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By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Anne Valente
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
In early April 1995, Joseph Pulitzer IV packed up his executive office on the third floor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch building, closed the door behind him and faded into obscurity. A few days later, an unbylined article appeared on page one of the paper's business section, stating that the 45-year-old Pulitzer had left the storied media empire to "explore other career ventures."
What the brief article, placed below the fold, failed to mention was that Joe Pulitzer had fallen on his sword, having at last accepted the painful truth that the controlling members of the company stock would never allow him his birthright.
The last heir to the Pulitzer throne -- airbrushed from the family portrait.
"Joe called me a day or two before he left the paper," recalls George Richardson, a layout editor at the Post. "He said they had given him a consulting position where he didn't really have to work. There was a definite sadness in his voice -- a disappointment. He thanked me for our times together and said goodbye. It's one of the saddest stories I know. He was a good person who wanted to do good, and to just get fucked over like that -- it's amazing."
Today the great-grandson of journalism titan Joseph Pulitzer is so far removed from Pulitzer Inc. that, according to former colleagues, he did not receive so much as a courtesy call before the company's principal shareholders (his stepmother, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, and his step-uncle, Michael Pulitzer) cast their votes January 30 to sell the business to Lee Enterprises Inc. for $1.46 billion. It was a friend in St. Louis who tracked Joe IV down in Northern California to let him know his family had bid farewell to newspapering after a 126-year run.
By all accounts, the news of the sale struck Joe like a crushing "Dear John" letter, leaving him "heartsick and heavy," according to longtime friends and acquaintances. Many of them asked not to be named in this story.
"I think he always held out some hope that they'd call him back," says a friend. "I still think the gravity of the sale has yet to fully sink in."
Emily and Michael Pulitzer did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article.
Now 55 years old, Joe lives in self-imposed exile below the rugged alpine peaks of Big Horn, Wyoming. "He is not only the redheaded stepchild," another old friend observes, "he's the redheaded stepchild who's been banished to Siberia."
Until the January sale, Joe remained on the company books as a "consultant," a trifling title that allowed him to receive Pulitzer health insurance and other benefits. People close to Joe and sources at the Post say he did little, if any, work for the paper since parting ways a decade ago.
"I don't know what type of consulting you do in the middle of Wyoming, unless it has something to do with cattle," scoffs one longtime acquaintance.
For his part, Joe is deliberately vague about describing his current employment, telling friends only that he works as a consultant for the insurance industry. He does not elaborate. "I don't think he's very proud of what he does," says a close pal. "He doesn't talk about it much."
What is known is that Joe's greater interests lie in the arts. He has spent much of his time in Big Horn producing an album of folk songs that he's written and recorded. For several years he penned a weekly human-interest column, "Impressions," for a weekly shopper in nearby Sheridan. He's also dabbled as a fundraiser and bingo caller for the local veterans' association, and he worked for a time as a volunteer firefighter.
Joe answers his cell phone to the nickname "Pilot Car," a "Rosebud"-like riddle, perhaps, whose meaning is known only to his third wife, Patricia Pulitzer, the woman he married three years ago. Patricia, who could not be reached for comment for this article, maintains her permanent residence in Casper -- a solid two-hour drive from Big Horn. It is unclear why the couple lives apart.
Joe declined multiple requests for an interview for this story. He also instructed his grown children not to talk to the Riverfront Times. Through his St. Louis attorney, Albert Watkins, Joe responded tersely to questions about the sale of Pulitzer and his departure from the company, saying only: "Given the totality of the circumstances, it would be inappropriate for any comment."
Interviews with dozens of Joe's friends, family members, former colleagues and business associates reveal a portrait of a man who aspired to one day take full control of the newspaper chain, but whose icy relationship with his father, the debonair Joseph Pulitzer III, handicapped him from the start.
The Apple Fell Far from the Tree
To fully comprehend the Pulitzer dynamic, it's necessary to know something about the two dueling family factions. The St. Louis members of the Pulitzer clan have always been the financially savvy ones in the family -- at least when compared to their cousins out East.
