The Deeds of My Fathers, by Author Paul David Pope

FOREWORD: A TALE OF THREE SONS

I initially intended to write only the life story of my father, Gene Pope, Jr., a remarkably complicated man who founded the National Enquirer. His story alone is certainly worthy of a book. But as I was researching his life, I came across the transcript of a dictated note in which my father indicated his true feelings for me. He described me as the second coming of Generoso Pope, Sr., his father, who came to America in 1906 with ten dollars in his pocket and not a word of English in his vocabulary and went on to become one of New York City’s wealthiest men and an influential power broker in the city and the nation. Streets and tunnels, bridges, skyscrapers and airports were constructed with materials supplied by his company, Colonial Sand & Stone, while national opinion was shaped by the media companies he came to own.

The Deeds of My Fathers thus became the saga of both men and how they changed America. The women in their lives also played important, often colorful roles in their success. Some were strong figures who could be as ruthless as their husbands. Others were crushed while the men in their lives forged their careers. In the end, few were left untouched by the lives of Generoso Pope, Sr. and his youngest son, Generoso Paul Pope, Jr., known widely as Gene.

Their stories encompass immigration, ambition, wealth, power, ruthlessness, crime, punishment, betrayal, and redemption. They involve organized crime and its role in my grandfather and father’s climb to riches and power, and in the careers of mayors, judges, governors, and presidents, all providing singular insight into the corruption that fueled urban and national politics for so many decades.

I have chosen to present my father and grandfather not only as ambitious visionaries, but also as the imperfect human beings that they were. Dark sides of them invariably emerged from time to time. They were complex, conflicted individuals with flaws and foibles. Some people were hurt by their deeds, while others prospered because of their vision and ambition.

Finally, there is a personal reason I have been driven to tell the tale of these epic American lives. I wanted to put between covers the whole story about my two forebears, much of it never told before, so that I might also learn and know myself better. Throughout, I have been determined to shine light on all sides and let the chips—the light and the dark—fall where they may.

The extensive research that went into this book is detailed in the Appendix & Notes on Sources section beginning on page 355. Many of the most important events in the Pope family’s history were private conversations among family members. Unlike what a reader today might almost expect, there were no devices recording the conversations during the decades covered here, and no historians stood near my grandfather or father as events occurred. Instead, the means of transmission for posterity was most often a family member talking to a relative, or with someone who worked for a Pope family business. Fortunately, my grandfather and father were gregarious in discussing their lives and careers, as were others.

I want to assure the reader that everything included in these pages is here because, to the best of my knowledge and memory, it corresponds with what all the best evidence suggests was actually said and what actually occurred. All dialogue was included only after research confirmed that certain meetings took place, and only when multiple sources indicated what was said in those meetings. Throughout the entire process, stretching over more than a decade, my unswerving goal has been to maintain fidelity to the true character, verifiable motivations, and authentic personality of each person portrayed here.

Paul David Pope
Weston, Florida, June 2010


PROLOGUE: A MEETING WITH FRANK COSTELLO

In December 1951, my father, Gene Pope, went to see Uncle Frank in the hope of securing a loan for a business venture. “Uncle” Frank was Frank Costello, inheritor of Lucky Luciano’s power, and head of New York’s Genovese crime family. In the press he was known as “the prime minister of the underworld” because of his vast political connections. Costello and my grandfather, Generoso Pope, Sr., had emigrated from Italy to America only ten years apart and grew to be close friends, with each becoming a potent force in New York City. The bond they shared is chronicled in later chapters of this book. The connection was so strong that when, in 1950, Generoso, Sr. was nearing death, he told my father, his youngest son: “If you have any problems, go see Uncle Frank.” At that juncture, Gene Pope did have a lot of problems.

