It came as quite a shock to learn that CBS war correspondent Bob Simon was coming to West Palm Beach to cover the scandalous divorce trial of Peter Pulitzer and his beautiful wife Roxanne. It somehow didn't fit.
By 1982, his second decade as a CBS reporter, Simon had already established himself as the giant among war corespondents, mainly due to the human touch he brought to his coverage of Vietnam. A memorable example came at war's end in one of his final broadcasts. As the camera panned slowly over dozens of lifeless bodies beside a road, he observed so eloquently: “There's nothing left to say about this war. There's nothing left. . .”
When Bob Simon said he departed in one of the last helicopters to leave Vietnam, there was never any doubt that he was on one of the last helicopters.
Bob was one of several dozen reporters who flocked to Palm Beach to cover the Pulitzer divorce, most of them drawn by racy headlines on my stories in the New York Post. Even famous writers like Peter Axhelm and Hunter S. Thompson were on hand for the tale of the Cinderella marriage turned sour.
Simon asked if he could follow me around for a few days while I covered the trial. He would not be doing daily reporting, only a wrap-up feature for CBS News.
He was enthusiastic about every aspect of the story because of its links to Pulitzer.
“This is terrific,” he said. “Here we have journalism's most prestigious name involved in the same kind of sensational headlines that made Joseph Pulitzer so famous, or infamous,” Bob said. “A lot of people called his brand of journalism irresponsible.”
At our first breakfast meting, Bob revealed that his favorite assignments were not “war stories,” but rather the ones involving people, human interest stories. “People everywhere like to hear offbeat stories, especially when they make a difference,” he said. “Here we have a powerful multimillionaire and the girl from a more humble background fighting for custody of their twin 6-year-olds. Really, it doesn't matter whether it's in Australia or Bavaria, people love to hear about other people."
Bob asked to meet some of my sources who'd helped give me the “exclusives” he'd read in the Post and laughed out loud when I explained those scoops were simply the result of good of luck.
A few days before the trial The Miami Herald ran a single column piece about the upcoming divorce involving Joseph Pulitzer's grandson. As a freelance journalist, working mainly for the New York Post, I went to the courthouse to check whether there might be some interesting depositions among court papers.
While page after page of scandalous accusations were clicking off the copying machine, Judge Carl Harper's secretary burst into the room. “Please hurry,” she said. “The judge is keeping this file private from now on, until the case has ended.” She could so easily have confiscated all those pages.
That file was a goldmine. In one deposition, Roxanne accused Peter of using their yacht to smuggle drugs, in another of having an inappropriate relationship with a daughter from his previous marriage. But that daughter testified that it was Roxanne who had propositioned her.
Peter's depositions were far more titillating. He accused his wife of having several affairs (with a Belgian Grand Prix driver, a local French baker, a real estate salesman, a suspected drug dealer and as a change of pace, with Jacqueline Kimberley, a former British model and the wife of the heir to the Kleenex tissue fortune.)
With those depositions in my briefcase, stories began to flow. If testimony in the 18-day trial became boring, I'd write words to the effect, “meanwhile in court papers,” and list details of another scandal which wound up on the front page of the Post.
There were tales of psychics, sex, and cocaine use. One day in court, Jacqueline Kimberley vehemently denied she had ever had an affair with Roxanne. However, in a deposition in court papers, Peter detailed an instance when he joined the two beauties in bed, even naming the hotel, the time, and the room number.
On his final day at the trial, Bob was struggling to find a way to close his feature. Then after we'd said our goodbyes and he'd left for his hotel, he came all the way back to the courthouse just to show me: “Look, we've got it! We've found a photo of Peter in the exact same pose as a famous picture of his granddad, Joseph. It'll make a perfect closing fading in to Peter and then fading out to his grandfather.”
Indeed, it made the perfect closing. With his wonderful flair for writing, Bob Simon's feature on Walter Cronkite's Evening News was by far the best story to come out of the trial, in my opinion.
Malcolm Balfour worked as a producer for the CBS affiliate in Miami, was bureau chief of Reuters in Miami, and then became an article editor at the National Enquirer in the 1970s. He was a New York Post Florida correspondent for 27 years and worked as a freelance for numerous popular publications and television shows, from "Entertainment Tonight" and "Inside Edition" to "Hard Copy"and "Good Morning America." For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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