In his 2001 biography, Pulitzer: A Life, Denis Brian writes that when Joseph Pulitzer died in 1911, he gave the St. Louis paper to his least favorite son, Joseph Pulitzer II, as a form of punishment for years of insubordination. To his favorite sons, Ralph and Herbert, Pulitzer gave the greater prize of the New York World, once the most-read daily newspaper in the nation.
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.
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."
Ever disheveled, Joe preferred corduroy Levi's, plaid workshirts and Navy pea coats to the standard reporter garb of jacket and tie. He smoked unfiltered Camel cigarettes (even after his mother died of throat cancer and his father removed cigarette ads from the Post) and drove a beat-up Ford station wagon with a broken passenger door that had to be tied shut with rope.
"Nothing about his manner and certainly nothing about his attire indicated he would one day be put in charge," recalls retired Post scribe Eliot Porter. "You certainly wouldn't pick him out of the crowd and say, 'There is the heir apparent.' He looked more like he worked in a hardware store in rural New Hampshire."
Friends say Joe took after his grandfather, a man who thumbed his nose at the rituals of high society and was often at odds with his father, the first Joseph Pulitzer. While in his twenties, Joseph Pulitzer II wrote a letter renouncing his father: "For years I have resented the realization that I was nothing but a rich man's son. I feel that I was acting the part of a hypocrite in swallowing my resentment and simulating demonstrations of affection."
Like his grandfather, Joe IV eschewed the silver spoon. He carried with him a nasty and explosive temper that belied his laid-back exterior. His indignation toward his old man was reserved for behind closed doors. But in public, Joe, a product of the 1960s, demonstrated contempt for his well-heeled father by playing the role of a guitar-playing, pot-smoking bohemian. He was, in essence, the yin to his father's yang and, more often than not, a thorn in his side.
"His father was an urbane, well-spoken guy, the type of guy who wore ascots and took great care in his physical appearance and grooming," says one of Joe's St. Louis confidants. "Joe was a slob. I think his father could never quite get over that."
Even so, friends say Pulitzer III was generally pleased that Joe had taken an interest in the newspaper business and, as was family custom, put his son to work in the newsroom, mandating that he be given "no special treatment."
Joe's first role at the Post came as a general-assignment reporter on the night city desk, a position loathed by most reporters. But for Joe, who wrote under the byline J. Pulitzer IV (spawning the nickname "Jay"), the close-knit group of night reporters was far preferable to the daytime newsroom where, behind his back, he was commonly referred to as "the dauphin" (French for "prince"), and where his words and actions were under the scrutiny of gruff and jaded journeymen.
When promoted to the day desk after his first year at the Post, Joe pleaded with the night editor to let him remain on the graveyard shift.
"Three days later he asked to come back," recalls Harry Levins, the night editor at the time. "He didn't like the day desk. He said people's voices went up three octaves around him. I think people were nervous around him."
Levins allowed Joe to return on one condition: he throw a party better than the send-off celebration the night crew had given him just days before.
"He did it, and it was grand," says Levins. "He brought in Champagne and caviar."
Over time Joe's self-effacing demeanor won over many in the newsroom. Unlike his father, Joe had an ability to blend in with both the grunts and the top news dogs.
"The only way you saw his father, J.P. Jr., was to walk up the back stairs," says Levins. "He was a skier and liked to get a workout taking the stairs, but the joke was he felt uncomfortable talking to employees on the elevator."
So strong was Joe's solidarity with co-workers that when the St. Louis Newspaper Guild went on strike in 1978, he refused to cross the picket line. He even went so far as to write for a strike paper that formed in the aftermath of the labor unrest that briefly shuttered the Post.
While earning the respect of his co-workers, it was during his first few years back in St. Louis that events in Joe's private life created an irreparable rift with his father.
The Blatant Affair
On the surface, Joe seemed every bit the devoted family man. Just 22 when he married Lynne Steinsieck, a woman he met as an undergraduate at Harvard, Joe returned to St. Louis in 1976 with two baby daughters, Elkhanah and Bianca. Friends recall Lynne as strikingly beautiful, and the daughters inherited her stunning looks. The couple bought a home in the Central West End, joining a wave of urban professionals returning to the once-neglected neighborhood.
