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‘Enquirer’ mogul blazed trail for tabloids

Question: “Does anyone know what happened to the National Enquirer time capsule? When we were kids, we put stuff in it. I think it was in 1973.” — Randy Hefelfinger, Kennesaw Ga.

Answer: This gives us an opportunity to profile yet another person and business that came to South Florida and added to our wild and colorful narrative. It’s too good to limit to one column, so we’ll do two.

We start with Generoso Pope Jr. His father had come from Italy alone at 15 with $10 in lira in his pocket and become one of the most powerful men in New York.

After the senior Pope’s death, in 1950, his wife and two older sons voted Generoso Jr. out of the businesses of family construction supplies, publishing and broadcasting .

Gene Pope borrowed from gangster Frank Costello and bought the foundering New York Enquirer for $75,000.

Within a decade, he’d morphed it into the wildly successful — “UFOs!” “Elvis!” “Scandalized politicians!” — National Enquirer tabloid.

And he’d discovered a potential gold mine in a changing marketplace. Instead of newsstands — now pretty much extinct outside of big cities — he started selling his screaming headlines in the supermarket checkout line.

Like so many others, Gene Pope saw more streets of gold — in the tropics. In 1971, he moved his operation to a quiet settlement along Federal Highway known as Lantana.

“Generoso Pope was called a gossip monger, digging out the most sensational tidbits to be found about celebrities,” former

Post colleague Belinda Brockman wrote when he died in October 1988. “He was called a taskmaster, sharing the 60-hour workweeks of his employees. And he was called a humanitarian, quietly giving millions to the struggling and ailing. But most of all. Mr. Pope was the tabloid king — the man who gave the American public just exactly what ‘inquiring minds want to know.’ ”

Pope died young, at 61, like his father, who died at 59.

The family sold the properties for $412 million. It eventually became American Media and included other tabloids. The properties were sold again in 1999 for $835 million.

Next week: Time capsule.


Generoso Pope Jr. looks at a copy of the National Enquirer’s legendary 1977 front page photo of Elvis Presley in his coffin. Pope moved his tabloid operation from New York to Lantana in 1971. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg February 23, 2012 at 1:44 pm.

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