He’d learned that the New York Enquirer, a newspaper owned by William Griffin, was in deep financial trouble and that Griffin was looking for a buyer. The price: $75,000, with a third down. Gene was coming off a wrenching family confrontation, with his older brothers Fortune and Anthony and their mother, Catherine, that had effectively cut him out of Pope family businesses that Generoso, Sr. had intended that Gene would run. Gene had just returned from a Florida honeymoon with his first wife, Patty McManus, and had what he estimated to be $5,000, hardly enough to buy even a failing rag like the Enquirer.

“Yeah, I’ll lend you the twenty-five grand for the down payment,” Costello told him, “but let me broker the deal. Griffin owes me a favor. Are you sure you want it?”

That was a good question. The Enquirer didn’t look like a rational investment—certainly not for seventy-five thousand dollars. Not only was the paper’s circulation low, its offices looked as though they’d been cannibalized and then abandoned, with broken desks and threelegged chairs, six working typewriters out of twelve, and fifty years’ worth of yellowed copies piled to the ceiling in the narrow hallway because there was no room for a proper newspaper morgue. There was only one full-time employee, Griffin’s elderly sister, who toiled as bookkeeper. Everyone else had been fired to save money; copy written by moonlighters at other papers filled the columns each week. “Yes, I’m sure,” Gene said. “I like the sound of Gene Pope’s New York Enquirer.” He said he had plans to transform the paper into something profitable.

Costello would give him the down payment of $25,000 with no interest, but there were a few strings attached. The longest of them would be that Gene was not to mention gangsters or racketeers or organized crime in any way. The New York Enquirer’s front page had been taking on organized crime almost every week. While the paper was going bust, Enquirer readers had been treated to: “ANASTASIA SEIZED WITH 25” (about the brutal Brooklyn mob boss Albert “The Earthquake” Anastasia); “G-MEN SEIZE SLOT MACHINES WORTH MILLIONS, ARREST 44”; “U.S. LIFTS FRONTS OF MOBSTERS”; “ANGRY CHICAGO ROUNDS UP HOODLUMS”; “U.S. TRACES DOPE INFLUX TO LUCIANO”; and “RUDOLPH HALLEY REVEALS NEW CRIME CZAR AS COSTELLO QUITS” (about how publicity from the recent Kefauver Commission Senate hearings into organized crime had weakened Costello).

Costello’s second condition for letting Gene have the money was that the paper would have to run features and photos and good reviews of the nightclubs he and his pals owned, and of the performers they managed.

Third, the Enquirer would attack the enemies of organized crime, especially do-gooder politicians trying to make a name for themselves by going after gangsters.

Costello was to be repaid in cash as soon as possible, delivered to him week by week as money came in from newsstand sales.

Gene agreed to the deal and hailed a cab to take him to the lawyer’s offices to sign the papers. In his breast pocket was a certified check for $25,000. But when he went to pay the cabbie, he discovered that his other pockets were empty. He ended up paying for the ride with a silver dollar he kept in his wallet for good luck.

After the transaction was completed, Gene strode down Walker Street to the Enquirer offices in lower Manhattan. He chuckled, wondering if the street might have been named after Jimmy Walker, mayor of New York from 1926 to 1932, who’d been instrumental in Generoso, Sr. gaining much of his early influence. Gene hoped that maybe Walker Street would be as lucky for him as Jimmy and his father had been for each other. It’s probable that Gene’s elation at becoming a newspaper publisher dispelled any shadows cast by the fact that Beau Jimmy—as the sharp-dressing pol was known—had been forced from office in disgrace after his ethical and material excesses no longer amused the good people of New York, once the Great Depression had taken hold of their city. Well, one thing he had to admit as he stood in front of the crumbling excuse for a building—he was certainly following his father in one respect: he was starting very near the bottom, as Generoso had.

It was a distinctly inauspicious beginning for what would become a national media powerhouse, stretching and redefining many of the rules of journalism while changing our culture as well.

This was the birth of the National Enquirer.


