Tesuque resident James McGrath Morris’ 576-page biography of Joseph Pulitzer, Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power, reveals new information and insights about the life of the man with one of America’s most recognized names. Morris gives a reading and book signing this week to coincide with the book’s publication (7-9 pm Tuesday, Feb. 9. Collected Works Bookstore, 202 Galisteo St., 505-988-4226). Below, Morris provides readers with 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Joseph Pulitzer.
JMM: People don’t know how to pronounce Pulitzer. The way to remember it is that he used to point to the door and say, ‘Pull it, sir.’
Pulitzer fired a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. In 1903, he was very upset that an article appeared in his New York newspaper about a famous society woman who was remodeling a room for a nursery. Remodeling a room for a nursery must mean that she was pregnant. In the 19th century, women of high society, when they became pregnant, hid themselves. So this appeared in the paper, and Pulitzer was really infuriated. He sent cables back to the paper to find out who the reporter was and to have him or her fired on the spot. The reporter was a woman named Zona Gale and, seven years after Pulitzer’s death, she [became the first woman to win] a Pulitzer Prize.
Pulitzer once shot a lobbyist.
The New York World newspaper that he ran was so powerful in its day that today, The New York Times would have to have a circulation 300 percent larger than it does [to be equal]. It was like CNN, New York Times and CBS combined, in terms of its power.
To communicate, Pulitzer used a 5,000-word code book. Everybody used telegraphs in the 19th century to communicate—but the problem was, everybody read it. Pulitzer was so obsessive about it, he developed his own 5,000-word code; codes for his kids’ health, the weather where he was, etc.
Columbia University didn’t want the journalism school, originally [Pulitzer gifted it in 1911]. They were uncomfortable with journalism because it was considered a trade, and they were an Ivy League school.
President Teddy Roosevelt and Pulitzer were life-long enemies. During his last year in office, Roosevelt sent a letter to US Attorney Henry Stimson, [in New York], which said, ‘I don’t know federal law, but find something. We want to put this guy in prison.’ The offense was that Pulitzer had published a criticism of the Panama Canal. This was such an affront to Roosevelt that he brought down the weight of the federal government to put Pulitzer in jail. Pulitzer prevailed.
When Pulitzer went blind at the height of his power, he became obsessed with sound. In his New York house, the room he lived in was built on ball bearings, with an inner wall to hide the sound. When he traveled and rented a house in Germany, they installed thicker glass on the windows.
We wouldn’t have the Statue of Liberty were it not for Joseph Pulitzer. The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, not the governments. The statue was on the way here, but the US had not raised enough money to put up the pedestal on the island. So the Statue of Liberty was going to sit on the dock. Pulitzer could have written a check—he was that rich—but he came up with the idea of raising the money through the newspaper. He announced that whoever donated money would have their name in the newspaper. People, by the thousands, sent in pennies and dimes, and the pedestal was built using money sent in by World newspaper readers.
Santa Fe has a Pulitzer connection. Bishop’s Lodge was owned by Constance and Edith Pulitzer, Joseph’s two daughters. When the Catholic Church sold it [in 1915], the Pulitzer Publishing Company bought it, and Edith and Constance built the north and south lodges as summer homes.