But the Cleaver-family veneer wore thin when, within the first year of returning to St. Louis, Joe began a dalliance with a local artist, Jennifer Williams. The two met while Jennifer was working as a caterer at one of his father's parties. She was four years older than Joe and had a daughter from a previous marriage.
"It was a blatant affair," recalls a former acquaintance, describing the openness in which Joe and Jennifer carried on liaisons in Central West End bars and restaurants. "I don't know what the hell was going on in his head. It was weirdness."
In September of 1978, after seven years of marriage, Joe and Lynne divorced. His father and stepmother, Emily Pulitzer, took Lynne's side throughout the tumultuous split.
"They were horrified by the affair," recalls a family friend. "It was viewed as simply not proper and reflected poorly on the family. It was then that I think Joe's relationship with his father and stepmother seemed to really go off the road."
Joe and Jennifer married in 1982 when she was pregnant with their son, Joseph Pulitzer V, now 22 and an undergraduate at Colorado University in Boulder. Their eighteen-year-old daughter, Elinor, lives with Jennifer in Big Horn.
Though husband and wife for sixteen years, Joe and Jennifer were always a bit of an odd match, friends recall. Joe's vast family wealth afforded him the opportunity to portray himself as a sort-of hippie. Jennifer, on the other hand, was a full-fledged free spirit, living on a commune, working as a welfare caseworker and dabbling as an artist. Today she spends her time reintroducing native plants to Wyoming.
The couple's early years in St. Louis were happy times, say friends, even if Joe's father and stepmother never fully accepted the relationship.
Back at the Post, Joe went on to serve as a capital correspondent in the Jefferson City and Washington, D.C., bureaus; later, in the early 1980s, he became a news editor and editorial writer.
"He was an OK reporter," says his former editor Harry Levins. "He definitely wasn't the best writer, but I don't think anyone in the Pulitzer family was. They could run newspapers but weren't spectacular writers."
The highlight of Joe's newsroom career came in 1982, when he embarked on a seven-week tour of Africa with Post photographer Larry Williams. Joe's stories on the refugee crisis in the nations of Somalia, Chad and the Sudan won him honorable mention from the Overseas Press Club.
The first story, carrying a dateline from Qoryoley, Somalia, and titled "2 Million Homeless: An African Tragedy," began: "It was after the third night of artillery barrage that Mohammed Amin Nur decided to flee from his hometown of Dagahbur in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.
"Ethiopian soldiers, backed by Soviet advisers, were advancing steadily on the town, reclaiming with a vengeance the desert territory they had yielded a year earlier to the surprise blitz of the Somali National Army. Nur's clansmen and friends from the outlying villages, fleeing before the advance, had told him of the ghastly destruction and pillage."
Ex-wife Jennifer says reporting was Joe's true passion. "I think it was genetic," she says. "It was in his blood. He loved reporting."
But if Joe were to take charge of the paper, he needed to learn the business side of the company. In 1984 he was promoted to an administrative role as the Post's marketing manager, and two years later he became vice president for administration, responsible for marketing, promotion, purchasing and specialty publications. From the outset, though, Joe's reputation as an executive was marred by ineptitude, according to sources at the newspaper.
Reporting conformed to Joe's nocturnal instincts. Until 1984 the Post was an afternoon paper and copy was filed late at night or early in the morning. Accustomed to staying up until 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. and rising around 11 or noon, Joe struggled to adjust to a managerial nine-to-five schedule.
"He was simply unable to do the job necessary to run the paper," says a former Post employee. "He was given the same training as his father working his way up the ranks, and he demonstrated at every level that he didn't have what it took."
Eliot Porter recalls one of Joe's first administrative blunders, when he ordered that the paper's telephone credit cards be canceled.
"After Joe saw the enormous telephone bills these cards were generating, he canceled them, without so much as a moment's notice," Porter remembers. "There was one guy, a sportswriter out covering a game somewhere, who found out he couldn't reach the office because his credit card was canceled.
"He finally called in from the hotel and asked what the hell was going on. No one seemed to know, and it led to an investigation. A few days later an executive came round the newsroom and passed out new cards to everyone. It was absolutely deadpan. No questions. No smiles. No nothing. Word later trickled down that it was Joe IV who canceled the cards."