Excerpt from CHAPTER 7: "GUINEA FUCKING ROCKEFELLER"

Another letter arrived from Carlo. Generoso read the words three times before crumpling the page. He worked the rest of the day with his lips pursed, speaking to no one, and that night he rode the subway and El to East Harlem. He needed to hear Italian, and he did, on the streets, in the shops, and while sitting alone in a trattoria ignoring the plate of pasta he’d ordered. Next door was a tavern, and this young man who generally preferred eating sand to drinking hard liquor had four fast grappas. When they hit his gut, he became aware of a horrible emptiness that turned into grief. He began to sob.

Some of the men at the bar moved to comfort him.

“Is that you, Generoso Papa?” Francesco Castiglia asked.

“Who are you?” Generoso asked. The words spilled out in an angry slur.

“Don’t you remember me?” Francesco asked.

“No, so fuck you.”

The others at the bar sucked in their breath and cringed at what they imagined would soon happen to Generoso. He’d probably lose some fingers, possibly a foot, maybe his tongue. People who talked to Francesco that way usually paid a high price.

“I see you’ve learned English,” Francesco said.

He didn’t remind the drink-addled Generoso that they’d been friends ten years earlier in East Harlem when Generoso had first come to America, and that Generoso had enjoyed watching Francesco run his sidewalk craps games, nor that they’d been born in the same year, 1891. He didn’t tell Generoso that he’d changed his name to Frank Costello, or that he’d been arrested but not convicted a few times for assault and robbery. And he certainly didn’t say that he was about to spend a year in prison for getting caught carrying a gun. He’d been hauled in front of the wrong judge, a man who wouldn’t play the usual game. With the right judge, nothing would have stuck, the way nothing ever had before. Nor would again, he had decided.

Deep in his cups, Generoso didn’t recognize his old acquaintance  and had a hard time keeping his eyes focused. This loss of control angered him, and he spewed another volley of obscenities. Costello waited good-naturedly for them to pass. When they did, Generoso cried and said, “My father’s dead.”

He produced the crumpled letter from his pocket. As Costello tried to read it, Generoso shouted, “He can go to hell. He was a worthless old man, worthless and stupid with a dick for brains. Jesus Christ, I hated him, him and his fucking wine which he can’t bring to my wedding.”

“So you’re getting married, huh?” Costello said. “Congratulations.Sal, another drink for my friend.”

The bartender put a grappa on the bar near Generoso.

“Tell me about your father,” Costello said.

Generoso did, blaming the old man for his mother’s death and for keeping his brother away from him. When he was finished, Costello suggested that the old man’s fatal mistake, the one that made his son’s blood boil, was not being stronger than whatever had pulled him down.

Telling the story exhausted Generoso and he fell asleep, facedown on the bar. He awoke in the morning in the same position, his cheek lying in vomit, his head pounding. He checked his pocket for his money, found it was still there, splashed water on his face, threw five bucks on the bar, and let himself out.


Further excerpt from CHAPTER 7: "GUINEA FUCKING ROCKEFELLER"

That night, Gallagher and two men Generoso didn’t recognize pulled up at the dock in a dark sedan. Generoso was alone.

“Colonial’s not for sale,” Generoso said.

Gallagher laughed. “Everything’s for sale,” he said.

“Not Colonial.”

“You’re just the guinea on the docks. What’s it to you?”

“I like my job,” Generoso said. He pulled his right hand from his coat pocket and showed the revolver. It surprised Gallagher. The goons with him pulled their guns, too.

Gallagher took a look around, including up at the rooftops.

“It’s just me here,” Generoso said, his voice cold and flat. He leaned in close enough to Gallagher to smell alcohol on the man’s breath. “You want Colonial so much? Take it for nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Yeah, all you gotta do is put us out of business. If you can.” Generoso’s eyes didn’t betray any fear, but his knees shook beneath the wide legs of his slacks. “Only I don’t think you can.”

“Maybe we’ll start by killing you,” Gallagher said.

