Mark Of Kane

Consider the cornucopia of excess, decadence, death threats, betrayal, greed, lust, sloth, jealousy, socialites and servants, psychic fraud, champagne, cocaine, vengeance, and deeply disturbing karmic manifestations that characterized the Palm Beach custody trial of Peter and Roxanne Pulitzer.

The New York Post‘s Pulitzer trial headlines have been the true summa of the art, a dazzling, shameless display of virtuosity topped, of course, by the justly famed:

SEX TRIAL
SOCIALITE’S SHOCKER:
“I SLEPT WITH A TRUMPET”

For those of you too preoccupied by more serious matters to have paid attention to the story so far, the Post offered this Cast of Characters list along with the trumpet story:

—Peter Pulitzer: 51, grandson of newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer. His wife says he committed incest with his daughter when she was a teenager and has smuggled drugs.

—Roxanne Pulitzer: 31, his attractive wife who seeks a divorce. She admits she routinely went to bed with a three-foot trumpet as part of a bizarre psychic ritual. Her husband says she had lesbian affairs and committed adultery.

—Jacqueline Kimberly: wife of James Kimberly, who controls the Kimberly-Clark Kleenex tissues fortune. Pulitzer said she had an affair with his wife. Mr. Kimberly denies the claim, saying the Pulitzers are out for publicity.

What’s wonderful about this story is how provocative it is on so many levels of discourse. The Hamiltonian implications are obvious. To anyone who’s read The Federalist Papers, the Pulitzer marriage is a maimed confederation, the exact embodiment of Hamilton’s dark vision of the strife, jealousy, anarchic self-destructive collapse that would be the fate of the states under the Articles of Confederation should they not adopt the binding union the new constitution offered.

On a less overtly political level the Pulitzer marriage seemed to be a contribution to the debate over the redemptive possibilities of romantic tragedy. “The road of excess,” Blake claimed, “leads to the Palace of Wisdom.” After the evidence of the Pulitzer trial, it’s impossible not to revise that to: “The road of excess leads to further excess.” Or, the road of excess leads to the driveway of the Pulitzer place in Palm Beach.

But there’s another more provocative question raised by the Pulitzer trial, a genuine mystery: Just what is it about these newspaper heirs anyway? Sure, Patty Hearst was kidnapped, but did she have to turn into machine-gun-toting Tania on top of that? When the Scripps-Howard heir in Colorado started to snort cocaine, why did he have to develop a full $6000-a-week habit and make a public spectacle of himself? And then there was the Knight-Ridder heir who got fatally involved with a homosexual slasher to the tune of sensational headlines. Were the Pulitzers jealous of the attention, the front-page headlines, the circulation boosts the other heirs were grabbing? Or is there some darker, almost biblical mark of Kane being meted out over generations to the pulp-sensation tycoons: their children recycled into the tragic headlines they built their empires on? Could it have been the spirit of old Joe Pulitzer himself speaking through the trumpet in Roxanne’s bed, urging her on to headline-making exploits? Or, darker thought: might it have been William Randolph Hearst carrying on his vendetta with the Pulitzers from beyond the grave?

—Ron Rosenbaum, The Secret Parts of Fortune

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