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Forever Annenberg

Wallis Annenberg with USC President Steven B. Sample, at the September 19 celebration of her family’s new gift. Later, she told the crowd: “I’ve had an incredible journey.”

Principal photography by Philip Channing

by Diane Krieger

The Sept. 19 headline must have seemed like déjà vu to some readers. “Foundation to Give USC $100 Million,” the Los Angeles Times proclaimed. The Annenberg Foundation, to be precise.

Hadn’t this already happened?

In point of fact, it had not – but Annenberg philanthropy to USC had flowed so fast and furiously in the past 30-odd years that it’s an understandable confusion. The previous leviathan gift, in 1993, had been for $120 million, and it was earmarked to launch the USC Annenberg Center for Communication – an interdisciplinary institute marrying the university’s undisputed expertise in filmmaking, communication and engineering/multimedia in a union of breathtaking synergies. The current endowment is earmarked for the USC Annenberg School for Communication, to cement that bustling academic unit’s grasp on excellence and secure its cash-flow for all time.

“The family [members] believed strongly that they wanted to make sure, in perpetuity, that both Annenberg Schools” – there’s another, older Annenberg School based at the University of Pennsylvania; it, too, just received a $100 million windfall – “could sustain greatness and even build on greatness,” explains Geoffrey Cowan, dean of USC’s Annenberg School. “The goal, quite simply, is to sustain Walter Annenberg’s vision through these remarkable endowments.” (Sadly, the philanthropist died less than a month after the gift was announced.)

If the ubiquity of the Annenberg prefix seems striking at USC, that’s no accident. Over three decades, two generations of Annenbergs have pumped resources totaling roughly $300 million into USC, making the family the most generous in Trojan history. Patriarch Walter Annenberg, longtime publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer and TV Guide and former U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, first singled out USC for his patronage in 1971, when he founded the west-coast Annenberg School – initially conceived as a graduate school-cum-new media think tank. His daughter, Wallis Annenberg ’75, joined USC’s Board of Trustees the same year and has made the Annenberg-USC relationship fruitful into the second generation. Today, besides the Annenberg Center and the Annenberg School, there’s an Annenberg building that houses the school’s administration, faculty, media labs, classrooms and library. There are Wallis Annenberg-endowed chairs in journalism and communication, as well as Wallis Annenberg fellows in the social sciences and humanities. There are teenage Annenberg Challenge scholars attending USC’s pre-collegiate Summer Seminars program, and Wallis Annenberg research fellows combing through the Doheny Library’s rare books collections. Annenberg dollars roll into USC’s mobile dental clinic, serving the University Park community’s neighborhood schools, and Annenberg philanthropy is seeding a therapy garden and greenhouse for patients of the USC-affiliated Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center in Downey.

This is the story of how a university and a family has partnered over 30 years in a shared mission of promoting excellence in teaching, research and social service. It’s not the first time such a thing has happened. But to find a precedent on an equal scale, one would have to invoke names like Rockefeller and Mellon.

To be sure, Annenberg philanthropy extends well beyond USC. The ambassador’s generosity to his alma maters, The Peddie School and Penn, is the stuff of legends. Entities as diverse as the United Negro College Fund, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and 18 school systems around the country have reaped the bounty – estimated at more than $2 billion – that the family foundation has dispensed to date. But its tie with USC is exceptional in its breadth, interdisciplinary scope and sustained, generational energy.

Walter Annenberg put the wheels in motion in 1970, even as he was settling in as the Nixon administration’s ambassador to Great Britain. With his diplomatic post in London and his business interests concentrated in Philadelphia, Annenberg still found time for Palm Springs, where he and his wife, Lee, had wintered for years. In 1966, the couple had built a home in Rancho Mirage, lovingly dubbed “Sunnylands”; the fabled estate was designed by celebrated Modernist architect A. Quincy Jones, then a professor and later dean of USC’s School of Architecture.

Annenberg had numerous ties to USC. His friendship with retiring USC president Norman Topping went back to Penn, where Topping had once been a senior administrator. The ambassador was also well-acquainted with USC trustees Justin Dart, Leonard K. Firestone and J. Robert Fluor ’43 and incoming USC president John R. Hubbard. And then there was his own wife, Lee, who had briefly attended USC as an undergraduate.

Having founded a communication school at Penn in the early 1960s (sometimes informally called Annenberg-East), Annenberg began thinking about fashioning a West Coast sister.

“At some point,” recalls founding dean Frederick D. Williams MA ’60, PhD ’62, “the idea came up for developing an Annenberg School on the USC campus under a contract like the Penn model, but not necessarily the same program.”

Penn’s program had (and still has) a strong policy thrust, capitalizing on a proximity to Washington, D.C., that invites specialization in the arcania of FCC rules, global control over satellite bandwidths and the like.

USC’s program, the ambassador articulated, was to focus on the university’s own regional strengths. The Southland was then clearly emerging as the nation’s hub in the telecommunication and new-media revolution to come. Williams, a specialist in the social and economic impacts of then-new technologies such as videotape, cable, satellite and computing, was recruited from the University of Texas, Austin, to lead the start-up.