“No, I don’t think you will,” Generoso said. “A lot of people know who I was meeting tonight, and a lot of people like me. Besides, it wouldn’t be worth it to you. Your buddies can’t get you off for murder, not of an American citizen.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because if they could, we wouldn’t be talking right now. I’d already be dead. Schmidt, too. You’d have shut us down for the cost of two bullets.”

After a moment of chest puffing, Gallagher let himself smile. “You’ve got some nerve,” he said. “Maybe one day you’ll come to work for me.”

“Or maybe,” Generoso said, “you’ll come work for me.

Gallagher’s smile disappeared. He and his bodyguards climbed back into their car and Generoso watched them disappear around the corner of the building. He exhaled and took a deep breath for the first time in minutes. Despite the cool night, he was sweating.

Leaving the dock, he noticed an open storage door banging in the wind on the second story of the warehouse. He knew that nothing important was behind it; it could have stayed open until morning. But Generoso was a stickler for details on his dock. He grabbed a metal ladder, placed it under the open door, climbed to the top, and shut and latched the door. But as he started back down, a hand with a viselike grip grabbed his right ankle and yanked him off the ladder, sending him into a freefall. He was lucky. His hands hit first and kept his head from smashing into the dock. Pain shot through his arms. His palms were filled with wood splinters, and he tried to move his wrists. The left one was definitely broken.

“Mr. Gallagher says you need to learn some manners,” one of Gallagher’s men who’d been at the meeting said as he walked away.

Generoso sat on the dock. He wiggled his wrist, purposely making it hurt. Pain cleared his mind of the shock. The assault meant that he’d won a battle in the war. He knew that because he was still alive.

Before going home, he stopped at Giovanni Perilli’s, a doctor he knew in Little Italy, who removed the splinters and set his wrist.

“The Gallaghers, huh?” Perilli said. “You’re lucky to be alive, Generoso.” 


Excerpt from CHAPTER 14: THE MURDER OF CARLO TRESCA

Mussolini pinned more awards on Generoso, making him an Officer of the Crown of Italy. In the celebration afterward, with thousands thronging the piazza, photographers caught Generoso standing before Rome’s Victory Monument with several internationally important Fascists, raising his arm, with the others, in the Fascist salute.

Later, Generoso met with Mussolini alone in a palace anteroom where a painting of Il Duce, arm high, dominated one wall.

“What is it, Commendatore?” Mussolini asked.

“This is a delicate subject, Duce,” Generoso said, “but I must raise it with you. As you know,” he continued tentatively, “there are many Jewish people in America, and some are even our leaders in Washington. They tell me that they are concerned that you will submit laws like those in Germany, the ones about Jews, removing their rights as citizens.”

Generoso checked to see whether he’d crossed an invisible line. Mussolini’s face and posture indicated that he was still listening. Generoso said, “I have assured Washington that they should not worry, that you yourself have a special Jewish friend, Margherita, and that you yourself laughed at the laws of Nuremberg two years ago and said how stupid they were. Yes?” Margherita Sarfatti was Mussolini’s Jewish mistress, though I do not know why my grandfather believed that her ethnic background would have had any policy implications: he was, simply, grasping for a handhold in the conversation.

The corners of Mussolini’s mouth turned up slightly in something that looked like a smile. “I told them,” Generoso went on, “that there are hardly fifty thousand Jews in Italy, a pittance, hardly worth mentioning, and that they are very important in banking and business and the arts and the universities, and that they are Italian first and Hebrew second. As you know, many Jews took part in the march on Rome and are Fascists themselves, or they support you. I have said that you yourself support the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine.”

Mussolini smiled and nodded. “Well done, Commendatore,” he said. Mussolini must have been pleased that his visitor from America had done most of the talking, leaving him the need to commit to little.

Generoso returned to the United States, to the halls of Congress, and to the Oval Office bearing what he called “personal assurances” that the Jews of Italy were safe from the terrors of anti-Semitic legislation. Of course, Mussolini had not really articulated assurances of any kind.

