A personal remembrance by Don West, former editor of Broadcasting & Cable and current president of the Library of American Broadcasting Foundation.
Don West, a longtime chronicler of broadcasting and now president of the Library of American Broadcasting Foundation in Washington, served Frank Stanton as assistant to the president of CBS Inc. from 1966 to 1970, and remained a lifelong associate. This is a personal appreciation:
The obituaries are saying that Frank Stanton died without immediate survivors. That’s right, technically, but there were thousands within the CBS family whose lives were indelibly touched by his, and who will mourn him forever, and millions more within the extended reach of the CBS Eye whose days and nights were enriched by the intelligence and class he brought to what they called the Tiffany network.
It was my privilege to be part of that parade. Not for as long as some, but long enough—a lifetime—never to get over him. It began in 1965 when my father—as fathers will—asked what I would do if I could have any job in the world. Without hesitation, and without premeditation, I told him I would like to be Frank Stanton’s assistant. It was perhaps the purest insight of my life, inspired by the fact that even from a distance I knew Frank Stanton to be the best in the business. It turned out, eventually, that he would see something in me, although our years together would not be without disappointment—his in me, far more than the other way ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“round. They say that no man is a hero to his valet, but Frank Stanton remains mine. His was ever the unattainable ideal, but always close enough to inspire hope as well as action.
In the later years, I often urged Frank to write his life’s story, and offered to help. But he always said no. Just as at the end he said no to memorials and contributions and other desiderata that he felt extraneous to the business at hand. “Write your own book,” he might have said. “I’ve lived mine.”
And so he did. And in so doing he became the best broadcaster the world has known. Hands down. He did so by becoming everything a broadcaster could be and might be, and then going a step beyond. It was that extra step that secured First Amendment protections for the broadcasting industry when the Congress—on repeated occasions—sought to take them away. It was that extra persuasion that made presidential debates a vital part of the political process. It was that extra demand made of them that made everyone at CBS feel special about working there, and every affiliate stand taller. It was that extra intelligence and discipline behind every decision, and that extra taste accorded every facet of the company’s face to the world. It was that extra determination to do the right thing, not just the most expedient.
Frank Stanton was the indefinable something that made CBS what it was at its best and remains remarkably within it still. He gave his all to the company for as long as Bill Paley would let him, before being cruelly cut down at the end. He left his book unwritten and his monument unfinished. Those he left to his inheritors, wherever they are.
Let there be legions.