Sonny Fox talks at the Soap Summit VIII in 2003.
As an organization, we are full of love and gratitude for Sonny Fox. He was instrumental in shaping PCI Media into who we are today. He leaves an important legacy as an innovator of Entertainment-Education at PCI Media, USC-Annenberg, and countless organizations and institutions. We’d like to share reflections about Sonny from two Board members who know him well.
Sonny Fox’s Legacy at PCI Media, Rita Fredricks Salzman
PCI Media’s Former Chair, Irwin ”Sonny” Fox, Dies at 95
The PCI Media family—board of directors, staff, donors and partners worldwide mourn the passing of our former chair, friend and colleague, Sonny Fox on January 24th at his home in in Encino, California. As the creative genius behind the PCI Media “Soap Summits”, he helped demonstrate that the emerging field of Entertainment-Education could harness the power of broadcast media with the emotional impact of a good story, well told. He was among the pioneers who linked storytelling to broadcast media in the promotion of soap operas for social change. To this day, PCI Media’s work in the field includes hit radio and television programs in 67 countries of Asia, Africa and the Americas.
As an early television network host on the hit children’s show, “Wonderama”, Sonny found himself as a teacher and friend to children who appreciated his treating them with respect and innovation. Later, his powers of persuasion and persistence were readily apparent as he traveled the world to promote family planning, gender equality and related public health measures…often meeting with major broadcasting officials, academics, and a long list of local actors, writers and artists who could change attitudes and behaviors in the episodes of countless hit serial dramas.
He produced several short films employing the proprietary methodology that became the landmark of PCI Media’s creative storytelling.
Sonny worked tirelessly to help promote PCI Media’s work and to share it wherever it was needed. In the United States, wherever Sonny traveled, former fans of his children’s show stopped him to say how profoundly he changed their lives. He appreciated their attention and loved their remembering a favorite episode or experience. His friendship, creativity and good humor will be his legacy and he will be sorely missed.
Meesha Brown, PCI Media’s President and CEO put it best when she said, “Sonny’s life and his passion for social and behavior change communications continues to be an inspiration to us all. He understood that radio and television could literally change the world with stories of hope and inspirational messages and we proudly continue to build on that vision today.”
Memories of Sonny from Paula Woodley
My memories of Sonny Fox are filled with gratitude, friendship and storytelling. I first met Sonny when he joined a non-profit board of directors that I sat on. We struck up a rather unlikely friendship (considering our age difference) and often had lunch while he regaled me with stories of his remarkable life. When I started graduate school at USC-Annenberg, my first class was with Dr. Mike Cody where I learned about entertainment-education (E-E). At the next board meeting it struck me that this sounded a lot like what Sonny was doing over at PCI Media. Of course, it was exactly what he was doing all across the globe. Sonny called it “Telling Stories, Saving Lives.”
I badgered him into letting me intern at the LA office of PCI Media (formerly Population Communications International), even though he didn’t need an intern. I just wanted to absorb as much as I could. At that time, Sonny was working on his book But You Made the Front Page, so he had memorabilia of his life all over his office. He was in a reflective mood and shared stories of WWII, being in a prison camp, and how, as a Jew, he survived. He talked about his time at Voice of America and shared letters with famous people and politicians, including, with great pride, Bobby Kennedy. He delighted in the stacks of letters from men and women still in awe of him 50 years after his New York TV show, Wonderama, was off the air.
While I was his intern, Sonny taught an evening class on entertainment-education at UCLA. I talked my way into helping him there, too, and was privileged to attend every class and meet the extraordinary line up of scholars and experts from the field. Nothing can compare to dinner with Dr. Albert Bandura (whom Sonny called “Uncle Al”) before class and being his wheels to the airport the next day.
In the summer after my internship, Sonny arranged with Geoff Cowan to bring in entertainment-education experts from around the world to Annenberg and enroll them in the Communication Management program for the summer. Sonny elected me as the liaison between these special guests, PCI Media and Annenberg. Again, he generously introduced me to the scholars in the field with lectures, dinners, deeply meaningful experiences and new lifelong friends. Once again, I shared a meal with Dr. Bandura and also an afternoon with Dr. Arvind Singhal, who has been my mentor and dear friend ever since.
When I started teaching the Social Marketing & Entertainment-Education course in the USC-Annenberg Communication Management program, Sonny was often my first guest lecturer of the term. Beaming with pride, he would establish the true value of storytelling and delight my class with stories and videos of the work of PCI Media. Sonny also delighted in helping my grad students and took countless meetings over many years to advise them.
Sonny’s love for me was tough and fatherly. He would allow only seconds of tears and then remind me that the Paula he knew was strong and could handle it all. But when Sonny was proud of me, he’d write me a beautiful letter that recounted the specifics of my accomplishments. Lunches and dinners with Cely and Sonny were always like coming home (but to a much nicer house!). Sonny and I had lunch every June to celebrate our birthdays for no less than 10 years in a row. He always had travel, reunions, keynote addresses, and projects in the works that he was excited to share. Sonny was strong and powerful, caring and creative, and always full of energy in his bigger than life persona I adored.
In a wonderful circle and due to what I learned from Sonny and the people he introduced me to, I have been honored to serve on PCI Media’s board of directors for the past four years.
We had lunch on the books that were canceled when quarantine just began. He was looking forward to getting out of his room and telling me all about the weekly programs he was leading for the other residents. I’ll miss you, Sonny, and will never forget all you did for storytelling — and for me. I’m sure wherever you are, you are still telling stories.
May his memory be a blessing to all who knew him. זיכרונו לברכה
Love you always, my friend.
This photo is from our last birthday lunch. Luckily, Dr. Devendra Sharma, an EE scholar and performer who guest lectured for Sonny at UCLA, was in town. We had a wonderful time!