From Roosevelt and Hull—for his part, the secretary of state was rarely known for a friendly response to Jewish concerns—down to Dickstein, there was relief. But only for a few months.


Excerpt from CHAPTER 20: ROY COHN BREAKS A NEWSSTAND BOYCOTT

One Monday morning—when the nanny had her day off—he dropped little Gene off at his mother’s with her housekeeper. He folded a fresh copy of the Enquirer on the parson’s table near the entry and wrote in the margin: “Thought you might enjoy this. Gene.” When he came back that night he noticed the paper, still folded, in a trash can placed conspicuously near the front door.

“You embarrass me,” his mother said. “You embarrass me in front of my friends. They ask why my son prints such junk.”

“Why don’t you tell them, Mother?” Gene said. “Go ahead. Tell them what you did. Explain why I have my own paper now after you cut off your own son and left him for dead.”

Catherine glared at him.

“And while you’re at it,” Gene said, “why don’t you tell them why you hated the man who bought you everything you ever wanted, your furs and this palace and—”

“Shut up. You don’t know anything.”

“You thought you were better than he was, but you sure took his money. Why don’t you tell them that, your society friends? Tell them how you were born in Italy, not America.”

“You stupid boy. He slept with every girl but me.”

Gene stared at her for a moment. He was well aware that the old man’s philandering had hurt and transformed her love to bitterness, which was why he’d vowed not to cheat on his own wife. But he had also been hurt plenty by Catherine, his own mother.

“Here’s one you can tell your friends, Mama,” he continued. “Tell them your oldest son is suddenly best buddies with the son of a bigshot Mafioso. Oh, you didn’t know that? Name’s Joe Bonanno. Hear of him? The goombah of tutte goombahs, and Fortune’s over there all the time, kissing their asses. Yeah, that’s right. And you know what else? Tell your socialite friends they can read about me in the papers, their nice papers. Yeah. You’re going to be reading about me real soon. Keep an eye out.”


Further excerpt from CHAPTER 20: ROY COHN BREAKS A NEWSSTAND BOYCOTT

“You feel like a drink?” Gene asked.

“Sure.”

They crossed the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, turned onto Chambers Street, and stopped in front of Mulligan’s bar. “Be right with you,” Gene said. He ran across the street to a vendor and bought a New York Times. He didn’t see an Enquirer and wasn’t in the mood to ask whether the man had sold out or didn’t carry it at all.

The long wooden bar was three deep with working-class men and a few women, but a table was free. By the time Gallo returned from the bar with his beer and Gene’s J&B, a double, Gene looked more relaxed. He only had one cigarette going as he scanned the pages of the Times.

“Do you think they read the New York Times in this place?” Gene asked.

Gallo looked around. “I doubt it,” he said. “Maybe the Post.”

“How about Shakespeare? You think they read Shakespeare here?”

Gallo laughed.

“Greatest writer in history. Right? A genius. You know what he wrote about, Dino? Sex, power, murder, betrayal, jealousy, all the worst of what humans are and do. And you know why? Because that’s what they were interested in back then. Average people. Like the guys at this bar. And you know what? They still are. Think of all those dime novels people buy. Almost four hundred years and nothing’s changed. They’re not even happy endings, most of those plays. But people don’t care because that’s what real life is. It’s a tragedy.”

“Gene, the only place anybody reads Shakespeare any more is in college.”

“Because the language is so different now. But I bet if you got someone to go through those plays and change the words so that they sound like the way we talk today, people would still buy them, the way they used to.” Gene laughed. “Here’s a headline: GHOST OF MURDERED FATHER TELLS SON WHO KILLED HIM, SON KILLS MURDERER UNCLE."

“The Enquirer could run stories like Hamlet, only real-life, give people what they want,” Gallo said.

“Listen, Dino,” Gene said, becoming more animated, “a hundred years ago people read Shakespeare. Today they don’t. Isn’t it obvious what happened? The New York Times comes in, and pretty soon Hamlet moves to Harvard.” He slugged down his scotch and sat back, a satisfied smile on his face. Gallo realized that Gene hadn’t only been telling the story to himself and asking this question of himself.

