THE SPY WHO LOVED THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER!
The World's Liveliest Paper
Fascinated by Sasquatch Sightings, the Loch Ness Monster, and Dinosaurs In the Congo in preference to writing features about conflicts in the Middle East and inequities in our judicial system, I finally found my niche in ‘74: as West Coast stringer for the mother of all tabloids, the National Enquirer.
That’s right, the same publication that gave us I WAS BIGFOOT’S LOVE SLAVE; GORDON RAMSAY SEX DWARF EATEN BY BADGER; SUPREME COURT JUSTICE SCALIA MURDERED BY HOOKER and CRIPPLED UFO ORBITING EARTH! It’s also the same publication that gave us Stormy Daniels’ ‘Kiss ‘N Tell sex romp with Donald Trump that Enquirer owner and Trump acolyte David Pecker purchased for $130,000, then quashed to keep it from damaging Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Now embroiled in a national scandal that rivals O.J. Simpson, Pecker has been granted immunity by federal prosecutors for spilling the beans on his longtime pal. But that doesn’t keep me from spilling the beans about America’s most notorious publication, famous for going through Henry Kissinger’s garbage, and paying $l8,000 for Elvis Presley’s coffin photo among other publishing coups.
The truth is, I loved writing for the Enquirer, sprinkling our cultural landscape with such literary gems as: THE CINNAMON BUN THAT LOOKS LIKE MOTHER TERESA; SOCKS THE WHITE HOUSE CAT EATS BETTER THAN YOU DO, and my personal favorite, THE MONA LISA IS REALLY LEONARDO IN DRAG!
In the beginning I thought they’d hand me a style guide advising me to 1) Never hyphenate Bigfoot 2) Always capitalize UFO and 3) use “Inside Sources say” when you don’t have one. Fact is, it didn’t matter if you couldn’t spell or properly punctuate sentences– they had copy editors for that. All I had to do was get the story, and that’s what I did for the next three decades filing hundreds of untold stories including THE TINY TOWN THAT’S HOME TO THE STRANGEST FOLKS IN SHOW BIZ. I got the inside story from the superstars on the sideshow circuit: Percilla the Monkey Girl, Grady Stiles the Human Lobster, Jeanie the Half Girl, and Melvin the Anatomical Wonder who could shrink, grow taller, swell up and drive an 8-inch spike through his nose. And while they made big bucks in their heyday as “sideshow freaks” their profession went into a fast fade (thankfully people realized that gawking at other people’s deformities was cruel). Even still the story explained the Enquirer’s mass appeal and its fixation on the abnormal and shocking catastrophes, best illustrated by “Last Meal On The Titanic”, ”The Man Who Hasn’t Stopped Hiccupping In Five Years” and the cash crop of OJ stories that scooped the mainstream press and finally gave the Enquirer what it long lacked—credibility.
The paper’s ‘What Ever Happened To…” column also fueled its’ popularity. My exclusive story on “Whatever Happened to The Mouseketeers”, for example, updated Enquirer readers on the whereabouts of some of the troupe’s stars. Sharon Baird, the world’s littlest Mouseketeer became a manicurist in Reno. “I’m still four feet eight,” she said. Paul Peterson, now an actor/activist for abused child stars, told me he hated being a Mouseketeer, constantly teased and battered by high school classmates pestering him about the show’s most popular star, Annette Funicelo. “I was always getting into fights,” he said. “They’d ask me embarrassing questions about Annette’s breasts which grew dramatically during four seasons on the show. ‘Tell us about Annette’s breasts. Are they really pointed? Have you ever seen her naked?’ I think I must have 400 stitches in my head just defending Annette.”
Transforming myself from cub reporter to tabloid veteran, I learned that if you talked to the right Hollywood makeup man you found out about the final touches put on Marilyn Monroe. If you talked to the right shoeshine man, you learned that Frank Sinatra at 5’ 7” tall secretly wore elevator shoes. And if you talked to the right hot dog vendor you discovered that Orson Welles still holds the record at Pink’s Hot Dog Stand in L.A. for eating the most number of chili dogs in one sitting: 25 all washed down by a Diet Coke.
I even talked to the right TV repairmen for THE VIOLENCE AMERICANS DO TO THEIR TV SETS! One irate viewer was so rattled by a potato chip commercial that he shattered his set with a pool cue. Another hated actress Leslie Uggams so much he leveled his set with a 30-30 rifle. But none rivaled the most celebrated attack in TV history as when Elvis Presley became so enraged watching singer Robert Goulet that he pulled out his trusty 356 Magnum and blew away his 24 inch RCA color console (now on display at the Elvis Presley Museum in Memphis).
Working under the tight lipped reign of Generoso Pope, Jr. (who looked more like the janitor than sole owner of the biggest selling newspaper in America), I interviewed the Enquirer’s main attraction– celebrities. Gloria Swanson told me how much she hated the IRS. Milton Berle shared his secret on how to beat the blues. Carolyn Jones, who played Morticia on the original Addams Family, opened up about her drinking problem. Bob Denver who played Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island described how he fell madly in love with a 3’ 11” dwarf lady. Glen Ford hung up on me. Dean Martin fell asleep on the phone. Fred McMurray shared his most embarrassing moment, and Richard Kiel, a 7’ 2” real estate agent in Pasadena talked about his role as Jaws in the James Bond spy film, The Spy Who Loved Me.
