Pulitzer's Pain

Banished from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a decade ago, Joseph Pulitzer IV lives in self-imposed exile in Wyoming. What went wrong?

Not long after inheriting the World, the brothers frittered away the earnings and reputation of the paper, taking $25 million of its profits to feed their lavish lifestyles. Ralph suffered a nervous breakdown while at the paper's helm. Brian writes that Ralph's replacement, Herbert, drew the ire of staffers by remaining aloof, smoking perfumed cigarettes and speaking in a haughty British accent.

In 1931 the brothers betrayed their father's trust and sold the paper for a paltry $5 million. In the early 1980s, Herbert's son Herbert Jr., a Palm Beach party boy, made news when his divorce churned up breathless tales of cocaine and orgies and accusations of incest. His wife, Roxanne, later posed nude for Playboy and wrote Prize Pulitzer, a steamy tell-all book on the marriage.

Back in St. Louis, the Pulitzers in charge of the Post-Dispatch felt obliged to report on the indiscretions of the East Coast clan but did so with much distress, embarrassed that other members of the family had sullied their name.

William Woo, the "un-adopted son"
William Woo, the "un-adopted son"
Emily Rauh Pulitzer in the 1980s
Emily Rauh Pulitzer in the 1980s


This is part one of a two-part special report. Click to read part two, "Pulitzer's Gain."

Meantime, under the no-nonsense Joseph Pulitzer II, the once-neglected Post-Dispatch had become one of the best papers of its day. It was during his tenure from 1911 until 1955 that the paper won a dozen Pulitzer Prizes -- the prestigious journalism award his father endowed upon his death.

Critics of the newspaper say the quality and influence of the Post-Dispatch have declined ever since Pulitzer II left the business. Nevertheless, by the time of his death in 1955, Pulitzer II had paved the way for his eldest son, Joseph Pulitzer III, to assume the role of editor and publisher of the paper.

To many observers it seemed Pulitzer III (who referred to himself as Joseph Pulitzer Jr.) was preparing Joe IV, his only child, for a similar succession. But even from the earliest days, family and friends say, there existed an unsettling distance between father and son. The genesis for the animosity is difficult to gauge, they say, but likely formed while Joe IV was still a child.

"There are a lot of rich kids who I've always kind of felt sorry for," says a family friend. "They grew up with servants, and their parents traveled a lot or were rarely home. Joe definitely fell into that category."

Another Pulitzer friend offers the example of Joe's childhood nanny, Stella, who was fired when his parents thought their toddling son was becoming too attached to the servant.

"Joe cried for a month straight, and finally his parents had to rehire her. But the damage was already done," she says. "That was sort of the attitude in that family."

Over time Joe became obstinate when dealing with his father.

"There was definitely a stubbornness there," maintains a source with intimate knowledge of the family. "To a certain degree, that's what got him in trouble with his father. He doesn't like to be told what to do. He could really dig in his heels when he wanted to."

"I think Jay [one of Joe's nicknames at the paper] was too honest to get along with his dad," says a long-time Post colleague. "It's not how you endeared yourself to Pulitzer III. He didn't want to hear bad things, and I think that's part of the problem with the paper today. It used to be one of the world's great papers -- intelligent and idealistic. Today it has all the intelligent punch of the Three Stooges."

Born in 1949 to Pulitzer III and his first wife, Louise Vauclain Pulitzer, young Joe IV followed in the educational footprints of his father, attending primary school at Rossman, an expensive school now located in west county, and middle school at St. Louis Country Day. He later attended St. Mark's, a boarding school in Southborough, Massachusetts, before moving on to Harvard, the university that graduated the previous two generations of Joseph Pulitzers.

Joe's first stab at journalism came a few years out of college, when in 1974 he took a job as a reporter with The Bulletin, a small daily in Bend, Oregon. By Pulitzer decree, no one -- not even family -- came to the Post without newspaper experience. When the lanky, handsome young man returned two years later to join the Pulitzers' flagship, it appeared he was well on his way to preserving the family heritage.

"It seemed very clear to me he was being groomed to take over the family business," says Post columnist Bill McClellan. "He had the Harvard pedigree of his father and grandfather. It seemed like the natural thing, sort of like the Busch family, where you have August IV in line to take over Budweiser."

The son returning from Oregon, however, was a very different man from his dad. By the mid-1970s, Joseph Pulitzer III was known as much for being editor and publisher of the Post as he was for his collection of contemporary art, regarded as one of the largest and finest in the world. Pulitzer III carried himself in a manner that reflected his aristocratic grandeur, favoring custom-made suits, Italian loafers, skiing trips to Switzerland and art auctions in London.

"His father was the epitome of elegant," recalls McClellan. "Jay was the complete opposite."

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