That night, Gene doodled on a pad in his bedroom:

MADMAN CUTS UP DATE AND PUTS HER BODY IN HIS FREEZER

MAN TEARS OUT MOM'S HEART AND STOMPS ON IT

I ATE MY BABY

MOM USES SON'S FACE FOR ASHTRAY

He’d found his answer.


Excerpt from CHAPTER 24: SELLING SUPERMARKETS ON SELLING THE ENQUIRER

Hall spent his first day on the job calling contacts around the country. By noon, he realized what he was going up against. There were two main objections the chains had to taking the Enquirer. The first came from out West, where a year-old copy of the paper might be found in a comics shop or a magazine stand five zip codes away from a grocery chain’s nearest store. Their only recollection of the paper was lodged somewhere in the back of their brains, and by the time they said “Oh, yeah, that Enquirer,” it had been lumped in with the Berkeley Barb and Los Angeles Free Press and a dozen underground papers pushing counterculture revolution. These were hardly the sort of papers with which Gene’s Enquirer normally shared rack space, but the fact that there was this perception was something he and Hall had to overcome.

The second objection came from the Northeast and Midwest, among executives who did know the paper. “As long as I have breath in my body,” the president of Red Owl Stores in Minneapolis told Hall, “that rag will never take up an inch of space in my store.”

It didn’t matter that the Enquirer would let the retailer keep eight cents a copy of the fifteen-cent cover price, three times what they were making from other periodicals, and would guarantee a hundred sold a week per store.

Hall reported his findings to Gene, who smiled. “Now you need to meet the wholesalers,” he said. “Call the Levy Company and tell them you want to see them. Ask for their help.”

The Charles Levy Company, based in Chicago, was the largest magazine wholesaler in the Midwest, distributing the Enquirer and almost every other publication to stores throughout the region. It was tough getting a meeting there, but with the help of a friend, Hall got an appointment with Herb Fried, the company’s president.

Hall walked into the conference room where Fried sat at the head of a long mahogany table, flanked by eight yes-men on each side. It was seventeen to one before Hall even opened his mouth.

“Mr. Fried,” Hall said, “our marketing plan calls for check-out distribution of the Enquirer in supermarkets.”

Fried laughed, which was the cue for his minions to laugh too. “Look, kid,” Fried said, “we got your magazine at all the cancer counters, cigar stores, where it belongs. And furthermore, you see that sign up there on the wall?” Fried pointed behind him to printed words above the door Hall had come through. attention all publishers’ roadmen: you may not call on the dealers of the charles levy company without our express permission.

“Yeah, I see it,” Hall said.

“It means what it says,” Fried said. “You ain’t callin’ on no supermarkets.” His minions nodded in unison.

“Oh, Mr. Fried,” Hall said, “you misunderstand why I came here today.”

“Good. Tell me.”

“I didn’t come here to ask your permission. I came to ask for your help in doing what we’re going to do anyway.”

There was silence in the room.

Hall broke into it. “To tell you the truth,” he said, “I expected to get this kind of treatment from you, so let me tell you that Don Travers, the Hartz Mountain distributor in Chicago, has his trucks call on every supermarket and Walgreens in the Midwest every week, sometimes twice a week. He says his trucks are going half full, and asked me if I’d put my newspaper in his trucks. I said absolutely not, because we’ve got a distributor, the Charles Levy Company. But you know what? If we don’t get the kind of cooperation from you that we need, I’m going to have to rethink that. I appreciate you taking the time to see me.” He got up and walked out before Fried and his assistants could react, his only regret that he didn’t get to enjoy what went on in the room after he left. He drove straight to the airport and flew back to New York.

Fried called Gene the next day, who put him on hold while he summoned Hall. “You have to hear this,” Gene said, pointing to a nearby extension.

