Even if you never read one of Gene Pope Jr.'s schlocky papers, or even if you never heard of him, he affects what you do for several hours each day.
Pope and his father, Generoso Pope Sr., were leading-- if the word is taken to mean, "made a lot of money" -- newspaper publishers. Generoso was the main fascist publisher of the 1930s, and Il Progresso, his paper, counted for plenty. Pictures in Paul David Pope's "The Deeds of My Fathers" of Generoso with top pols - very top, including Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman - attest to that.
Not every other statement in the book is equally reliable.
Generoso left Italy at age 16 with $10 for New York, where he got a job shoveling sand. Eventually, he owned the company. He did not "build New York," but he sold a lot of sand.
He may or may not have been the politically astute businessman his grandson says he was. Being mobbed up with Frank Costello had more to do with it.
Il Progresso was successful, too. Pope had a surefire technique for selling advertisements. Buy ads or have your legs broken.
This is not in this book.
Generoso appears to have been a mixture of gonif, padrone, wardheeler, social butterfly and patriot. He was proud of being Italian and proud of being American - New York's Columbus Day parade was his doing. He was a man of principle in his own way. When Mussolini started aping Hitler's racial laws, Pope called him out on it.
It would be interesting to know whether it was a genuine colorblindness, or shrewd New York politics.
It would also be interesting to know whether Il Progresso was secretly funded by the Italian government or the Fascist Party. It is inconceivable that they did not offer, but I can just barely conceive of Pope's telling them he did not need to be paid to do what he was proud to do.
He was not a man to overlook nickels, but he was also not a man to want to appear to need nickels.
Gene Pope, the third but favored son, got financing from Costello, his godfather, to buy the New York Enquirer, a sleazy weekly of rightwing tendencies after his mother, who hated him, and his brothers aced him out of his inheritance. It is never explained how, legally, Gene lost out on the money, which should have been his even when the triumvirate ousted him from the manager's jobs in the family rackets. . . . er, businesses.
Pope did not invent checkbook journalism, made-up celebrity stories or the practice of publishing pictures that the dailies wouldn't touch. The Daily Graphic had done all that before he was born. But he did manage to place his sleazy paper at supermarket checkout stands.
The story of how he accomplished that, and the fact that he met resistance from grocers, is one of the more curious episodes in the book.
Also of interest is his close relationship with Missy Smith, the name given to the desired Enquirer reader. Missy was a housewife who didn't give a flip for international affairs etc., but "was not stupid." I dunno about that. Missy read about the miracle garlic and vinegar cure every two months for 30 years, and you have to be pretty stupid to keep paying money for that.
It is more than a little ironic that Paul Pope finishes by saying he doesn't want his grandfather and father to be forgotten. But the only people who could conceivably remember Gene, at least, with admiration would be Missy Smith, and she wouldn't give a damn.
The double biography appears to be a fair-minded attempt to portray in as good a light as possible a man's father and grandfather, while acknowledging their violence, Mafia ties and reprehensible treatment of women.
Fair-minded but not tough-minded enough. Paul Pope attempts to portray the Enquirer as a paper as honest and faithful to the facts as the dailies. Gene's critics were seldom as guiltless as they pretended, but it is not true, as Paul Pope pretends, that Gene Pope left the sleaze behind when the Enquirer went to color printing and all gossip all the time in 1979.
The National Enquirer in color was in effect an entirely new publication using an old name. The old Enquirer lived on as the Weekly World News. Paul Pope never mentions the WWN.
The Weekly World News folded in the '90s, and the Enquirer's owner went into bankruptcy a few weeks ago.
Gene Pope made the world safe for silly gossip, and his son is right to think that it has infiltrated the columns of papers that scorned Gene Pope and all his works. But he could not make it safe for the printed Enquirer and Weekly World News.
Television and the Internet can outsleaze Pope's Brit imports with ease.