As for the Spy who loved the National Enquirer? I took on the story assignments other reporters turned down (I needed the paychecks), which included:
- Autograph Collectors Say Infamous Signatures Worth More! Did you know one Son of Sam is worth two Jonas Salk’s?
- Exploding the Myth behind Hollywood’s High Paid Animal Stars! Did you know Lassie is really a guy and Benji is a schnauzer mix named Higgins who can yawn and sneeze on cue?
- There Is No Poverty In America! Add up all the government freebies and there you go.
And for readers in need of a get-rich-quick-fix there was: “How to Make Thousands in Your Spare Time Bounty Hunting! How does $300,000 sound for any clues leading to the person or persons responsible for the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, plus an extra $2,000 for the recovery of his body, in your spare time?
The ‘How To Stories’ were my bread and butter enlightening readers on ‘How to Have a Sunny Disposition’; ‘How To Get On A TV Game Show’; ‘How To Cope With Hurt Feelings’, among others. But they killed ‘How to Improve Your Sex Life with Cod Liver Oil’. After interviewing “The Cod Father”, who explained how this nasty tasting liquid bombarded the adrenal cortex with vitamins A and D, and stimulates your sex drive to heightened levels of euphoria, I couldn’t find a certified doctor to corroborate the story and it died a quick and sudden death. But so did a lot of people, like Andrew Gregg who suffered a massive stroke and was pronounced DOA at a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. A half an hour later, he came back to life and lived to talk about it in a phone chat so bizarre that you’d think I was certifiably insane, or a reporter for the National Enquirer.
“Can you tell me when you died, Mr. Gregg?”
“I died in l973.”
“And how long were you dead?”
“I was dead for twenty five minutes.”
“What did you do while you were dead?”
“I went to heaven and met Jesus. He was nude from the waist up.”
“And did Jesus say anything to you?”
“Yes, he said ‘Andrew, what on earth are you doing here?’”
After the interview I hung up the phone and asked myself the same question: What on earth am I doing here? I was writing for America’s salacious tabloid, filing stories about the living dead; people who experienced psychic revelations; personal visitations from ghosts; close encounters with Bigfoot; high paid professionals who gave it all up to become clowns; ‘Success Without College’ and ‘Escape From The Rat Race’.
And along the way I learned the number one question people asked whenever I told them I wrote for the Enquirer: “Do you make that stuff up? Does Socks The White House Cat Eat Better Than You Do?” That article was my tour de farce – and fake news at its finest, describing how “Socks laps up lustrous gourmet treats prepared by five-star White House chefs from $59-an-ounce Beluga caviar to poached Alaska salmon at $8.99 a pound.” The copy went on to read how, “the famous first feline sank his claws into a first-class meal ticket when the Clintons adopted him after their cocker spaniel Zeke died in a car crash. And it wasn’t long before the emerald-eyed kitty was digging into big daddy Bill’s favorite treat: chicken enchiladas.” Truth be told, Socks ate regular cat food just like every housecat in America.
By then my cheesy portfolio of titillating tabloid tales expanded to include The Globe, The Star, and the National Examiner, now owned by David Pecker who purchased the Enquirer after Pope’s death in ‘88. But I was beginning to suffer tabloid burnout and didn’t want to end up like one reporter who calmly got up from his desk one day, wandered into the men’s room, then back out into the newsroom, totally nude with a ribbon bow tied around his penis babbling about Bigfoot and demonizing crop circles.
So with little fanfare, I filed my last story on ‘Santa to the Stars’ which ran in December 2004, featuring Brady White, Hollywood’s favorite St. Nick. He shared anecdotes about all the stars who sat on his lap over the years telling him what they really wanted for Christmas. Cher wanted an Oscar and got it the following year for Moonstruck. And Madonna wanted her virginity back. “I begged her, Please ask me for anything else. Poor Santa can’t work miracles.”
So there you go: confessions of a tabloid hack. And as I flip through the pages of the latest issues, now dominated entirely by celebrity news minus Donald Trump exclusives, safely under lock and key, I think about the golden days of tabloid journalism. It was a time when I could write off the wall stories that had nothing to do with celebrities like ‘The Weird Things People Swallow; Strange Bar Bets’; America’s Highest Paid Panhandlers, The Incredible World of the Turkey Buzzard and ‘Madonna Lookalike Says Her Boobs Can Predict Rain’.
They were throwbacks to another time when the Enquirer and its Weekly World News gave us those sensational, eye catching headlines like MINI MERMAID FOUND IN TUNA SANDWICH! MAN MAKES $50,000 A YEAR AS HUMAN LAWN JOCKEY! and BATBOY CONFESSES: I’M JEWISH!
I always wondered who wrote that stuff and now I knew – I did.
Words: Rick Sandack