Sally Jessy Raphael
|Sally Jessy Raphael
February 25, 1935
Easton, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Talk show host
Andrew Vladimir (1953-1958; divorced; 2 children)
Karl Soderland (1962-present; 1 child)
Sally Lowenthal (born February 25, 1935), better known as Sally Jessy Raphael, is an American former talk show host known for her talk show program Sally, which she hosted for two decades, and for the bright red oversized eyeglasses she wears in all public appearances.
Lowenthal was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, in 1935, and graduated from Easton Area High School. She also spent time in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where her father, Jesse Lowenthal, was in the rum exporting business and her mother, Zelda Lowenthal (aka Dede Lowry), ran an art gallery. Sally has a younger brother, Steven Lowenthal.
She spent part of her teenage years in Scarsdale, New York, where one of her first media jobs was at the local AM radio station, WFAS. The station had a program by and for junior high school students and Raphael read the news. She attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. Raphael studied acting under the tutelage of Sanford Meisner at New York City’s prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse.
Journalism and broadcasting
Following her graduation from Columbia University, she became a news correspondent, covering Central America for the Associated Press and United Press International, thanks in large part to her ability to speak both English and Spanish fluently. She also got considerable experience in the media in Puerto Rico, where she worked in both radio and television—one of her jobs was doing a TV cooking show. It was while working in radio that she met the man who became her second husband, Karl Soderlund, who was the general manager of a radio station that hired her. After he was fired, the two left Puerto Rico to work in Miami, Florida. It was while Raphael was on the air as a radio announcer in Miami that she met and became friends with talk show host Larry King.
By her own admission, Raphael's broadcasting career was not an immediate success. She told numerous reporters over the years that she bounced around from station to station in both Puerto Rico and the United States, working as a disc jockey, news reporter, and the host of a show where she interviewed celebrities. She refused to give up, even though at one point, she had worked at 24 stations, and was fired from 18 of them. In the early 1980s, she would finally get the right opportunity when she was asked to do a call-in advice show on radio. In the late 1980s, she guest starred as herself in The Equalizer episode "Making of a Martyr".
Raphael's husband Karl Soderlund assumed the role of her manager, and was a partner in her two biggest successes. She hosted a radio call-in advice show distributed by NBC Talknet which ran from Monday November 2, 1981 to 1987, but is most famous for hosting the television talk show, The Sally Jessy Raphael Show (later shortened to simply Sally), which ran in first-run syndication from October 17, 1983 to 2002. "Talknet" was brand new when she came to the attention of producer Maurice Tunick. According to David Richards of The Washington Post, Tunick had auditioned a number of potential hosts, but hadn't yet found the right one. Tunick gave Raphael a one-hour trial run on NBC's Washington, D.C. affiliate, WRC, in August 1981. Before going on the air, she decided that rather than doing a political show, she would give advice and discuss subjects she knew a lot about, such as relationship problems. Soon, her advice show was being heard on over 200 radio stations, and she developed a loyal group of fans.
One of those fans turned out to be talk show legend Phil Donahue who happened to hear her show one night and liked how she related to the audience. His encouragement led to a tryout on television, where producer Burt Dubrow gave her a chance to be a guest host on a talk show of his. She was not very polished, but people who had loved her radio show were very positive about her being on TV. Her non-threatening and common-sense manner appealed to Dubrow, who believed she would gain more confidence as she got some TV experience. By mid-October 1983, she was given her own show on KSDK-TV in St. Louis. The Sally Jessy Raphaël Show was only a half-hour, but it was the beginning of her successful career as a talk show host.
Raphael became known to television viewers for her oversized red-framed glasses, a trademark that began entirely by accident. In 1983, she began having trouble seeing the Teleprompter clearly, and she went to buy some reading glasses at a nearby store. All they had was a pair with red frames, and being in a hurry, she bought them. While her bosses disliked them, the audience seemed to think they looked good, so she kept wearing that style from then on. In 1989, Raphael won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show. During the 1990s, as competition in the talk show arena intensified, her show moved toward more sensationalistic topics, as did many of the other talk show hosts who were her competition, including Jerry Springer (who, at the time, was also distributed by Multimedia Entertainment) and Maury Povich.
By 2000, both Raphael and Springer were in decline. As one media critic observed, Springer's ratings were the lowest they had been in 3 years, but Raphael's ratings were now the lowest they had been in 12 years. Raphael was already having problems with her syndicator: she believed that USA Networks Inc. was more interested in doing promotion for Springer, whose show was more popular than hers, and Povich, who had recently left Paramount Television to join USA's syndication arm, than they ever were for her show. She celebrated her 3,500th episode in early 1998, but after that, as her ratings began to decrease and her dissatisfaction with her syndicator persisted, it seemed only a matter of time before her relationship with USA Networks would come to an end. By March 2002, it was announced that after an 18-year run, her show was being canceled. In 2002 Raphael was named by Talkers Magazine to both their 25 Greatest Radio Talk Show Hosts of all time (she was #5), and the 25 Greatest Television Talk Show Hosts of all time (she was #11). She was one of only three personalities to make both the radio and the TV lists.
From approximately 2005 to 2008, she hosted a daily radio show, Sally Jessy Raphael on Talknet (previously called Sally JR's Open House), on the Internet and in syndication to local radio stations. The show's flagship station was WVIE, Baltimore, Maryland and the show aired on AM stations in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest, in addition to at least one station in Arizona. The show also aired on XM Satellite Radio's America's Talk channel from November 19, 2007 until its end. The name "Talknet" is a revival of the name of NBC Talknet, the now defunct radio network that carried her previous radio show from 1981 to 1987. She abruptly ended the show July 7, 2008.
Sally Jessy Raphael was married for the first time in 1953, at age 18, to Andrew Vladimir, with whom she had two daughters: Allison and Andrea. They divorced 5 years later. One of her daughters from that union, Allison, died on February 2, 1992. Allison was 33 years old, and her death was ruled an accidental overdose because of 'combined effects of several prescribed drugs'.
In 1962 Sally married Karl Soderlund. Together they have an adopted son. Sally now resides in Dutchess County, New York.
- Du Brow, Rick (May 17, 1990). "A Star by Word of Mouth Television: Sally Jessy Raphaël works without the razzle and dazzle of her competitors, but she's been nominated again for an Emmy as best talk-show host.". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-05.
- "Sally Jessy Raphael Biography (1943-)". Film Reference. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
- Bates, James (July 25, 1995). "Gannett to Buy Multimedia for $1.7 Billion : Media: The publisher of USA Today will pay cash for the firm best known for such television shows as 'Donahue' and 'Sally Jessy Raphael.'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-06.
- Talkers Magazine Online
- "Donahue, Sally Jessy, Geraldo, Montel, Ricki: Talk Show Hosts—Where are They Now?" at the Wayback Machine (archived June 17, 2011) from Oprah.com (November 8, 2010)
- "Chronicle". The New York Times. February 6, 1992. Retrieved 2012-10-05.