The school was initially very small, with a 10-person faculty and a few dozen students at the master’s and doctoral levels. Walter Annenberg worked out a deal with USC president John Hubbard to provide $5 million in operating funds over the first 10 years, plus $3 million to construct a new building.

Few schools have been born in such luxury. Under the terms of USC’s contract with the precursor to today’s Annenberg Foundation, the new school was to be reimbursed for operating expenses not covered by tuition income – of which there was little enough, since the Ph.D. students all enjoyed full fellowships.

Annenberg liked it that way; he’d specified that the school was not to do any fundraising. “He didn’t want it to look like Walter Annenberg was going hat-in-hand and not taking care of his school,” recalls longtime school administrator Carolyn Spicer MLA ’62, who retired in 1999.

The new school was governed by a joint committee composed of half USC trustees, half Annenberg representatives. The arrangement later fell by the wayside, but it ensured that Walter, Lee and Wallis Annenberg were minutely involved in the school’s early formation and decision-making.

“My father was an active participant in the policies of the school,” says Wallis Annenberg. “He laid the foundation, and we continue to build upon it.”

And build they did. The School’s headquarters were designed by Quincy Jones (whose other campus commissions include the Faculty Center and four major structures for the USC School of Cinema-Television).

Dedicated in November 1976, the edifice was a futuristic marvel: “I couldn’t shake the notion,” a Los Angeles Times critic mused at the time, “that this new architectural environment may one day be a place to change all our environments. The building certainly encourages such pulses, with an electronic master control board to connect every nook and usage.… With a built-in audience response system to computerize critical responses from people pushing buttons under their seats. With a photographic production center, a set of projection rooms and the capability to turn almost any cranny into a sending-receiving center.”

The ambassador kept the funds coming. Six months before the dedication, he “asked the USC Board of Trustees to accept an additional $500,000 for furniture and equipment,” board minutes show.

That same year, he gave $10 million more to kick off the Annenberg Center for Study of the American Experience. The short-lived research institute more than doubled the school’s physical space with Jones’ addition of a west wing, dedicated in 1978.

The ambassador’s $3 million gift in February 1990 put then-President James H. Zumberge’s $640 million capital campaign over the top, and brought Annenberg’s total USC-directed philanthropy since 1984 to $28.2 million. Incidentally, he had given both the first and the last gift of the six-year Campaign for USC.

As it turned out, Annenberg was just warming up. In May 1992, with Steven B. Sample newly installed as USC president, he gave another $24.6 million to support programs at USC’s Annenberg School. It was, at that time, the largest single gift the university had ever received, but Annenberg lost no time beating his own record. Eighteen months later, in October 1993, he announced a record-shattering $120 million gift to endow the USC Annenberg Center for Communication. And now, nine years later, here’s $100 million more.

With the nine-figure checks have come checks and balances. The Annenbergs have been attentive guardians of their investment. “They adopted the two university schools that bear their name,” says USC’s communication school director Patricia Riley.

In June, a major conference at Penn’s Annenberg School on health communication drew the active participation of Lee Annenberg and other family members. At USC, Wallis Annenberg is a vocal member of the school’s advisory board and stays in close contact with both Cowan and USC Annenberg Center executive director Elizabeth Daley.

“It’s a remarkable situation,” says Riley. “It certainly isn’t like anything else that I’ve ever seen.”

Luckily for USC, Wallis Annenberg turned out to be a “chip off the old block,” says Cowan, inheriting her father’s flair for educational philanthropy.

Had no better reason existed for her to embrace USC, she would have done so from family pride and filial duty. But Wallis – everyone calls her that – found other excellent reasons to do so.

In the mid-1970s, Walter Annenberg’s only daughter found herself newly divorced, a mother of four and a USC trustee. It proved a dynamic mix.

A dozen years earlier, she had dropped out of Columbia University to marry. Finding herself once again in an academic milieu, she began looking for “something intellectually stimulating,” says Norman Fertig, retired associate dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Wallis went back to school.

“I put her in two classes at first,” says Fertig, who became her academic advisor. Finding that the thirty-something trustee had a “very sharp and sparkling mind,” Fertig advised her to take geology with Richard Stone, philosophy with Kevin Robb, and three or four other courses. Laughing, Wallis recalls standing in line in the old gymnasium, her reg card in hand, waiting her turn with the “crazy registration system that still owes me an $1,800 refund for a course I dropped.”

Her young philosophy professor, meanwhile, recalls fretting over the prospect of having a trustee in his “Origins of Greek Thought” class. Would she do the reading? Would she participate? Would the other students freeze up in her presence? Wallis removed all doubts in the first few minutes of class. “She did the work just like everyone, she got into the discussions and asked excellent questions,” Robb says. She was particularly interested in the restricted role of women in ancient Greek society, he recalls.