It wasn't long before his father placed limits on his son's power.
"He was in charge of doling out office space, managing the security guards and the parking lot. Essentially a big title and little authority," explains a Post employee who worked with Joe. "He was clearly being prevented in getting what he thought was his rightful [inheritance]: control of the paper."
Joe's defenders argue that he was never given the same guidance and tutelage as his dad received. Soon after Joseph III joined the paper in 1936, he was copied on all internal memoranda issued by his father, Joseph Pulitzer II. These notes served as an owner's manual for Pulitzer III, who had access to the memos for nearly twenty years before his father's death. Looking back on his own tenure as editor and publisher, Joseph III told biographer Daniel Pfaff that the memos were the most integral part of his training.
Why wasn't Joe given similar instruction? Because, say Post insiders, his father already had his sights on the man who would eventually succeed him in the editor's chair -- and his name didn't end in Pulitzer.
"His father clearly had more confidence in the un-adopted son, William Woo," says a Post employee.
Woo joined the paper in 1962 as a features writer and quickly moved up the ranks from editorial writer to editorial page editor. In 1976 he accompanied Pulitzer III on a fifteen-day trip to China, which was then largely closed to the West. The journey established Woo as Pulitzer III's prodigy.
"Woo worked himself the old-fashioned way: He sucked up to the boss," cracks a longtime veteran at the paper.
Another former scribe is a touch more diplomatic: "[Pulitzer III] liked elegant people, and Woo was both elegant and smart. Unfortunately, he was also a terrible editor."
After the China trip, the men were often in each other's company, meeting at least once a week to discuss the paper's editorial page. Few others in the newsroom had as much access to the reclusive Pulitzer III.
For many onlookers in the newsroom, the death knell for Joe first sounded in 1986, when his father stepped down from his role as editor and publisher and installed Woo as editor and Nicholas Penniman as publisher. It was the first time in the newspaper's history that the top two jobs had not been held by a Pulitzer.
"That was a big blow for Joe," remembers a close friend. "It was the beginning of the end."
Woo, now a journalism professor at Stanford University, denies he served as any official or unofficial member of the Pulitzer family and declines to speculate as to why Joe never inherited the family empire.
"I was Joe [Pulitzer III]'s editorial-page editor and editor, but I was never a member of the family," he says. "I haven't talked to the family in years."
The Writing on the Wall
The relationship between Joe and his father might not have been so distant, say friends, if Joe's mother, Louise Vauclain Pulitzer, had not died so young. She was just 54 when she succumbed to throat cancer, dying on her son's nineteenth birthday in 1968. Years later, Joe continued to talk of her absence.
"I think her death really had an impact on him," says Wiktor Szostalo, an artist who befriended Joe in the 1980s. "He mentioned several times to me that he missed his mother and that things were never the same since her death."
Five years after Louise died, Joseph Pulitzer III married Emily Rauh, then the curator of the Saint Louis Art Museum. Joe maintains a cordial, if less than familial, relationship with his stepmother. When visiting St. Louis, he stays in a friend's guest house in north St. Louis county rather than the Pershing Place or Ladue estates that Emily inherited following his father's death.
Emily is said to provide annual monetary gifts to all four of Joe's children, but she never fully embraced her stepson.
Several of Joe's friends speculate that Emily uses her massive wealth (she will receive more than $400 million from the sale of Pulitzer alone) as leverage against her stepson. They say that Joe, while disgruntled by the sale, has no access to the Pulitzer fortune and doesn't want to ruin his children's inheritance should Emily include them in her will.
Never one to showcase his wealth, Joe moved in the early 1980s from his Central West End home to a tiny house in the working-class neighborhood of Dogtown, a move that prompted mean-spirited chatter from family onlookers who saw it as a step down the social ladder.
"One would assume that, if you have a great deal of choice, why would you move to Dogtown?" says a family acquaintance.
"Jay complained from time to time that he didn't have any money," says a former colleague. "He had cousins who got a lot more income out of the Post-Dispatch than he did, and they didn't even work for the paper. He clearly didn't have much ownership stake."
