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You've thumbed through them. You might have even bought one and gawked at photos of Janet in a thong, Jack with his paramour, and Dubya with his pair o' twins. Maybe you've even tested one of those miracle diets.
For the past 30 years, the epicenter of pay-any-price, play-any-story journalism has been South Florida. The suburban stretch of Interstate 95 from Lantana to Boca Raton has long been known as Tabloid Valley, a place where scandal-, celebrity-, and money-obsessed reporters perfected checkbook journalism between sips of single-malt scotch.
But Tabloid Valley is disappearing. All of the major scandal sheets -- the National Enquirer, Globe, Star, and National Examiner -- have been consolidated into one company, American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, and in the past decade have seen plummeting circulation. Now, the tabloid of all tabloids is packing up. Later this month, the National Enquirer, which came to sleepy Lantana in 1971, will move to New York City. It will leave behind a history in South Florida that includes helping to knock Gary Hart from the 1988 presidential race, breaking the news of neighbor Rush Limbaugh's OxyContin addiction, and receiving a deadly anthrax-laced letter.
Behind it all is a story of unscrupulous journalists, illicit sex, Mafiosi, and a murder-for-hire plot. It's a Shocker!
SCORNED EDITOR BARES ALL!
Iain Calder walks through the study of his palatial, 3,575-square-foot home at Woodfield Country Club in Boca Raton on a late January afternoon. Surrounded by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with, among other titles, Princess Diana's biography and William L. Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Calder takes a seat on a brown leather chair and smiles wryly. "We changed the world," says the straight-backed, handsome 66-year-old Scotsman with a head full of gray hair and the genteel mannerisms of British aristocracy.
For nearly 20 years, Calder was editor of the National Enquirer. Fellow journalists and historians alike credit him with shaping the modern American tabloid. In fact, at the Washington, D.C.-based Newseum, Calder is featured among the 100 most influential men in U.S. media history. "I'm right there next to [USA Today founder and former Miami Herald executive city editor] Al Neuharth," Calder says.
Calder owes much of his success to Generoso Pope Jr., the former owner and publisher of the Enquirer, whose outlandish behavior and reputation surpassed even his own newspaper's. Pope's father was Generoso Pope Sr., publisher of the Italian-language newspaper Il Progresso and one of the most influential men in New York City. Among his close friends was Mob boss Frank Costello, whom Generoso asked in 1927 to be the godfather of his son.
At 15 years old, Generoso Jr. was put in charge of Il Progresso, managing the newspaper's general operations. In 1952, the 25-year-old Pope went on his own, buying the New York Evening Enquirer, a once-popular mainstream newspaper whose weekly circulation had dwindled to just 17,000. As the story -- or legend -- goes, Pope borrowed the $25,000 down payment from the Mafia and quickly transformed the renamed National Enquirer into a blood-and-guts tabloid.
Organized crime bankrolled Pope's first few years. Among the possible reasons for the Mob's charity: The Enquirer was the only newspaper that published scores from weekend Italian soccer matches, which created a highly profitable gambling racket in New York's Italian-American community.
While sensational journalism was nothing new in Manhattan -- the place where Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst fought it out, tabloid-style, in the late 19th Century -- Pope's Enquirer was unique for its gratuitous use of violence. A classic headline from the Enquirer's gore days screamed: "A Violent Cannibal Kills Pal & Eats Pieces of His Flesh."
This was the Enquirer that Calder first knew. A precocious young man from Slamannan, a small Scottish mining town, Calder landed his first newspaper job at age 16 at the 1,500-circulation Falkirk Sentinel. Journalism was hardly a calling for Calder. He figured having his byline in the newspaper would increase his chances with the ladies. "My 16-year-old male glands were demanding attention," Calder wrote in his recently published memoir, The Untold Story.
Calder worked his way through the ranks of Scottish journalism, moving to the larger Falkirk Mail and later to the 500,000-circulation Daily Record. Then, in summer 1964, he landed a job as London bureau chief of the National Enquirer, then known for publishing particularly gruesome pictures. One photograph that Calder remembers showed a horse's body on one side of the road, its head on the other. "The Enquirer was a really scuzzy paper," Calder remembers. Yet the salary offered was so enticing that Calder proposed to his girlfriend, Jane, and the newlyweds moved to London. Two years later, Calder landed a promotion and relocated, again with his wife, to New Jersey, to serve as an editor in the Enquirer's main office.