As for casting a pall over the room, Wallis so thoroughly bonded with her classmates that at the end of that semester she invited 30 of them to a dinner party at her mansion. Robb remembers the evening well. He sat next to Truman Capote.

Now a senior faculty member and the philosophy department’s undergraduate advisor, Robb still calls Wallis once or twice a year to ask her to join a group of promising philosophy majors for lunch at the Faculty Center. She never turns him down. “She has a way with young people,” he says. “She often tells me that with a lot of the meetings she attends, she goes out of duty. But meeting with young people is always a pleasure.”

USC isn’t the only institution Wallis Annenberg supports wholeheartedly – she’s a major patron of the arts, particularly of the Music Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. But USC is very dear to her heart.

“I’ve been through the Hubbard administration, the Zumberge administrationand currently the Sample administration,” she says happily, “and I’ve had the pleasure of watching the university grow and become a school where it’s very difficult to get in today.”

One of her sons, Charles Weingarten MFA ’96, has taken the USC connection into the third generation. “I was so thrilled that Charles chose to attend the USC film school after he graduated from Duke,” she says. “I think it’s an incredible achievement. And I’m very proud of him.”

Fertig, who remains a personal friend, calls Wallis’ attachment to USC a “splendid association. There’s a passion for education,” he says. “The money is great, too, but I think the other is more important.”

The money has indeed been great. Over the years, Wallis has given more than $12 million, most of it in the last 10 years. And not exclusively to communication projects. In 1993, for example, she created a $500,000 scholarship fund to support women students age 35 or older.

“When I went back to school at USC, I was in that age range, and I know how much it meant to me,” she explains. “I was feeling about 90 years old when I was 35. And I’m one of the privileged, who can afford to get staffing to watch my children and chauffeur them. I thought to myself: ‘I don’t want age to be a barrier for any woman to stop her from achieving her goals.’ It was a real privilege and really meaningful to be able to establish that fund.”

Wallis Annenberg: “I have been taught since childhood that with privilege comes responsibility.”
Principal photography by Philip Channing

After Wallis completed her coursework at USC, she went to work as a story editor for TV Guide, a job she held for 14 years. “I loved it,” she says. “That’s where I wanted to be. At the time I thought it would go on forever. Perhaps that was a mistake; perhaps that’s why I care so much about young women being prepared, because I didn’t have the business background to go into the publishing end.”

Her career ended abruptly in 1990. Two years after Walter Annenberg sold TV Guide to Rupert Murdoch, she was fired. “But I lasted two years! And I think it’s important to note that most of my father’s employees were fired immediately. Some of those men were very shocked,” she says, arching expressive brows, “that I held on to my job. But I was good at what I did. I honed my skills and had developed a network of contacts that the magazine needed.”

Last year, in what she calls an off-shoot of her women-over-35 scholarships, Wallis created a $5 million endowment to support graduate students in the humanities and social sciences pursuing research on issues affecting women and children and potential threats to their well-being. The Wallis Annenberg fellows – there are currently three in sociology and one in psychology – receive a year’s tuition, health insurance and a $16,000 stipend.

With the Annenberg Foundation opening offices in Los Angeles last year, Wallis (who is a vice president) has hit her philanthropic stride. Her $6 million gift to the USC Annenberg School, also announced in 2001, created the school’s first named professorships. The fact that each chair comes pre-packaged with a graduate research fellowship is an irresistible carrot to attract top talent, says Cowan, the school’s dean. Search committees began scouting for the field’s best and brightest minds. In September, former San Jose Mercury publisher Jay Harris became the first Wallis Annenberg chairholder and founding director of the school’s new Center for the Study of Journalism and Democracy.

Even Wallis’ less publicized philanthropy makes palpable ripples across USC. A 1997 tour of the Doheny Library’s Department of Special Collections so charmed the longtime trustee that she promptly cut a check for $25,000. The library has since awarded Wallis Annenberg Research Grants – $1,000 to cover travel, lodging and incidental expenses – to half a dozen visiting scholars, mostly doctoral students needing access to rare documents. In the mid- and late 1990s, she gave $450,000 toward USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative – a six-year college prep program for low-income minority youths living in the University Park community.

Last year, she funneled $300,000 to the USC Summer Seminars program, plucking 60 students from Annenberg Challenge “sites” (schools participating in the Annenberg Foundation’s historic eight-year, $500 million school reform effort that ended in June) to attend USC’s elite pre-collegiate program. The Wallis Annenberg Scholars program, now in its second year, pays these disadvantaged high school sophomores’ and juniors’ tuition, fees and travel expenses, and throws in new laptops and $600 stipends for good measure. So pleased is Wallis with the program that she plans to “leverage it” to continue outside the Annenberg Challenge framework, which has now expired.

The USC Mobile Dental Unit is another cause that Wallis has adopted. The student-operated ambulatory clinic, which has brought basic dental care – cleanings, x-rays, examinations – to more than 2,000 local schoolchildren, received $100,000 backing from Wallis last year. She says it’s just the beginning. “I want to do the same thing with eye care and hearing tests for area children. It’s so important. If medically you have a problem, you’re already behind the eight-ball without everything else.”

