The Deeds of My Fathers: How My Grandfather and Father Built New York and Created the Tabloid World of Todayby Paul David Pope, Keith Szarabajka (Read by)
This captivating true story reads like a cross between The Godfather and Citizen Kane. It chronicles the emergence in America of an Italian immigrant and his son whose deeds would make them among the most prominent practitioners of power and influence in the new world. Based on previously untapped sources, this engrossing book presents an archetypal story of the
This captivating true story reads like a cross between The Godfather and Citizen Kane. It chronicles the emergence in America of an Italian immigrant and his son whose deeds would make them among the most prominent practitioners of power and influence in the new world. Based on previously untapped sources, this engrossing book presents an archetypal story of the American century, told candidly by a consummate insider.
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THE DEEDS OF MY FATHERSHow My Grandfather and Father Built New York and Created the Tabloid World of Today
By PAUL DAVID POPE
ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2010 Paul David Pope
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA FAMILY TURNS ON ITS YOUNGEST
THE DEATH OF MY grandfather, Generoso Pope, Sr., in April 1950 at age fifty-nine had left a $5 million estate along with myriad businesses to his widow and three sons. The old man had built an empire through his ownership of Colonial Sand & Stone and various newspapers and radio stations in New York City, and had become a powerful political kingmaker-not bad for someone who, as mentioned above, had come to America from Italy in 1906 with $10 worth of lire in his pocket and not a word of English in his vocabulary. He was fifteen and had made the voyage on his own, with no family members.
In the months leading up to Generoso's son Gene Pope's purchase of the New York Enquirer, he had been absent from New York and the family business. His National Guard unit had been activated to go to Korea, and he wanted no part of the fighting in that war-or any war, for that matter. He'd talked it over with his oldest brother, Fortune, nine years his senior, who assured him that he would pull strings through the family's political contacts so that Gene wouldn't have to serve. But one day, Gene learned that Fortune had failed: he would have to tote a rifle in Korea.
Gene took matters into his own hands and arranged through a government contact in Washington for placement at the recently created Central Intelligence Agency. He was assigned to the Italy Desk at CIA headquarters in Washington where, as part of the agency's psy ops division, he analyzed incoming intelligence relating to Italy's political situation. My father's aversion to fighting in the war was not the only reason he was reluctant to leave New York: he'd recently met and fallen in love with a pretty, aspiring actress named Patty McManus and planned to marry her despite his mother's objections to her Irish origins. (Fortune, on the other hand, had supported and encouraged the marriage.) Patty wanted the wedding to happen before Gene left for Washington, but he convinced her that time apart would serve to prove that they were truly meant for each other. He traveled from D.C. to New York on weekends to be with her, and their love grew. As it turned out, his CIA assignment was short-lived, freeing him to return after a few months and embark on the marriage.
He came back from their Florida honeymoon ready to join his brothers and mother in managing the family businesses. Unfortunately, since the death of the family patriarch, tensions among Gene and his mother and brothers had been running high. That Gene had been Generoso's favorite son was no secret, though it wasn't purely a matter of personal favoritism. Generoso had never devoted much time to nurturing and enjoying either of his older sons; but in Gene he saw a business sense that most closely matched his own, while he viewed Fortune and Anthony as lacking the sort of drive and street smarts that had propelled his own success.
For instance, Generoso had installed Fortune as editor of Il Progresso Italo-Americano, the family's flagship media outlet and the country's most widely circulated and influential Italian-American newspaper, and had also named him manager of WHOM, the radio station he owned. But he'd fired Fortune in 1949 and named the twenty-two-year-old Gene as his replacement. For her part, Gene's mother, Catherine, had had no desire to bear a third child, but Generoso forbade her to abort the pregnancy that in 1927 produced Gene, Generoso's namesake. She often told Gene to his face that he was the son she had never wanted. Despite this, he was determined to work with his family and to honor his father's legacy by helping the businesses grow.
