By Dom Serafini
When I used to work at Television/Radio Age, magazine publisher, Sol J. Paul, made sure that all of us editorial people would always have a copy of the magazine on hand. He even coined a slogan: “Make believe it’s an American Express card!,” a take on that famous company promo: “Don’t leave home without it!”
Nowadays, at various TV trade shows, such as this one in Cannes, we see a great number of publishers doing just that –– with wheelies in tow full of their publications. There are several reasons for this. First, they’re usually heavy and therefore carts are needed to carry them around. They also want to make sure that clients and potential clients see their issues, especially if there aren’t enough copies around.
My old boss, however, didn’t want us to carry around the publication to hand it out, but to upset the competition –– above all Sol Taishoff, founder of Broadcasting (now Broadcasting and Cable). There was no friction with Syd Silverman, the son of Variety founder, Sime. Paul did not mind The Hollywood Reporter, either. Actually, he was fond of and amused by publisher Tichi Wilkerson, wife of the paper’s founder, Billy.
Paul had an anecdote for all of them, except Taishoff. Actually, he would never talk about Sol, but Taishoff would talk about Paul very energetically with me –– despite his age and having lost one lung to cancer. Every time we would meet, he’d blast Paul, calling him names and asking me why on earth (actually, he used expletives) I’d work for someone like Sol Paul. But, he’d never explain what brought up such feelings of enmity.
It was known that when the two crossed paths on the street, one of them would walk away, so as not to meet face-to-face. Many a time I tried to bring the conversation around to the subject of this animosity, but Sol Paul would never take the bait and, it certainly couldn’t be mentioned that I was actually talking to Taishoff. He’d have seen it as the highest form of treason!
There was something there that couldn’t be revealed. Sol Paul would trust me with his American Express card, but not with the reasons for the feud. Speaking of the Amex card, I remember being considered something of a “weirdo” in the office because, during business trips, I would return the unspent portion of my petty cash. Naturally, I’d also walk around the office in my slippers and bring my lunch in a brown bag. Plus, I’d never sign in or out. Clearly I was a strange creature in the eyes of my co-editors. What made me something of a “cult” figure, however, was the fact that I could operate the telex machine –– one of those ITT units on a stand that, every time it was in use, would vibrate so hard that at times it would literally be jumping around the room! And that was another sore point with my co-workers. All were much older and had seniority and yet, I had an office (albeit windowless), while they were seated at desks out on the corridor. Plus, my job was to write some of Paul’s editorials. He would dictate the topics and I’d come up with content, not because he wasn’t a good writer, but simply because he was constantly on the phone dispensing advice, especially to radio and TV station managers and owners. Even though today there is hardly any historical accounts of his career, Paul’s life was just as colorful as those he used to gossip about. Reportedly, he left his right-hand person, Lee Sheridan, virtually at the altar to wed his secretary in his second marriage. Lee never married and remained loyal to Paul until his death in 1992. And every time she visited me, she always had fond memories of Paul.
As a TV history buff, it amazes me that the television industry in America was completely developed by Russian Jews –– some originating from the same village –– who were fiercely antagonist with each other. Just to mention a few: RCA-NBC’s David Sarnoff, CBS’ Bill Paley and ABC’s Leonard Goldenson. There were also Vladimir Zworykin, the putative father of modern television –– and the creator of color television, Peter Goldmark, both of whom I was able to interview before they passed away. Plus, Taishoff and Paul. The latter had shortened his original long Russian surname. But while Sarnoff, Zworykin, Goldmark and Taishoff were actually born in Russia, the others were American-born of Russian descent.
All the key players in the TV trade publication business started at about the same time: Sol Taishoff founded Broadcasting in 1931 at the age of 27. Sol Paul, who was 10 years younger, joined it in 1941, first as a writer, later becoming its advertising sales manager. The Hollywood Reporter started in 1930, and Variety launched in 1933.
Sol Paul started the biweekly Television Age (which later became Television/Radio Age) in 1953, reportedly with the help of Sarnoff’s RCA. This angered Sol Taishoff to no end. He would stop talking to people who left his magazine to go to work in unrelated fields, so one could imagine his fury against someone like Paul, who became a competitor. In a freakish turn of events, I left Paul to start VideoAge in 1981 with the support of various companies. However, in the beginning, he was not upset with me because he refused a partnership and because he was convinced that I wouldn’t make it.
After Sol Taishoff’s death, his son Larry sold the publication, in 1986, to Times Mirror for $75 million. Five years later, the group sold it to Reed Business (which today also owns Variety) for $32 million.
Just about the same time, Sol Paul refused an offer of $15 million for his biweekly, thinking that his publication was worth just as much as Broadcasting. A few years later, Paul engaged in negotiations with Variety’s executives who, reportedly, offered just $5 million for his magazine. But the due diligence process dragged on for a long time and the publication collapsed in 1989. One could say under its own weight, since Paul was fond of publishing 200-plus page issues that, despite readers’ willingness to read because of the interesting nature of the articles, they rarely could find the time to actually read or muster the strength to pick the issues up at markets. Luckily, in those days there weren’t any wheelies and that, perhaps, could explain why Paul did not ask us to distribute them. But he was certainly ahead of his time!