It all comes back to a deeply ingrained principle. “I have been taught since childhood,” she says, “that with privilege comes responsibility. Education is the key that unlocks the doors of opportunity, and we must act responsibly on behalf of the greater need.”

The Annenberg School at USC was created as a stand-alone school, but the ambassador had suggested as early as 1983 that the university should consider bringing all its communication programs under one roof. Those programs were numerous and unruly, going back as far as the university itself. A course in elocution was offered in the inaugural year of 1880. The College of Oratory was founded in 1895, and renamed the School of Speech in 1921. Ten years later it was subsumed into the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, whence it mutated, in 1954, into the Division of Communication, with departments in cinema, drama, journalism, speech and telecommunications. Seeds of a journalism school had sprouted from newspaper writing courses based in the English department starting 1912. A Department of Radio sprang up in 1928. A forensic program emerged in the 1930s, though USC’s nationally ranked debate squad traces its origins to a 1885 Trojan club. Efforts at consolidation had been tried before, without lasting success.

When the early 1990s recession hit USC, fiscal pain proved salutary for communication programs, providing the impetus to finally weave their many strands together. Merging the Annenberg School with the School of Journalism and the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences (a popular undergraduate program in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences) has been an unqualified triumph, USC officials and the Annenbergs agree. Since the 1994 “convergence,” the much-enlarged USC Annenberg School has been on a roll. (In 2002, it comprised 60 full-time faculty, more than 100 adjunct faculty, more than 1,400 undergraduate and graduate students, and an operating budget exceeding $28 million.)

A strategic plan that Cowan says flows directly from the ambassador’s 1971 mission for the school was adopted in 1999. It identifies four areas of strength – globalization, technology, entertainment and the public interest.

“We’re probably one of the strongest, maybe the strongest school in our fields,” Cowan says. That alone, he adds, isn’t good enough: “We should not only be a great academic institution in the traditional sense; wherever possible we should strive to make a difference in the world.”

Lately Cowan, with school directors and other top administrators, has been reconsidering the burgeoning potential of the school’s multi-faceted faculties and students, research centers and policy institutes, seminar series and consortia, and scholarly publications and media outlets.

“We’ve been trying to find all the possible synergies between these schools,” says Cowan – synergies that often cascade over disciplinary walls.

“One of the ways in which the USC Annenberg School may be different from other places is the degree to which we’re interconnected with other units on campus,” says Patricia Riley, who directs the communication side of the house. She cites a steady stream of joint projects with engineering, business, cinema-TV, psychology, education and international relations. Riley herself is currently co-authoring a book with USC Marshall School of Business leadership expert Warren Bennis.

The interdisciplinary thrust shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider that communication touches every aspect of human activity. So within the communication faculty, you’ve got media and politics scholars studying ways to get youth engaged in civic life; and organizational communication experts, like Riley herself, who study the effects of businesses having to operate 24/7. Building on its telecom expertise, the school has carved out a niche in computer-mediated communication, a field concerned with, for example, the effects of teenagers spending untold hours “instant messaging” and surfing the Web.

“It’s a broad program, and we have people who specialize in both the social science and the humanistic side,” says Riley. Everything from ancient Greek principles of argumentation to copyright issues raised by digitization. Even USC’s elite debate squad (they were national champions in 1996) is based here.

For Riley, the $100 million Annenberg gift more than anything is a vote of confidence. “It’s affirming,” she says. “You don’t typically throw that kind of money away. It’ll let a lot of people – who have been working very, very hard; spent all those many, many weekends writing grant proposals and staying up all night doing research – know that they’re appreciated. That’s rare on academic campuses.”

The 1996 Gorman Report ranked the USC Annenberg School third in the country (U.S. News & World Report doesn’t rank communication programs), and last year, an external review team of deans and faculty from peer programs at Columbia, Penn (Annenberg School), UT Austin and UC Berkeley confirmed that ranking, placing it in the top three nationally. Admission – always competitive – is now cut-throat. Freshman SATs last year averaged 1315; the mean GPA was 3.96. Incoming graduate students are the cream of the crop.

To Michael Parks, director of the school’s fast-growing journalism program, the latest $100 million gift has epic qualities: “It ranks Walter Annenberg with Joseph Pulitzer and Joseph Medill,” he says. (The former bankrolled Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism; the latter established Northwestern’s Medill School.) “It’s a commitment to excellence that really looks ahead at what role journalism plays in our democracy,” adds the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent and past editor of the Los Angeles Times.

The J-school has been evolving into “a professional school for people who really think,” according to Cowan. “Our goal is to teach students to be the best at their crafts, but also to understand substance well, so they can ask the very best questions.” The school strongly encourages journalism undergraduates to have at least one other major, or a couple of minors. “We had one undergraduate last year who had three majors!” Cowan says.