That attitude of conciliation and cooperation was dashed, however, during the Christmas season of 1951. Late that December Gene walked into Pope Headquarters in Rockefeller Center, a building constructed with materials provided by Generoso's Colonial Sand & Stone, as were most of the city's skyscrapers. He stopped in the lobby to admire a large, decorated Christmas tree before going up to the 27th floor. There he entered his deceased father's office and sat in the large leather chair that his brother Fortune had been occupying while Gene was away. As far as Gene was concerned, the company under Fortune and Anthony's leadership had faltered and stagnated. They didn't want to expand it; they merely wanted to maintain it, like gardeners keeping the same flowers blooming from season to season, but never trying out new varieties or planting new bulbs.
Gene urged growth. The family already owned WHOM in New York City, and Gene had immediately started a search for a second radio station. What he and the old man had almost pulled off a couple of years earlier with WINS-nearly acquiring a 50,000-watt New York station-would have led to a true Pope communications empire. At the time, however, federal regulations dictated that no one could own two radio stations in the same market. But my father believed there had to be a loophole through which they could circumvent this inconvenient law.
At a little after six, Fortune entered the office where Gene was leaning back in his chair, one arm behind his head, the other holding a glass of scotch on his chest. "It's great to be back," he told his older brother.
"Good, good, that's good to hear," Fortune said. "How's Patty? Feeling all right?"
"Sure, yeah," Gene said. "Listen, sit down. Let's have a drink. There's something I want to talk to you about." He sounded excited.
"You can tell me in the conference room."
Gene caught up with Fortune in the red-carpeted hallway. "Here's what I want to do, Fortune," he said, and started to outline his plans to buy another radio station.
"Feds say we can't," Fortune said.
Gene countered that attorney Roy Cohn, with whom he was friendly from their boyhood days together at the Horace Mann School in Manhattan-and who had since amassed considerable political clout-had agreed to help him challenge the rule. "But if that doesn't work," Gene said, "we could swap out stations-get rid of WHOM and pick up one with more power. More power means the signal goes farther. Do you know how far a fifty-thousand-watt station reaches at night? To Canada, even Georgia."
"How many Italians they have in Canada and Georgia?" Fortune said.
"That's the point," Gene said. "Who says we have to keep programming just for Italians?"
Fortune cracked open the conference room door. "Let's go inside and talk about it," he said, leading the way.
Gene stopped in his tracks when he saw Anthony and Catherine sitting at the long table, Catherine in the high-backed leather chair at its head. Anthony meekly held up his hand in a half-hearted wave. Catherine's face remained as still as her body. She was dressed in a black dress and black jacket with a strand of pearls around her neck, as though she'd just come from a funeral-or was planning to attend one.
Gene turned to Fortune. "My birthday's not till next month," he said, "so this can't be a surprise party."
"Here's the way it's going to be, Gene," Fortune said, dropping into the seat next to their mother. "We don't mind you working here."
"You don't mind me working here?"
"You can even have Dad's office if you want. But you have to understand that you're not the boss any more. We're a team now. If you want to be part of the team, fine. If you don't, that's fine too. We each have an equal say, and the majority rules."
"And if I don't like it?"
"Then get out," Catherine said.
"It's no joke," Fortune said.
Gene glanced out the window behind Anthony, at the city that hadn't changed in the last thirty seconds but which suddenly looked unfamiliar. He tried to bring his thoughts into focus. His eyes bounced from one family member to another. Buying time, he took a Pall Mall from his breast pocket, lit it, and took a drag before speaking.
"Do you really think," he said, his eyes moving between Fortune and Anthony, "that I'd work that way? That I even can work that way?"
"Yeah, I do," Fortune said.
Gene shook his head. "Then you don't know me."
"Yeah, little brother, we know you," Fortune said. "We know you love this company. We know you're Generoso Pope, Junior. We know you just got married and have a pregnant wife to support."
"Pregnant?" Gene was bewildered. "Who told you that?"
