By John Garton
If you’ve been reading Ranters regularly, you’ve already enjoyed several tales of the larger-than-life Generoso Pope, founder of the American supermarket tabloids and boss of the National Enquirer.
I was a late Brit arrival on the American tabloids in Florida and as news editor of the National Examiner I inherited an ex-Enquirer reporter, John Harris, a soft-spoken Carolina mountain man who always brought me a jar of his family’s lethal ‘Carolina Moon’ concoction whenever he returned from his annual jaunt to his relatives up in the backwoods.
John was modest man and not one to boast of any past achievements. But he had a reputation for one particular assignment and he eventually told me the whole amazing story.
At the height of the Enquirer’s success John was hired by one of its editors from his news beat in Cincinatti for a special job. It was one of Pope’s brainwave ideas that his editors and reporters were expected to make a reality.
This one was a doozy. Pope wanted to find Paradise. The Enquirer would reveal this nirvana to its adoring readers.
John was fully briefed for his monumental task. Pope’s editors compiled a long list of exotic places round the world that they thought were likely to match Pope’s idea of paradise... Madeira, Hawaii, Bora Bora, the Seychelles, Fiji, Bali and many more.
After a lot of planning John was dispatched on his round-the-world quest, pockets full of Pope plastic and cash.
Arriving at each port of call, John inspected it carefully, spoke to local experts and eventually filed his piece to the anxiously awaiting Pope executives in Lantana, the Enquirer’s base in south Florida. The big guns examined it, pulled it apart, put it back together again and made their judgment that this place was or wasn’t paradise. They’d then pass it to the boss or they’d spike it.
Whatever happened, it was a long drawn-out process that caused the editors and Pope a lot of heartache and several editors’ heads rolled when they didn’t toe Pope’s line.
Meanwhile, the intrepid Harris pressed on. The journey took many months, hours of writing, editing, Pope rages and lots more besides. Every time Pope was presented with a Shangri-la candidate he declined it and Harris was urged on to yet another stunning destination. John, of course, was having the time of his life.
Eventually he reached some heavenly Pacific island and Harris thought he’d cracked it. No doubt about it...this was Paradise. He meticulously composed his magic words. The Lantana editors received them and their excitement mounted. They went through the copy over and over again and agreed that this was The One. They confidently strode off to Pope’s office and presented the big man with the precious copy, declaring:
‘This is it, Gene.’
Pope sat back to read while the editors waited anxiously, praying that this was the end of it all and the boss would be delighted.
He finished reading and agreed that yes, this was it, run it. Huge sighs of relief and smiles and the editors retreated from the inner sanctum.
As they were leaving Pope called after them: ‘By the way, how did we get Harris’ copy?’
‘By phone,’ they chorused.
‘What?’ said Pope, ‘By phone? Kill it. Ain’t no phones in paradise...’
End of story. Harris was summoned home. Not one word of his worldwide odyssey was ever printed in the Enquirer.
Former Daily Mirror journalist and publicity man John Garton eventually left the US tabloids, ‘went straight’ on a Florida daily and is now happily retired in his own paradise in St Augustine, Florida.