How the latest Annenberg windfall is best allocated remains to be seen. Cowan, Parks and Riley plan to hold school-wide meetings to set priorities.

Parks already has his eye on some pressing needs, such as the expected retirement of a large number of distinguished journalism faculty and the need to recruit a successor generation of top-notch mid-career practitioner-professors to replace them.

And there’s the demand, voiced by many students, for greater hands-on experiences. Last fall, the school moved to a convergence curriculum that prepares every student to report, write, produce and edit across all three media – print, broadcast and online.

“That was issue No. 1,” says Parks. “It was a major undertaking.” The school already places majors in two or three outside internships, but undergraduates are clamoring for more. “Going in and logging tapes is different from going on camera or running a camera,” Parks explains. “Being the gofer – though we try to make sure they don’t do much of that in internships – is different than being the anchor.”

Big questions concerning the state of the profession also beckon. “If you’re looking at how to apply an extraordinary gift,” says Parks, “I start with the mission: ‘Improving the practice of journalism.’ Where can we make a difference? Where can we have an impact?” He hardly skips a beat, supplying the obvious answer: “Reform of local broadcast news has got to be one of the top 10 societal priorities we have. It’s abysmal, just abysmal.”

The J-school itself, by contrast, is excellent. Enrollment is on the rise. “We think we’re among the best five or six J-schools in the country – and no one’s told me otherwise,” quips Parks. Attendance figures back that up. Last spring’s undergraduate enrollment was 571, up 20 percent from 1999. Graduate enrollment this fall is expected to top 100 students, double what it was three years ago. Peer institutions include Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, Northwestern’s Medill School and public powerhouses University of Missouri and UC Berkeley.

Standing in one of the USC Annenberg building’s theater-style classrooms, attending a parliamentary debate tournament run by the Trojan Debate Squad in early August, Wallis Annenberg is ringed by chattering teens pressing close to say hello and regale her with pre-college war stories. Wallis beams. She knows many of these kids well: some are here for the second time as Wallis Annenberg Scholars participating in USC’s Summer Seminars program. Whether newbies or repeaters, all 58 at some point this summer had lunch with her at the Faculty Center.

“You never know what’s going to spark them, when a passion for something will arise,” says Wallis, sparkling with passion herself. “Here are children, some of whom have never left that safe harbor. I want them to risk emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.”

As it happens, all four debate finalists are Wallis Annenberg Scholars. One by one, as they take the podium, they thank their smiling patroness before launching into arguments for and against the resolution: “It is better to be smart than popular.” In a surprise ending, the underdog opposition side wins with an unorthodox tactic of arguing “It is better to be smart and popular” (perfectly legal in the take-no-hostages format modeled on Britain’s raucous House of Commons).

When the peanut gallery’s “shames” and “hear-hears” have faded, program coordinator Steve Foral mounts the podium to announce the winner of the first Spirit of Wallis Annenberg Award – recognizing the scholar who best reflects the values of their benefactor. Those values, Foral summarizes, are an abiding belief in the worth of young people (“In an age when it’s fashionable to criticize kids, Wallis says, ‘They’re not so bad’”); faith in the benefits of education (“in a world that encourages you to be dumb”); and a conviction that everyone should develop themselves to their fullest abilities.

“Incidentally, I find Wallis to be both smart and popular,” Foral quips, as he calls on the guest of honor to present her eponymous award to 16-year-old Rachelle Cruz of Hayward, Calif.

From the podium, Wallis looks into the bright faces of her scholars.

“All of you are winners as far as I’m concerned,” she extols them. “How proud I am to know you!”

Goodwill Ambassador

The Hon. Walter H. Annenberg in diplomatic regalia. He was a “symbol of all that Ronald Reagan and I believed in,” says former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of her political ally and friend.
Photo courtesy of Annenberg Foundation

Walter Annenberg, who died in October at the age of 94, will be remembered equally for his philanthropic and his publishing genius.

by Nick T. Spark

In early 1992, USC President Steven B. Sample sent a two-page proposal to Walter Annenberg asking for a small sum to support interaction between several university departments. “It attracted Mr. Annenberg’s attention,” remembers Sample. “And we began to chat about it on the phone.”

Over the course of perhaps a dozen phone calls, Annenberg and Sample chatted about interdisciplinary education. As they did, the philanthropist began redefining the very notion. “His ideas went far beyond what I had in mind,” Sample recalls. “Before I knew it, he was talking about donating a much larger sum of money than I had asked for.”

As Annenberg envisioned it, he would found a new center to foster shared research between USC’s schools of engineering, cinema-television, communication and journalism. It would be a revolutionary model to forever change the notion of interdisciplinary education. The scope of the grant was equally revolutionary: $120 million – among the largest commitments that any individual had ever made in the field of higher education. It represented, like so many of Annenberg’s philanthropic efforts, a tremendous challenge. In accepting it, Sample and USC committed themselves to strive and achieve in ways and directions heretofore unimagined and unexplored.

