Intense rivalry and Borgia-like cunning made the Pope family one of America’s wealthiest and most influential--now the descendant of the two Pope patriarchs chronicles a family whose history bestselling author Nicholas Pileggi has called “the story of the century.”
This engrossing saga begins when Generoso Pope, Sr., just 15, flees Italy and his domineering father, sailing to America with only pennies in his pockets. He passes through Ellis Island in 1906 and soon finds work in the sand pits of Long Island, just as this coarse sand, mixed with cement, is becoming New York City’s key building block. He becomes foreman, then president of a company supplying material for landmarks like Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center. Intent on becoming a kingmaker, he also constructs a media empire, becoming publisher of the Italian-American newspaper, Il Progresso. His endorsement is soon sought by politicians aspiring to become mayor of New York City and president of the United States.
Generoso Senior and his wife have three sons, though he takes little pride in the two eldest boys. Nearing death, he tells his youngest, Gene, that he will leave control of the empire in his hands alone. Gene implores him not to do so, fearing turbulent family repercussions. Generoso follows Gene’s wishes and in his will grants equal control to each family member. Then, in a stunning twist, after his father’s death, Gene is pushed out by his mother and brothers, leaving him sidelined and broke.
Thrown upon his own devices, Gene spies a newspaper he wants to run, the New York Enquirer. With a loan from “Uncle Frank”—mobster Frank Costello, his real-life godfather—Gene buys the paper, reinvents it as the National Enquirer, and forces its distribution onto grocery checkout counters nationwide. With an unerring sense of his audience, Gene sees his newspaper as appealing to a prototypical female reader dubbed “Missy Smith.” Increasingly tyrannical and eccentric, he scolds reporters who hand in weak copy: “I’m not crying,” which meant Missy Smith wouldn’t be, either. Gene gives readers what they want, as he covers the paranormal, medical cures, celebrities, ever mindful of the dreams and fears of everyday Americans. The result: a new species of modern media—the supermarket tabloid. Circulation soars, peaking with the 7 million copies sold of the Enquirer’s 1977 exposé on the death of Elvis Presley.
Drawn from more than 500 interviews, and voluminous documentary and archival sources, this gripping narrative presents two patriarchs whose family would become an integral part of the American century. Paul David Pope chronicles their saga, and his own, in candid and unvarnished fashion, letting all the chips—the light and the dark—fall where they may.