Still, despite the fallout from his divorce and the installment of Woo as editor, Joe remained optimistic that the paper would be his one day.
"Joe talked occasionally of the succession of the paper," recalls Wiktor Szostalo, who would often accompany Joe on trips to his father's fourteen-acre Ladue to collect firewood. "He hoped that he would ultimately inherit the paper but understood that it didn't have to happen -- that the tradition of passing it down from generation to generation was no longer a foregone conclusion."
In public, his father paid lip service to the notion of his son one day assuming command. In a 1989 speech to members of prestigious business organization the Newcomen Society, Pulitzer III concluded his talk by addressing his son's involvement in the business.
"Family continuity continues with the fourth Joseph Pulitzer, my son, great-grandson of the founder, who joined the news staff in 1976.... He continues to sharpen his administrative skills as vice president of administration."
In private, however, the relationship between father and son remained cool. Months before his dad's death from cancer in May of 1993, a friend remembers telling Joe that it was time the two "kiss and make up.
"Joe scoffed at the idea," says the friend.
If the blow of not becoming editor or publisher of the paper was difficult for Joe, then his father's last will and testament must have been even harder to swallow. Pulitzer III left all his ownership in the company to Emily. Probate court records show she inherited more than 4 million shares in Pulitzer Publishing Co., which at the time included the Post-Dispatch and the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, as well as seven television stations and one radio station. All told, the shares had a market value of $124 million.
What Joe got was some of the family artwork, including a bronze bust of his great-grandfather by Auguste Rodin (valued at the time at $50,000) and a portrait of his mother, Louise Pulitzer, by artist Rufino Tamayo (valued at $250,000). He also received his father's one-quarter interest in a vacation home in Maine that was jointly owned by several cousins, aunts and uncles. Joe later sold his interest in the house to pay for his Wyoming home. All told, Pulitzer III left his son a few hundred thousand dollars' worth of property -- from an estate valued at nearly $130 million.
"Everything went to Emmy," comments a friend. "It was sad."
While Emily became the largest single shareholder in the company following her husband's death, administrative power went to Michael Pulitzer, Pulitzer III's half-brother, who'd served as president and chief executive of the company since 1986. After his brother's death, Michael became chairman of the board.
Known more for being a businessman than a journalist, Michael quickly moved to undo many of his older brother's legacies, including the hiring of William Woo, who was often at odds with publisher Nicholas Penniman.
"Joe wasn't cold in his grave for long before Michael sacked Woo," recalls Eliot Porter.
The news was heralded by many in the newsroom, who viewed Woo as aloof and reluctant to go to bat for reporters on controversial stories. His vacancy led to a national search for an executive editor. By then, Joe wasn't even on the radar.
Following his father's death, Joe stayed at the paper for two years, but it was now evident to everyone that he'd never lead the company.
"He was given to feel like he had been sidelined, even though he had put in damn near twenty years in the company doing what he was told -- moving to Jefferson City and Washington, D.C., following the company orders, being the good soldier," says a friend.
In his private life, Joe sank into despair. Friends say he became a heavy drinker, often overindulging in his favorite elixir, Evan Williams bourbon, at dinner parties and social gatherings. His anger no longer in check, he became truculent and argumentative. His marriage to Jennifer began to crumble.
"By just being here I think he felt he was advertising himself as a loser," a friend ruefully recalls. "Here you have this name, Joseph Pulitzer, and it's an incredible burden living up to the traditions of that name. Whenever he met people they'd be impressed with the name and ask about his place in the company. It made him feel like shit."
Finally, in the spring of 1995, friends say Joe asked his uncle Michael for a face-saving way to leave the company. Though Pulitzer did not return phone calls requesting comment, his son, Michael Pulitzer Jr., parrots the official explanation given at the time of Joe's departure.
"Joe was happy at the paper and made a career decision to leave," maintains Michael Jr., who manages one of the family's former television stations in North Carolina. "One has a sense of respect and pride in the name Pulitzer, but one seeks happiness in one's own way, and the third generation of Pulitzers -- my father and Joe's father -- always encouraged us to pursue one's own interest."