It was not the first time, nor the last, that Walter Annenberg would challenge USC, or America, to pursue new and visionary goals. Publisher, editor, television broadcast pioneer, former ambassador to the United Kingdom, creator of American icons Seventeen magazine and TV Guide, patron of the arts and humanities, he challenged thousands of people, from elementary school kids to university presidents, and even U.S. presidents and British prime ministers.

Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell calls Annenberg one of his personal role models, and one of the reasons he began working with troubled youth. “He’s always steered me in that direction, public service,” Powell says. “He believes that every citizen is responsible for giving back, in equal measure, that which has been given to them by society. He certainly has.”

“He believes education is wealth,” adds former Brown University president Vartan Gregorian, now director of the non-profit Carnegie Corporation. “Education is a means of liberation from fear, from want, from ignorance, and an investment in the future of our country.”

The scope and scale of Annenberg’s philanthropy is breathtaking. His gifts – presented to schools, universities, museums, foundations and public and private organizations – run into the billions of dollars. This wealth has been committed in a well-defined effort: to promote democracy, to create opportunity and to strengthen the American nation. The central themes have always been the causes of communication, the preservation of culture and, perhaps most importantly, education.

America’s greatest supporter of education for the financially disadvantaged grew up amidst wealth and privilege. The son of Moses Annenberg, a penniless immigrant-turned-millionaire newspaper publisher, young Walter showed remarkable promise from an early age – not just as an entrepreneur but as something of a business savant. While still a student at The Peddie School, a private academy in New Jersey, he invested some poker winnings in the stock market. By the time he graduated, Walter had amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars and made his first philanthropic gesture: a $17,000 gift to his alma mater.

After Peddie, Annenberg was admitted to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. But in 1928, ignoring his father’s strong protests, he dropped out. The lure of the stock market, then soaring to dizzying and ultimately unsupportable heights, was too great. By the time Walter turned 21, the boy-genius was worth more than $3 million. A few months later, he was broke. The Great Crash of ’29 had struck like a cataclysm. If it had not been for his father’s willingness to pay his debts and put him to work, Walter Annenberg would have been destitute. Given a second chance, Annenberg patiently spent years learning the ropes of the publishing business through the family-owned Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily Racing Form.

In 1943, he launched Seventeen, the first magazine to take the concerns of young girls seriously. An even more precocious venture was Annenberg’s purchase, in the 1950s, of several TV stations and a fledgling television schedule tabloid. In 1953, there were scarcely enough programs on television to justify the existence of such a thing. Region by region, Annenberg bought up all the competitors, then set about distributing his new magazine, called TV Guide, nationwide. Many predicted it would fail, and at first TV Guide lost money. But Annenberg remained undaunted, believing that television represented the future.

Around the time he was rebuilding his empire, Annenberg was also rebuilding his personal life. After his first marriage ended, Annenberg met the woman who was to become his soul mate and the bedrock of his social, political and philanthropic life. Leonore Rosenstiel, niece of Columbia Pictures executive Harry Cohn, had grown up in Los Angeles and briefly attended USC before graduating from Stanford in 1940, majoring in history and minoring in political science. She married Walter Annenberg in 1951, thus establishing a team that would have a lasting impact on the country and the world.

One of the team’s great passions was art. Together, they traveled the world and amassed one of the great private collections of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings in the world (which will eventually reside in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art). They also helped fund the construction of galleries and art museums across the United States (including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and abroad.

“I’ll tell you a favorite story,” says friend and Philadelphia attorney Arlin Adams. “One time Walter went to see Monet’s garden at Giverny. Well, as he went through the property, Walter noticed that it was divided by a highway. And he began worrying about the fact that a lot of children came through there… someone might get hurt. So without any solicitation he gave them $5 million to build a passage under the highway.” The donation to Giverny, like so many others, was made with little or no fanfare.

Another great passion the couple shared was Republican politics. Annenberg had served the party behind the scenes for many decades, and in 1968, a grateful Richard Nixon asked him to become the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. (Later, Lee Annenberg would serve as President Reagan’s chief of protocol.)

While the sensationalist British press at first found the American media magnate-turned-diplomat an irresistible target, eventually the English came to admire and even have great affection for the Annenbergs. The turning of the tide owed much to a slow but steady recognition that Walter and Lee were quietly performing acts of charity throughout the country – starting with the exquisite renovation of Winfield House, the official U.S. ambassadorial residence in Regent’s Park. Later, when the Annenbergs announced their substantial art collection would be displayed free of charge at the Tate Gallery, all London applauded.

“He did so much to strengthen the relationship and the natural ties which already existed,” says former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who first met the Annenbergs when she was the Tory minister of education. “Walter could, as the saying goes, walk with kings and not lose the common touch…. He has that marvelous generosity of spirit that is America.” Indeed, Queen Elizabeth knighted him – the only knighthood she ever granted a U.S. ambassador – on her visit to Philadelphia during the American bicentennial celebrations.