Gene stared at Catherine. She raised her chin like a woman who'd had a lot of practice feeling superior and indignant, and he wondered whether he'd ever really accept that his own mother genuinely hated him. There was something in her contempt that seemed to violate nature. He could barely fathom it, and, though he was a grown man now, it still astonished and hurt him, as it had when he was only a child.
"It's simple, Gene," Fortune said.
"Yeah, it's simple," Gene said. "either I do what you tell me to do-"
"Or we'll cut you off."
"Cut me off?"
"We will, Gene. You think you can afford that now?"
A light went on in Gene's head. He'd been had. This whole thing-the deferment screw-up choreographed by Fortune to get him away from New York, pretending to like Patty and encouraging him to marry her, it was all a setup to weaken him. It was one of the oldest tricks in the business, getting him in so deep that he'd have no other options. That's what this was all about. Payback! Serves me right, he thought ruefully.
All that education. All those opportunities. All that wisdom he was supposed to have picked up at the master's feet. All those advantages, and he'd learned absolutely nothing. He hadn't even followed the old man's first rule: keep those closest to you at arm's length and your enemies at your elbow. What kind of moron would forget everything he knew about these people and try to be fair? When his dying father told him he was going to change his will to make Gene the controlling heir of the Pope business empire, Gene had dissuaded him. "They are my brothers," he'd said. "It wouldn't be right. We'll work things out together."
What had he been trying to prove, talking his father into handing out four equal votes? You couldn't be fair with these people. The old man would've seen this coming, even from his own family-especially from his own family. Hell, he had seen it coming. He'd known. He'd tried to tell Gene, to warn him. How many times had Generoso worried about this very thing-that his sons had been handed what they needed when they needed it, and learned what they learned by having someone else tell them how to do it? Generoso had always viewed Fortune and Anthony as soft and spoiled, the absolute antithesis of how he'd made his own way in the world.
Gene met Fortune's self-satisfied smile with a hard stare, then turned to Anthony. "Is that how you feel?" he asked.
Anthony managed a weak "yes" and looked away, uncomfortable and embarrassed.
Gene turned to his mother. "Do you honestly believe this is what Dad would've wanted?" he asked.
"You," she said, "you are not so clever as you think. My husband worked hard for thirty years to give my family power in politics, and in two weeks you made it disappear. You are some kind of magician, and I am not so impressed."
She was referring to Gene's decision as editor of Il Progresso not to back acting New York Mayor Vincent Impellitteri in his 1950 run for a full term in the city's highest elected office. Impellitteri had been named by the city council to serve out the term of Mayor William O'Dwyer, who'd resigned amid scandal.
* * *
My dad had proudly carried his father's name following the elder Generoso's death on April 28, 1950. He'd conducted his father's business from behind Generoso's desk, which meant Il Progresso hit the newsstands every day, Colonial's trucks delivered on time, WHOM kept broadcasting at 1480 on the AM dial, a dozen smaller businesses turned profits, everyone got paid, and politicians were looked after just as they always had been. Gene Pope was a natural, they said, a young man with his father's skills, smarts, and instincts. But that's not how it felt to Gene, not at first. He couldn't shake the thought that he was pretending, and that others could see right through him. Yet they treated him the way they'd treated Generoso, with the same respect. Why shouldn't he believe the adulation he received?
State Supreme Court Justice Ferdinand Pecora, Generoso's old buddy, inducted Gene as president of the Columbus Citizens Committee, a position his father had held. Mayor O'Dwyer, another of Generoso's cronies, named Gene a deputy police commissioner, like his father before him, and then appointed him to a nine-year term on the Board of Higher education to help set policy for the city's four municipal colleges, a position Generoso, Sr. had never been offered. It seemed a lot of people that summer wanted to see Generoso Pope, Jr. become Generoso Pope, Sr.
