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Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Roone Arledge papers, 1953-2002. 

Creator: 
Arledge, Roone.
Phys. Desc: 
20 linear ft. ( 39 boxes, 1 large index card box)
Call Number: 
MS# 1423
Location: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Online information

Biographical Note

Roone Pinckney Arledge Jr. was born on July 8, 1931 in Forest Hill,s Queens. His father was a lawyer for equitable Life Insurance and his mother, Gertrude, was a housewife. The family moved to Merrick, Long Island where Arledge attended Mepham High School. Arledge went to Columbia College where he majored in Foreign Affairs, Politics and Government, and the Humanities. During his undergraduate years, he was a member, and eventually president, of Phi Gamma Delta, a member of the Class Steering Committee, and received Gold and Silver King's Crowns for extracurricular leadership. He was also editor of both the Columbian (the yearbook) and The Spectator (the campus newspaper). Arledge attended Columbia from 1948 to 1952; however, he officially graduated in 1954. Arledge also pursued graduate work at the School of International Affairs, Columbia University. He specialized in the Near and Middle East, but did not complete the program. Arledge first started working in television in December 1952 for the DuMont Television Network. He was the assistant to the Associate Director of Programming and Production. His duties included managing the budget for select shows, paying talent, and general administrative work. In March of 1953, Arledge was conscripted to the United States Army. There he served as Chief of the Radio and Television Section of the Public Information Office at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. In this role, Arledge distributed information with regard to the United States Army Ordnance Corps, its weapons, training and other relevant issues to local radio stations and television networks. He also produced, directed, and wrote a thrice-weekly radio program. Arledge received a Good Conduct medal in December of 1954 and a National Defense Service Medal. During this time, Arledge married his first wife, Joan Dorothy Heise. They would go on to have four children together: Roone Pinckney, Patricia Lu, Elizabeth Ann, and Susan Lee. Arledge was hired by NBC in 1954. Shortly after, he was transferred to the Army Reserve. At NBC, Arledge held a variety of positions. He was a stage manager, then unit Supervisor, and finally a staff producer/director. In this last position he produced a children's show entitled Hi Mom, Christmas at Rockefeller Center (featuring Dick Button who was later a commentator for Ice Skating at the ABC covered Olympics), Sunday's Schedule, election night coverage, and travel shows. Arledge also wrote several shows. Masterpiece dramatized stories on the creation of "high art," such as the Sistine Chapel. A second concept, For Men Only, would feature jazz music and present male-oriented topics. While both shows were unsuccessful, the latter caught the eye of Edgar J. Scherick who ran the sports division for ABC. In 1960 Arledge joined ABC Sports as a producer of NCAA football games. ABC was in financial trouble and, in terms of ratings, the weakest of the three major stations: ABC, CBS, and NBC. This was an opportune moment to enact change at ABC and throughout his career, Arledge did simply that. One year after being hired, Arledge created ABC's Wide World of Sports, one of the highest rated sports shows in television history. In 1968, Arledge became president of ABC Sports. Under his guidance, ABC Sports grew one of the most well-known and respected broadcasting organizations in the world. Arledge promoted the use of innovative camera techniques such as slow motion, freeze frame, instant replay, split-screen, incorporated underwater cameras during swimming competitions and utilized endzone cameras during football coverage. In addition to Wide World of Sports, Arledge brought football to primetime, a move that no one had attempted. With NFL Monday Night Football, a new era in sports broadcasting was opened. A key aspect of Arledge's impact was his use of commentators for sporting events. Previously, leagues had the right to approve announcers. Arledge ignored this trend and decided to use Howard Cosell against the views of the league. Along with Cosell, Jim McKay and Frank Gifford became household names as sports announcers. This technique, of using "star" personalities came into play when Arledge moved over to ABC News as well. Arledge and ABC Sports also presented major golf tournaments, Major League Baseball, championship boxing, the Indianapolis 500, racing, including the Kentucky Derby and ten Olympic Games. He was president of that division until 1986. While at ABC Sports, Arledge divorced his first wife and married Ann Fowler, a former Miss Alabama, in 1976. On June 1, 1977, in a wave of more unprecedented action, Arledge was named President of ABC News in addition to ABC Sports. In this role, he created the top shows World News Tonight, 20/20, Closeup, and Nightline. He was instrumental in building a team of top journalists and aggressively pursued anchors from other networks. Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Peter Jennings, David Brinkley, and Ted Koppell all worked for Arledge. ABC News represented big names as well as big salaries, another first in the industry. Roone Arledge kept this position for almost ten years and maintained his role as President of ABC News for twenty. In 1997, David Westin was named President of ABC News and Arledge became Chair. Almost all of Arledge's news shows had received awards and the network itself had received the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for the overall commitment of excellence, the first time a news organization had been honored in that way. Arledge had won 37 Emmys, including the first life-time achievement Emmy ever granted, the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Journalism Alumni Association, the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for live television broadcasting, and the Silver Medal of the Olympic Order from the International Olympic Committee. He was quoted as saying his most treasured award was a George Foster Peabody Award--he received a total of four of these awards--given for coverage of the 1972 Olympics in Munich where eleven Israeli athletes were taken hostage and killed. ABC was the only network able to transmit their broadcast out of Germany and link the rest of the world to the tragedy. Arledge had battled prostate cancer in the last years of his life, conducting business mainly by phone, but nevertheless, staying in the thick of work. He died on November 5, 2002.

Scope and Contents

The Roone Arledge Papers consist primarily of office material generated from his time as President of ABC News and ABC Sports. The bulk of the collection is comprised of correspondence, both internal to the corporation and external. Letters were exchanged between Arledge and other top management during all phases of a show: the creation, production, and maintenance. There are also topical files related to the management of the two divisions, such as financial records, program development documents, rating and industry reports, legal records, and trip itineraries for numerous business trips to Europe and Asia. On a broader level, there are records concerning Arledge's overall career at ABC. These consist of various awards and honors he received, research material on other television networks and stations, articles, and papers from professional organizations that he had been involved with.