Even after he resigned his post in 1975, Annenberg remained an important political advisor to a succession of U.S. presidents, most notably Nixon, Ford and Bush. But it was with his good friends Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that Walter Annenberg was most closely connected. “We all believed the same things,” Thatcher explains. “We believed the same philosophy. And Walter is a living symbol of all that Ronald Reagan and I believed in – that wealth is not created by the dictate of governments but by the talents and creativity and work and inspiration of individuals.”

Walter Annenberg believed that the key to the maintenance of democracy was preservation of the West’s open society. Accordingly he positioned his philanthropy to promote openness – founding think tanks and institutes devoted to the study of religion, politics and media, and twin schools of communication at the University of Pennsylvania and USC. Both schools have championed the media’s independence and impartiality, and made enormous contributions to the fields of media criticism, communications history, technology and public policy.

Like his communication schools, which created groundbreaking critiques of America’s media culture, Walter Annenberg himself became a vital force for change. Through the pages of TV Guide, he became an outspoken critic of television programming and content, which in his view entertained but rarely educated.

His own record in this area was singular. In the 1950s, when TV networks confined their programming to the evenings, Annenberg’s stations ran a groundbreaking series of afternoon shows: college courses taught by real university professors. Thirty years later, Newton Minow – then chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the man who had famously labeled television “a vast wasteland” in 1961 – was urging Annenberg to fund a few educational programs for PBS. Annenberg pledged $5 million for a series on European art. Later, he reneged on this pledge and, in classic style, proposed something far more visionary and expensive.

“He said, ‘I’m not going to give you the $5 million,’” Minow recalls. “Then he said, ‘I’m going to make it $150 million, over a period of 15 years. And we’re not going to just do a series on art but create a ‘University of the Air.’ I want to make it possible for every person in America to have the benefit of a college education.’”

Minow jumped at the chance. “Hundreds of thousands of Americans – hundreds of thousands!” he says gleefully – “have seen the Annenberg courses, benefited from them, and gotten college degrees.”

When in 1988, at the age of 80, Walter Annenberg sold TV Guide, Seventeen and his other publications to Rupert Murdoch and divested himself of his television stations, many assumed his career was winding down.

It turned out he was just switching gears, clearing the decks to devote all his energies to his philanthropy. He intended, he announced, to give away most of his fortune, and do it while he was still able to oversee its distribution. “I want to know where my money’s going,” he once told a reporter, explaining his motivations. “I think it’s a matter of good citizenship.”

The most sweeping expression of Annenberg’s commitment to education was unveiled at a special White House ceremony in 1993. Flanked by President Bill Clinton and Secretary of Education Richard Riley, Annenberg announced a $500 million grant to K-12 public education. The “Annenberg Challenge” had been inspired by a series of troubling press reports concerning rising violence in primary and secondary schools, and declining performance and test scores.

“It makes me frightened for the future of my country,” Annenberg stated at the press conference. “Education is the only answer. It’s the glue that holds civilization together. Without it, we would go back to the Dark Ages.”

The Annenberg Challenge – which concluded in June – sharply focused attention on the nation’s public school system. Structured as a “matching funds” grant, it attracted an additional $600 million in private sector monies to the cause, and created public-private bonds where none existed before.

Welcomed by Sample as “one of the greatest Trojans of all,” Walter Annenberg joined Lee on the 1998 commencement platform as she received an honorary degree.
Photo by Irene Fertik

USC president Steven Sample, who chaired the Annenberg Challenge committee that dispersed $53 million to Southern California schools, notes that “no one program is going to transform the public schools in America. But the Annenberg Grant has shown that one program can make a difference. It has inspired and reinforced many other programs.”

At USC, Annenberg gifts continue to transform the university and define its present and future, and not just in a physical sense. His philosophy of excellence, belief in the necessity of challenge and focus on the future have inspired change at all levels.

“Walter Annenberg invested in this university because he genuinely believed in its ability to develop programs that are the best in the world,” says Sample. “I think that’s done a lot to build our confidence. To raise our sights. To help us reach out and seize opportunities that other universities might have missed altogether.”

Whatever the future brings, one thing is certain, says Sample. “Walter Annenberg’s legacy will be remembered here for centuries to come.”

The Next Revolution

Kerckhoff Hall, USC Annenberg Center home.

In just nine years, the USC Annenberg Center for Communication has emerged as a hub for cutting-edge communications experimentation.

by John Zollinger

“Every human advancement or reversal can be understood through communication,” Walter Annenberg said when he laid out the mission of the USC Annenberg School in 1971. Twenty years later, the ambassador and his family underscored that sentiment with a $120 million endowment to fund the USC Annenberg Center for Communication.

Building on an already strong communications foundation, the center was charged with creating a unique environment for specialists from across USC to venture beyond their particular disciplines, collaborate with researchers in other fields, and use the fruits of their labors to benefit society.

That effort is now under full steam, with a wealth of projects drawing the best and brightest from a wide and diverse selection of university schools and departments.

