all accounts, a lasting and fulfilling relationship. Lee was a niece of Harry Cohn, founder and successful mogul of Columbia Pictures.
Annenberg died at his home in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania on October 1, 2002 from complications dealing with pneumonia; he was 94 years old. He was survived by his wife Leonore (February 20, 1918 – March 12, 2009), daughter Wallis, and two sisters, Enid A. Haupt and Evelyn Hall. Including those by his wife's daughters from her first two marriages (Diane Deshong and Elizabeth Kabler), he left behind seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Walter Annenberg's Timeline
March 13, 1908
Milwaukee, WI, USA
July 15, 1940
Philadelphia, PA, USA
October 1, 2002
Narberth, PA, USA