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The Godfather of Tabloid: Generoso Pope Jr. and the National Enquirer
     

The Godfather of Tabloid: Generoso Pope Jr. and the National Enquirer

by Jack Vitek
 

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They're hard to miss at grocery stores and newsstands in America -- the colorful, heavily illustrated tabloid newspapers with headlines promising shocking, unlikely, and sometimes impossible stories within. Although the papers are now ubiquitous, the supermarket tabloid's origin can be traced to one man: Generoso Pope Jr., an eccentric, domineering chain-smoker who

Overview

They're hard to miss at grocery stores and newsstands in America -- the colorful, heavily illustrated tabloid newspapers with headlines promising shocking, unlikely, and sometimes impossible stories within. Although the papers are now ubiquitous, the supermarket tabloid's origin can be traced to one man: Generoso Pope Jr., an eccentric, domineering chain-smoker who died of a heart attack at age sixty-one. In The Godfather of Tabloid, Jack Vitek explores the life and remarkable career of Pope and the founding of the most famous tabloid of all -- the National Enquirer. Upon graduating from MIT, Pope worked briefly for the CIA until he purchased the New York Enquirer with dubious financial help from mob boss Frank Costello. Working tirelessly and cultivating a mix of American journalists (some of whom, surprisingly, were Pulitzer prize winners) and buccaneering Brits from Fleet Street who would do anything to get a story, Pope changed the name, format, and content of the modest weekly newspaper until it resembled nothing America had ever seen before. At its height, the National Enquirer boasted a circulation of more than five million, equivalent to the numbers of the Hearst newspaper empire. Pope measured the success of his paper by the mail it received from readers, and eventually the volume of reader feedback was such that the post office assigned the Enquirer offices their own zip code. Pope was skeptical about including too much celebrity coverage in the tabloid because he thought it wouldn't hold people's interest, and he shied away from political stories or stances. He wanted the paper to reflect the middlebrow tastes of America and connect with the widest possible readership. Pope was a man of contradictions: he would fire someone for merely disagreeing with him in a meeting (once firing an one editor in the middle of his birthday party), and yet he spent upwards of a million dollars a year to bring the world's tallest Christmas tree to the Enquirer offices in Lantana, Florida, for the enjoyment of the local citizens. Driven, tyrannical, and ruthless in his pursuit of creating an empire, Pope changed the look and content of supermarket tabloid media, and the industry still bears his stamp. Grounded in interviews with many of Pope's supporters, detractors, and associates, The Godfather of Tabloid is the first comprehensive biography of the man who created a genre and changed the world of publishing forever.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his first solo effort, journalist and author Vitek (Idol Rock Hudson) introduces the original tabloid boss: Generoso Pope Jr., creator of the infamous National Enquirer, mother of the ubiquitous supermarket tabloid (and, arguably, upper-class iterations Us Weekly and People). Vitek's material largely focuses on the fiery management, harsh opposition to, and heavy influence of the Enquirer since 1952, when Pope purchased it (then the New York Enquirer) with help from the Mafia. The endeavor's stunted beginning was rife with gory photos and absurd stories deemed unsuitable for grocery store checkouts-one early issue included photos of Lee Harvey Oswald's autopsy-and a policy of literally putting words in subjects' mouth. Pope Jr.'s riches-to-rags-to-riches story-born into a family of self-made millionaires (with assumed Mafia connections), devastated by his father's untimely death, shunned by his family and left penniless, redeemed as a successful media mogul-fascinates with the ins and outs of bottom-basement journalism and the ferocity with which Pope Jr. ruled and defended his media foxhole, becoming a model for none other than Rupert Murdoch. Vitek lays on the Mafia lingo a bit too thick-overusing language like "whacked," with a mob movie reference always at the ready-but offers an original American story of a tough, embattled media player with uncanny gifts for giving the public what they want. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Who made the National Enquirer? Enquiring minds . . . probably aren't losing much sleep over that one. Vitek (Journalism and English/Edgewood Coll.) tracks the rise of the tabloid pioneer and its autocratic owner in an account that could use a little scandal-sheet sizzle. Dry, academic prose, replete with references to the likes of Foucault, Baudrillard and theories of "the abject," paints Generoso Pope Jr. (1927-88) as a gray, dour presence who, despite a privileged cosmopolitan background, a degree from MIT and connections to the storied Frank Costello-era Mafia, never developed personal qualities or interests beyond expanding the circulation of his supermarket rag. Pope shepherded the National Enquirer through several incarnations: gory accident-photo freak show; folksy, low-rent Reader's Digest (the version apparently closest to his own determinedly lowbrow tastes); celebrity scandal organ. Each was immensely profitable. Pope was an astute businessman; instead of selling off his black-and-white printing presses when the Enquirer went to color, for example, he used them to print the even sleazier Weekly World News, at nearly pure profit. Anti-intellectual and addicted to mediocre TV sitcoms (his sole vice aside from chain-smoking), he intuited what the ladies in the checkout line wanted to read about and gave it to them. The sensational and salacious aspects of the tabloid game didn't interest Pope, nor do they engage Vitek to any significant degree, to the book's detriment. A few mild anecdotes of journalistic skullduggery, usually perpetrated by cheeky imported Brits, provide fitful amusement, and there are good sections on some of the Enquirer's sensational "greatest hits,"including the infamous "dead Elvis" cover. Vitek notes the precipitous decline in the Enquirer's fortunes following Pope's death and makes perfunctory observations about the "tabloidization" of mainstream media resulting in the marginalization of old standard bearers like the Enquirer. That would be a much richer subject than the history of a colorless purveyor of titillating junk. Forget about the front page-this story wouldn't make the Enquirer at all.
From the Publisher
"An entertaining look at this colorful and quintessentially American character…Vitek's will be the enduring study of Pope and the supermarket tabloid culture he spawned."—Dennis McDougal, author of The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood "A lively, shrewd and thoroughly compelling biography of National Enquirer publisher Generoso Pope Jr. Vitek melds journalistic flashiness with one sharp professorial insight after another into the nature of tabloid journalism and the powerful and peculiar Pope." —David Holmberg, contributor to the New York Times, regional edition" —

"The Godfather of Tabloid" is an engaging saga of one man's obsessive devotion to creating an entertaining alternative universe each week for four or five million Americans clutching their quarters at the supermarket check-out racks."—Edward Kosner, Wall Stret Journal Online" —

"Grounded in interviews with Pope, his associates and his employees, "The Godfather of Tabloid is the first comprehensive look at the life of this colorful character, a man who almost singlehandedly changed the world of publishing forever."—King Features Syndicate, Inc." —

"Easy to read and including helpful footnotes and a bibliography, this book will particularly interest libraries in Florida, where Pope was an influential citizen. Recommended."—R.A. Logan, Choice" —

"The book is well worth reading. For those of us who could seldom avoid the allure of the Enquirer's shlocky headlines, this book is interesting. And Pope survived some very lean years. Struggling newspapers today might even learn a lesson or two from him."—Prudy, Taylor Board, Boca Raton News" —

"Easy to read and including helpful footbotes and a bibliography, this book will particularly interest libraries in Florida, where Pop was an influential citizen. Recommended."—Choice" —

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780813138619
Publisher:
University Press of Kentucky
Publication date:
03/01/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
296
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Jack Vitek is an associate professor of journalism and English at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin. For many years, he was a professional journalist working for numerous publications, including the Washington Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, and Newsday. He is coauthor of Idol Rock Hudson: The True Story of an American Film Hero.

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