With the 1993 Annenberg gift – cited in a Los Angeles Times editorial as “a vote of confidence that USC’s future … will remain bright” – the center embarked on a three-fold mission: to capitalize on USC’s academic resources to create an institution focused on communication in the 21st century; to become a focal point for examination of the profound ethical, social, technological and economic opportunities and responsibilities posed by communications; and to concentrate on the experimental, cultural and global aspects of communication from an interdisciplinary perspective.

“The center is really about a revolution,” says executive director Elizabeth Daley – “a revolution in the ways in which people educate, inform and entertain themselves, and the ways in which they relate with one another.”

For nine years, the USC Annenberg Center has been creating that revolution through research projects, grants to faculty members, support for visiting scholars and initiatives based in the three “core schools” the center draws upon – the USC Annenberg School for Communication, the USC School of Cinema-Television and the USC School of Engineering.

“We are interested in interdisciplinary explorations,” says Daley, an award-winning producer who also serves as dean of the cinema-television school. “And we want those explorations to be more than a single project. We want them to somehow create new models.”

A state-of-the-art recording studio supports multimedia projects in the USC Annenberg Center.
Photos courtesy of USC Annenberg Center for Communication

A prime example of this is USC’s Communications Critical Pathway (one of four areas designated by provost Lloyd Armstrong, Jr. as central areas of strength for the university). The USC Annenberg Center serves as the umbrella organization for the effort, bringing together faculty and staff from scores of USC schools and departments to lay out “grand challenges” crying out for scholarly attention. These challenges run the gamut from ascertaining the impact of communications technology on society and culture, to probing how communications technology drives creation and dissemination of knowledge. “The urgency of understanding these relationships grows with each new link between man and machine,” says USC Annenberg Center managing director Todd Richmond.

The Institute for Multimedia Literacy is another example of the Center’s broad reach. Begun in 1998 as a pilot program to integrate multimedia teaching, research and publishing into USC’s undergraduate and graduate curriculum, IML has since worked with nearly 2,000 students and more than 40 courses. The institute established partnerships with the Keck School of Medicine of USC, the USC Rossier School of Education and outside research institutions such as Caltech and UC Berkeley, as well as local schools such as Jefferson High.

“Teachers and students from around and beyond USC are developing modes of understanding and expression in the language of today’s society,” says institute director Stephanie Barish – namely, in the evolving vocabulary of multimedia.

Other USC Annenberg Center efforts include the Labyrinth Project, a research initiative breaking new ground in interactive narrative modes; Annenberg House, a residential facility bringing students from USC’s cinema-television, communication and engineering schools together under one roof; Asian Film Connections, an online database for Asian cinema; Russian Modernism, a collaborative e-learning project developed by some of the nation’s leading Slavic studies scholars; Confronting Convergence, a forthcoming anthology on the democratic development of new technologies; and the USC Television Service, providing campus-wide programming and production support for USC Annenberg Center projects.

When the Annenbergs gave USC the $120 million endowment that created the USC Annenberg Center, part of the funding was intended to serve as seed money to nurture promising projects. Once established, these important projects, coupled with the cachet of the Annenberg name, would open the door to additional outside funding. It’s an approach Walter Annenberg used effectively time and again in his philanthropy.

The time-tested formula reaps rewards at the center: the Institute for Multimedia Literacy has attracted more than $10 million in grants from Atlantic Philanthropies, enabling major program expansions; Women Connect! – under the direction of cinema-TV and communication professor Doe Mayer – secured $1 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the project’s communication-training efforts directed at rural women in Africa; and a $100,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation has helped finance the latest series of interactive art collaborations of the Labyrinth Project.

“There is absolutely no question that the initial and continuing support we have received from the Annenberg Center has been essential to our success in gaining further funding,” says religion professor Bruce Zuckerman, who heads up the InscriptiFact project, a unique image database of ancient texts and objects accessible online to Middle Eastern studies scholars around the world. Building on USC Annenberg Center seed money, InscriptiFact has attracted a $750,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, along with donations from Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and other private sources.

Beyond supporting these projects and initiatives, the center provides annual funding to the core school deans to promote key communications projects. The USC Annenberg School for Communication channels this support to the Online Journalism and Communication Program and Annenberg TV News, which have earned national recognition for their work in training the journalists of tomorrow. The School of Cinema-Television applies its portion to the Interactive Media Program, a cutting-edge master’s program that matriculated its first class this fall. The School of Engineering uses its share to supplement its Interactive Media Systems Center, a NSF-sponsored multimedia and Internet research think-tank.

“The USC Annenberg Center has enormously enriched the life of students at the USC Annenberg School,” says communication school dean Geoffrey Cowan. The center “made it possible for us to engage in some research projects and ongoing activities that wouldn’t have been possible without it.”

Having successfully advanced on several fronts over the past nine years, what does the future hold?

“Be it the Communications Critical Pathway, the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, the Labyrinth Project, the school-based programs or any of the other groups the USC Annenberg Center supports, we will continue to foster new directions for research and education and create new opportunities for the community, both at USC and beyond,” says Daley.

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