But the timing of Gene's endorsement of Pecora was not good. even before the old man's death, the words "scandal" and "corruption" had been showing up in New York newspaper headlines, usually followed by the word "mayor" and then a fresh detail or two, enough to keep the issue alive and growing. However, O'Dwyer, who'd been reelected less than a year earlier, kept insisting that none of the charges of manipulating the police department, of betting, of associating with mobsters like Costello, and of judges being bought and sold would stick. Nothing could get him to resign, not even the reported hundred-grand-a-year job as head of the Pope Foundation charities that he'd claimed hadn't been offered to him, but which he'd made a point of publicly declining so he could say he had clean hands.
The hubbub around O'Dwyer put Gene under the spotlight-he was, after all, the son of the man who'd been 0'Dwyer's campaign treasurer during his winning reelection bid in 1949-and O'Dwyer's appointments of Gene to special posts looked like last-minute favors from a guy on his way out the door. As the youngest Board of education member, Gene provided a large target for O'Dwyer's political enemies. The board, said the teachers' union, had become a nest for the mayor's "crude political favors," handed out to people like Gene who didn't have the experience and therefore shouldn't have the right "to evaluate recommendations for promotion of scientists and creative scholars of experience and maturity."
When O'Dwyer resigned that summer, Gene breathed a sigh of relief. The outgoing mayor assured the voters of New York that his decision to quit had nothing to do with the scandals. He simply said that he didn't want to be a distraction to the city, and in good conscience couldn't pass up President Truman's appointment of him as the next United States Ambassador to Mexico.
The bigger picture as far as Gene was concerned involved Pecora, who'd decided to resign his judgeship and run for mayor-successfully, of course, according to Gene's plan. Pecora's candidacy looked solid.
But Impellitteri was a formidable opponent. People said he reminded them of Jimmy Walker, with that same smooth delivery, ready smile, and gift of gab-and the same penchant for lunging at an adversary's jugular.
Catherine and Fortune urged Gene to just have Il Progresso sit out this election: either candidate, they argued, could win this one, and they couldn't afford to be on the losing side so soon after the old man's death.
But Gene had different ideas. "We're going with Pecora," he announced.
"You don't have to," Fortune said. "O'Dwyer's gone, and that's all that counts."
"Trust me," Gene said in an act of hubris of the kind that came from being twenty-three and feeling bulletproof because his name was Generoso Pope.
Gene didn't want to share his real reason for backing Pecora.
Frank Costello had told him to do it.
"I know what I'm doing," Gene told his brother. "Don't worry so much."
But Fortune was worried, because the odds were against Pecora. Costello knew that, too, but hoped the Il Progresso and WHOM endorsements would shake up the race. It was too bad that Roy Cohn hadn't been around. He'd have done what Fortune didn't have the credibility to do: tell Gene to say no to Costello. But at the time, Cohn was too busy preparing the government's case against accused nuclear-secret spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to pay attention to local politics. Gene went it alone.
Excerpted from THE DEEDS OF MY FATHERS by PAUL DAVID POPE Copyright © 2010 by Paul David Pope. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Paul David Pope began working for his father, Gene Pope, Jr., publisher of the National Enquirer, as a teenager. Following Gene's death, after Paul mounted a bid to acquire the newspaper that fell just short, he embarked on the writing of this revelatory book. He lives in Weston, Florida, near the towns of Lantana and Manalapan, where his father relocated the National Enquirer and his family from New Jersey and New York in 1971. For more information, visit www.thedeedsofmyfathers.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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What a big waste of time. Paul Pope is the spoiled brat of Lois Pope.
Agreed with the person above! Book was made for fame to make Paul's dream of becoming like his Great Grandfather Generoso Pope - rich and famous. He talks about how he is so family based...Then why did he make a website bashing his mother? Absolutely sick!
Not a bad read. You need to read carefully first couple of chapters and be a Sherlock Holmes to fully get the background Generoso. I think this would be a better movie than a read. It was a nail biter!
This is the best book that I have read in a long time. I would highly recommend it. It begins with Generoso's humble beginning to the end of his life. He passed on his determination and dreams to his son and his grandson. Leaving his home in Italy as a young man with little money but his pride and determination kept him going. He never gave up even when the odds were against him. Good read.