TV Guide founder
Walter H. Annenberg, who parlayed America’s love affair with television into a fortune by launching TV Guide magazine and later gave away billions of dollars to philanthropic, artistic and educational causes — including endowing two major journalism schools — died Tuesday at his home in Wynnewood, Pa., of complications from pneumonia. He was 94.
Milwaukee native — who also created Seventeen magazine and later became U.S. ambassador to Great Britain — was the only son among eight children of publisher Moses Annenberg, and inherited the Philadelphia Inquirer and two racing publications from his father. He went on to build Triangle Publications into a multibillion-dollar business encompassing newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV stations.
He sold off some properties and later disposed of remaining Triangle ones, including TV Guide, to News Corp. chieftain Rupert Murdoch in 1988 for $3 billion. This year, Forbes magazine listed Annenberg as one of the wealthiest Americans, ranking him No. 39 with an estimated net worth of $4 billion.
Among his philanthropies were the universities of Pennsylvania and Southern California, where communications schools were established bearing his name; the United Negro College Fund; Israel; and several hospitals.
He also became a noted art connoisseur and in 1991 donated a collection of masterpieces valued at $1 billion to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
His appointment by President Nixon as ambassador to the Court of St. James’s in 1969 raised controversy because of his lack of experience in foreign affairs, but he and his second wife, Leonore, wound up charming British society during their 5½ years there.
Annenberg began building his empire after his father died in 1942, leaving the son and his sisters the Inquirer, Morning Telegraph and Daily Racing Form. The son added the Philadelphia Daily News and branched into magazines, founding Seventeen fashion and beauty monthly for teenage girls in 1944 and nine years later the weekly TV Guide as a national publication because he believed television’s growth would create a demand for small-screen info. The magazine grew to a circulation of more than 14 million.
Eventually his Triangle Publications holding company acquired six radio and six television stations in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and California and a broadcasting network that started with a small station in Philadelphia he bought in the 1940s. He sold the two Philadelphia dailies to Knight Newspapers for $55 million in 1970 and a year later for millions more sold his radio and TV stations. Then in 1988 he sold all the remaining Triangle properties in the multibillion-dollar deal with Murdoch.
Annenberg was a silent power broker in the Republican Party and one of its biggest contributors. His newspapers’ editorial pages were outspoken on behalf of GOP causes. When he became ambassador in 1969, he resigned as president of Triangle Publications, but he remained the principal stockholder.
Among awards given to Annenberg were the Medal of Freedom, awarded in 1986 by President Reagan and the Alfred Dupont Award for pioneering education via television. Among the schools giving him honorary degrees were the U. of Pennsylvania, Temple U., Notre Dame, USC and Hebrew U. of Jerusalem.
Besides his wife and two of his sisters, he is survived by a daughter from his first marriage; his wife’s two daughters; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.