Some notable National Enquirer headlines include “500 Ft. Jesus Appears at U.N.,” “Oprah Hits 246 Pounds” and “John Edwards’ Mistress’ Story.” We’re not talking highbrow material here. So readers shouldn’t expect anything more from Paul David Pope’s new book, The Deeds of My Fathers. The book chronicles his family’s publishing empire, which included that sensational supermarket tabloid, the National Enquirer. But what The Deeds of My Fathers lacks in terms of great literature, it more than makes up for with dishing the dirt. And that’s the guilty pleasure of reading this book.
Pope is the scion of a family that used street smarts, hard work and bare-knuckle tactics to create a publishing powerhouse. The book begins with the life of the author’s grandfather, Generoso Pope Sr., an immigrant who turned the Italian-language Il Progesso into an influential New York City newspaper that helped launch the political careers of Franklin Roosevelt, among others. Generoso most adored his youngest son, Gene. On his deathbed, Generoso pledged to leave his entire empire to Gene, who refused. But when his father died, his mother and two brothers gained control of the estate and left Gene nearly broke.
Resiliency being a character trait of the Pope family, Gene borrowed $75,000 from a gangster and bought the failing New York Enquirer. Within a few years, he had transformed it into a sensational tabloid called the National Enquirer, devoted to stories on celebrity scandals, sex, dieting and strange science stories. At its peak in 1978, the National Enquirer sold 6 million copies a week, and it was the prototype for today’s celebrity news magazines.
The best stories in this book are about the National Enquirer’s “paycheck journalism,” offering cash to sources for information. Sometimes these stories were a sensation, as in 1977, when the newspaper published “Elvis, The Untold Story,” which detailed Elvis Presley’s final hours and included a photograph of the King in his coffin. Sometimes Gene Pope bought stories he chose not to publish, his son writes, such as the time he acquired information that Ted Kennedy had impregnated Mary Jo Kopechne, the young campaign worker who drowned when the senator drove his car off the Chappaquiddick Bridge in July 1969. Why did Gene Pope kill the story? His son contends that his father used the story as bait to get the Kennedy family to feed him dirt on a larger catch: the glamorous widow Jacqueline Kennedy.
So have fun reading The Deeds of My Fathers. Read it with the same discretion and deliciousness with which you’d pick up a copy of the National Enquirer in the checkout line. No need to feel embarrassed. After all, enquiring minds want to know!