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At the same time, such celebrities as Johnny Carson (three divorces) and Liz Taylor (four divorces) became an essential part of the Enquirer's diet. Most newspapers, scared of the advertising competition television created, ignored or attacked TV. The Enquirer did the opposite. "We said television was good for you," Calder recalls.
The strategy worked. By 1970, circulation was up from 700,000 to 1 million, mostly through grocery stores sales. One year later, Pope bought an oceanfront mansion in Manalapan and moved the paper to Lantana, a small beach town in the middle of posh Palm Beach County, where it operated out of a one-story complex near Dixie Highway and Lantana Road.
It was a good time for the tabloid. Revenue from supermarket sales poured in. Star, based in New York, and Midnight (now the Globe) in Montreal cropped up as cheap copycats. Calder remembers those days well. In June 1973, he was promoted to the top editorial position and began to recruit reporters from Britain and Australia. The tabloid offered wealth and adventure, paying an astounding $100,000 salary for top reporters and sparing no expense in covering stories. When Elvis Presley died in August 1977, for instance, the Enquirer gave 12 reporters a chartered plane and a briefcase filled with $50,000 cash. Its demand: Get the story. The reporters bribed Presley's friends and family members and returned to Lantana with that famous picture of the King lying in his coffin.
"People always said, 'Oh, the National Enquirer -- they make up their stories,'" Calder says. "Well, I gotta tell ya, for $1.50, I could get a story made up. It cost me hundreds of thousands sometimes to do a story. Why pay a guy $100,000 per year and give him credit cards and a chartered plane unless you're really going to go after the story?"
SHOCKING! TABLOIDS EMBELLISH!
Mike McDonough walks aimlessly through the parking lot of the Old Key Lime House on Ocean Avenue in Lantana, remembering the good old days. Twenty-five years ago, this was the place where McDonough, a 68-year-old Englishman with gelled gray hair and blue eyes, would down whiskey after whiskey with his fellow National Enquirer staffers. "I quit drinking 20 years ago," he admits. "That's probably why I'm still around today."
Before coming to the United States, McDonough worked in London for the Sun and Evening Standard, where he covered the "Great Train Robbery" in 1963, when a gang of men robbed 2.3 million pounds in rural Buckinghamshire. Ten years later, Calder recruited him to come to the National Enquirer. He traveled the world as a tabloid reporter and was eventually sacked three times for various reasons -- "all of them justified," McDonough admits. They included not showing up for meetings and embellishing too many details in a story about demons in a small Mississippi town.
"Tabloid journalism is a foot-in-the-door, aggressive, poetic-license type of journalism," McDonough explains. "I don't mean it's completely untrue. Sometimes, it's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but you can't admit that. You know the old maxim: Never mind the facts. What about the story? With tabloid journalism, you have license. I'm not saying you make stuff up, but you play with it, make it interesting."
McDonough leans forward and smirks as cars drive past on their way to the beach. A common example, he explains, is the movie star's lost undergarments. If the misplaced underwear were as-boring-as-your-mama's white cotton, they'd become red silk in the Enquirer."That's how tabloid journalism works," he says. "Often, you'll be writing a human drama, and if you write the story the way the person said it, it would be bloody boring. So you've got to put a little oomph into it. One of the terrors is that you think the subject will later say, 'No, I didn't say that!' But in fact they go: 'Yes! Oh, yes! Oh, yes, I said that!' You know why? Because you told a good story."
He pushes his small glasses higher up on the bridge of his nose. "I know there's a moralistic argument against this," he notes "But we're not talking Shakespeare here. If you buy a tabloid newspaper, why do you get outraged? It's meant to be fun."
SON ALLEGES MURDER!
On October 2, 1988, Lois Pope found Generoso Jr. -- then 50 pounds overweight and a three-packs-a-day smoker -- lying on the bed in their Manalapan mansion. After being transported to Lantana's JFK Medical Center, a hospital that had for years been one of the primary benefactors of the publisher's charity, Pope died of a heart attack.
What happened after his death proved to be a fitting end to the tabloid king's life. Pope had requested in his will that the Enquirerbe sold. His son Paul, then only 20 years old, alleged that his father had intended to bequeath the newspaper to him and that his death was the result of a murder-for-hire plot. Paul signed up lawyers, contracted a publicist, and threatened to write a tell-all book.
But Calder knew the truth. Years earlier, he contends, Paul alleged that his father wanted him to have the number-two position at the Enquirer. Calder asked his boss about the claim. "How could you even imagine I would put Paul into that job?" Pope told him. "Do you think I'm crazy?"