Reached for comment prior to the news of Pulitzer's acquisition by Lee Enterprises, Michael Jr. said the potential sale of the company was unfortunate, but added that the true legacy of the Pulitzer name lives on in the Pulitzer Prizes.
"It's the prize that people respond to," he said. "It's a broader legacy. It's the lasting legacy."
Still, most of Joe's friends wish he'd had the opportunity to take control, especially in light of the sale. They say he had the editorial smarts, even if he may have lacked the business acumen of his father.
"Everyone was so intent on Joe staying away from the business, but what's the good if they could only keep the company in the family for just twelve years after his father's death?" remarks a friend. "I don't think Joe would have done worse than that."
Another close confidant provides a less sugar-coated synopsis of his friend's unrealized potential. "He was brought up a spoiled rich kid who never had to bust his ass or give a shit, but then neither did his father. As an only child, the paper was either going to be Joe's or nobody's. His father at least had his half-brother, Michael, to compete with."
A few months after stepping down in the spring of 1995, Joe and his family moved 1,200 miles west to Big Horn.
"It was good for him to get away from St. Louis and the Post," muses Jennifer. "His heart wasn't in it any longer."
Joe has grown heavy in recent years. Once the handsome, slim man with wavy black hair and an engaging smile, his 5-feet-11-inch body is now stooped with the weight of his 230- to 240-pound frame. One friend describes him as a "clinically obese" person who gets little or no exercise and continues to smoke unfiltered Camels. While he no longer drinks in excess -- having replaced bourbon with coffee -- Joe remains nocturnal, sleeping until noon and staying up most of the night.
Until their divorce in 1998, Jennifer and Joe kept separate residences on the fourteen-acre tract of land they purchased in Big Horn. Joe continues to live on the property, which boasts a swimming pool and two small farmhouses. The state of Wyoming does not disclose sale prices for real estate but currently appraises the property for tax purposes at $352,000.
For the past several years, Joe has spent much of his time in the San Francisco Bay area, where he rents the home of his eldest daughter, Elkhanah, who's attending graduate school in New York. It is in California, Joe tells friends, that he works as a consultant for the insurance agency, though no one -- not even his good friends -- has a clear sense of his job.
"There are probably a dozen guys who know him as well as I do," says a lifelong friend. "None of us could tell you exactly what he does."
To this day, Joe is guarded about his finances, but by all accounts he did not receive a substantial payout when he left the paper, and certainly not the millions of dollars that await current Pulitzer executives on completion of the Lee Enterprises acquisition.
Joe tells friends he holds about "0.001 percent" of the company's stock. Unlike other family members, he does not own enough shares for them to appear in Pulitzer Inc.'s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Evidence of just how out of touch Joe is with the company's principal stockholder, Emily Pulitzer, came by way of a Post article that ran the day after the announced sale to Lee.
"The next generation [of Pulitzers] is not involved in the company," Emily told Post reporter Tim McLaughlin. "We felt by dealing with the issues that face newspapers today, which are very different than eleven years ago when I first joined the board, we could do a more responsible job than waiting and passing it on to the next generation."
In the newsroom, the irony of Emily's words did not escape the attention of several long-time Post employees, who still recall the impassioned language her late husband used when faced with a hostile takeover in 1986.
"I will not trade my heritage for a pot of gold," Pulitzer III said at the time.
Several of Joe's former colleagues at the Post believe he would have kept his father's promise, to greater or lesser success.
"[Joe] would have never sold the paper on his watch," says a seasoned Post employee. "He would have run it into the ground, but he'd never sell it."
Still, others wonder aloud why Joe did not make a better effort to connect with his father if he truly wanted to take over the company. Today as he cruises Wyoming's lonely mountain highways in a five-year-old Toyota pickup truck, Joe is more John Denver than Charles Foster Kane. And maybe that's the way it was always meant to be.
"I think Joe has always wanted to live a simple life, and I think he got his wish," says a St. Louis friend. "With the last name 'Pulitzer,' you're dragging a hell of a lot of history, and St. Louis is unforgiving in that way. St. Louis forces you to carry a façade. People expect that from old St. Louis families. If you don't fit in, it's difficult."
This is part one of a two-part story. Next week: "Pulitzer's Gain."