Gene picked up his phone and listened to what Fried had to say, nodding and smiling at Hall. Then he told Fried, “You know, we really don’t need you guys any more.” Hall watched Gene pinch the bridge of his nose, thinking it was an odd thing to do. Gene stopped pinching when he started talking about how they were now selling a million and a half copies nationally a week, six million a month. “That’s a hell of a lot more than 99.999 percent of the magazines out there,” he said. “If that’s not good enough for the Charles Levy Company, if that doesn’t buy some kind of respect, then the Levy Company probably isn’t the partner the Enquirer needs on its way to twenty million a week, which is obviously eighty million a month, something that’s never been done.” Gene started pinching his nose again as he told Fried that he’d also been talking to another distributor, an operation that had a lot of guts and energy, exactly what the National Enquirer needed. Hall, a good poker player, now realized that Gene only pinched his nose when he was lying.

Fried was suddenly full of second thoughts and apologies. The conversation had taken an unexpected turn, and Fried had blinked first.

“Glad you’re on board,” Gene finally told the now-repentant Fried, ending the conversation. He turned to Hall. “Now,” he said, “we just have to get the chains on board.”

Gene spent a small fortune over the next months at supermarket industry conventions, regional and national, throwing $50,000 parties and publishing personalized show dailies with photos of the conventioneers on page one, sliding copies under their hotel doors every morning. Traction was slow, but progress was made chain by chain, one agonizing sale after another. Hall walked up to guys, stuck out his hand, and said “Hi, I’m Bill Hall.” When they saw his name tag, they made the sign of the cross and excused themselves to look for a garlic necklace.

Meanwhile, Gene worked the phones, hearing buyers say “I don’t want to see that crap in my store. My customers wouldn’t stand for it. I’d be out of business overnight.”

Gene would respond, “You mean you don’t want to see any captions like THE HOTTEST THING YOU CAN DO WITH A MAN WHEN YOU ONLY HAVE TEN MINUTES? Or: CAN YOU REALLY FAKE AN ORGASM? Or: HOW TO INCREASE THE SIZE OF YOUR BUST.” And the buyer would say “Yeah.” So Gene would say, “Well, I’m reading now off the front covers of magazines that are in your store today. The headline on the current issue of the Enquirer is MIRACLE CURE FOR ARTHRITIS FOUND.”

The guy would harrumph and say, “Yeah, but you bury all the cheesy, sleazy stuff in the personals, like a lot of those underground papers.” To which Gene would reply, “Actually, the Enquirer doesn’t have personals.”

Sometimes, chain managers or buyers called with orders to “Get your damn paper out of here right now. My customers are complaining.”

“In person?”

“No, in letters.”

“How many letters?”

“Dozens.”

Gene would dispatch Hall to investigate; Hall invariably discovered that it wasn’t dozens of letters, maybe only ten, and that the owner had twenty-five stores, each of them selling 300 copies at eight cents apiece. Three hundred times twenty-five times point zero eight equaled a lot of cash each week from a test product that people were buying in addition to everything else, and not in place of anything. “Would you take peanuts off the shelves if you got ten complaints out of seventy-five hundred sales?” Hall would ask. “Probably not. And have you noticed, sir, a certain similarity in the handwriting? Isn’t it interesting that the letters all have a Salt Lake City postmark, yet we’re in Phoenix?” This, of course, indicated that one source—a church, perhaps, or a conservative organization—was conspiring to get stores to stop carrying the Enquirer.

In a country where millions were then marching against a war and National Guardsmen were shooting college students, weekly circulation of a newspaper that had little to do with any of that was now up to almost two million. That housewife in curlers who Gene constantly talked about was now starting to buy the paper in supermarkets all across the country.

But the game was far from over. Gene said he would know they’d won when they sold out the first edition in Red Owl Stores in Minneapolis, whose president had sworn that the paper would never be given an inch of display space in his stores.


Copyright © 2010 by Paul David Pope.  All Rights Reserved.