Il Progresso to the Enquirer:
the story of the Pope family.
An Interview with Paul Pope.
Published by L'IDEA
N.3, Vol.II, 2000, NY
Pope Sr. came to America at 15, in 1906. He worked at different menial
jobs in the Colonial Sand and Stone Co. of New York City, rising quickly
through the ranks. When the company was in financial difficulty, in 1916,
he courageously persuaded the owners and the creditors to allow him an
attempt to bring it back to solvency. His reward would be half the
ownership. He worked hard at it and within two years he had become
president of Colonial.
it is stated in the Internet site www.PopePublication.com,
“Generoso fashioned alliances with politicians who helped him achieve
his goal of becoming a key figure in New York politics and the
construction industry. He soon began gobbling up competitors through
mergers and buyouts. By 1928, at the age of 37, Generoso was the
millionaire owner of Colonial, the country’s largest sand and gravel
business which provided the concrete for much of New York City’s
skyline, including Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music hall, FDR
our Italian community, Generoso Pope Sr. is remembered specially for his
ownership of Il Progresso Italo-Americano,
purchased in 1928 for $2,052,000 and directed by him until his death, in
1950. Through the paper, he accomplished the difficult task to teach
Italian immigrants how to become Americans, funneling thousands of dollars
into charities and scholarships to educate young Italians. By launching a
publishing career, he also strengthened his prestige and power to become
the most politically influent Italian-born individual in New York.
position in the Italian
daily passed on to his son Fortune. Generoso Jr., his youngest son, was
cut out of the inheritance because of “sibling jealousy and maternal
cruelty” according to the biography found on PopePublication.com.
as he was called by everyone, worked for the CIA for a while. In
1952,after leaving the Agency, he purchased the struggling weekly The
New York Enquirer, thanks to a $25,000 loan from Mafia kingpin Frank
Costello, changing its name to National Enquirer.
improve the sales, he started running lurid and gory stories. “This is
what the people want” was his claim for the changes. In the 1960’s,
the circulation had stalled, so Gene metamorphosed the paper again by
removing the violence and filling it with paranormal chronicles,
tantalizing human stories and celebrity exclusives. Just as the popularity
of the periodical grew, so did the controversy over its journalistic
techniques. Despite all the criticism and disapproval, the National
Enquirer soon grew to be the undisputed number one periodical in the USA
suffered an apparent heart attack at home and died on the way to the
hospital, at the age of 61. His son Paul, who had learned all aspects of
publishing working for his father, kindly offered us a chance to interview
him about his own past and his future programs.
The Pope dynasty has always fascinated Italians. Since your biography
already contains significant activities, both in business and in
charities' support, do you consider yourself to be the genuine heir to
Generoso Sr.'s legacy?
PAUL POPE: Of
course no one could achieve what my grandfather did 70 or 80 years ago.
Times are very different now – the Italian American community was just
in the process of being formed and it had no leadership to speak of and no
spokesman who could defend its interests; moreover, ethnicity in politics
was a relatively new idea, and no one had tried to give Italians a voice
in the political power structure that was Tammany Hall in the 1920's. The
same was true in business – opportunities were immense as New York City
was literally being built from the ground up, and with vision and courage
and hard work virtually everything was possible. And Of course in those
days there was a special, close relationship between the government and
business in the city that my grandfather forged and took advantage of.
challenges are different for Italian Americans – the burning issue now
is the degree to which we can keep our identity and our history as
Italians in America and pass it to our children. That is the great
challenge that I see ahead of us and want to do something about.
What activities related to the Italian American community have you been
and will you be involved in the near future?
Recently I was a major contributor to "Italians of New York"
exhibition at the New York Historical Society. I saw the exhibition as an
opportunity for our community to launch a major drive toward recapturing
and preserving our heritage. It was the first time that an effort was made
to tell the whole saga of how Italians came to New York and settled here
and built lives and created a culture and helped to shape this great city.
And of course the story of New York Italians is in a large way the story
of Italians in the United States. The exhibit evoked a tremendous response
from the community and all the generations applauded it.
So in that same
spirit my goal now is to undertake further cultural and educational
initiatives designed to preserve our heritage and pass it on to future
generations. Our Community is great at putting on banquets and fancy
dinners but very few Italian American leaders support and further the kind
of serious cultural endeavors like the exhibit. In this I believe we must
learn from other ethnic communities who do much more for the education and
culture of their people.
Many Italians in the USA felt betrayed when Il
Progresso Italo Americano disappeared. Do you believe that the
practical abandonment (sale) of the Italian daily by the Pope family was
defensible from a social point-of-view?
PAUL POPE: I do
not believe that my grandfather would ever have condoned the idea of
selling the Progresso. He did
not buy the Progresso as an
investment out of which he expected to make a profit. The reason he spent
2 million dollars on the paper – an enormous amount of money in 1928 –
was because he saw I as a vehicle for giving voice and strength to our
community at a time when it had none. He used the paper to further what he
saw as the needs and interests of his fellow Italians in the United
States. Today, more than ever, we need something like the Progresso
to focus our interests and sustain our cultural identity and our social
cohesion as a community.
Are you at the moment involved in any kind of publishing activities?
PAUL POPE: In
the past I have been involved in publishing ventures. Plans are under way
for me to become active again in publishing, and in a way that I hope will
be meaningful for Italian Americans.
When will the announced book on the Pope saga go to the press?
PAUL POPE: The
book will be completed in the spring of 2001.
Are you still attempting to gain control of the National Enquirer? Why do
you feel there was a conspiracy to stop you from purchasing it? [According
to the New York Post, “millionaire bachelor Paul Pope…is spinning just
the kind of yarn you’d expect to see in the pages of the supermarket
PAUL POPE: No.
For some strange reason family members didn't want me to get control of
the paper even after efforts of me raising $400 million with another $50
million in reserve. [“With the
backing of Shearson Lehman, he offered $400 million, but the company
American Media won out with a bid of $412 million.” New York Post, June
You have a $1,000,000.00 reward posted on the Internet for any information
that will lead to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible
for the death of your father, Generoso Jr., the disappearance of a will in
your name and the creation of the conspiracy of which we just spoke. On
what do you base your beliefs that your father's death was suspicious? Why
are still not able to obtain an autopsy to clear the case?
PAUL POPE: We have two leads at this time we're perusing and we feel the more publicity about the reward on the Internet will bring forward a secretary who typed the second will, or an ambulance driver who saw something that wasn't kosher. We're waiting for anyone with information to come forward so I can have closure in my life and justice will prevail. I haven't been able to obtain an autopsy because my mother is the only one who can order one, and she won't consent. [Lois Pope, his mother, in a recent interview, could not suppress her disdain for the airing of the dirty laundry. Paul “said his mother is ashamed of what he’s unearthed about the Enquirer history… Before this falling-out, Paul headed Lois’ educational foundation. Now they don’t speak... For Paul, the estrangement is just another case of Pope history repeating itself: My father didn’t talk to his mother for 40 years. It’s family trait . “ New York Post, June 21, 2000]
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