Roxanne Pulitzer: Making Infamy Pay : At 37, She Is Risking Spotlight to Trumpet Autobiography and Her Side of Marriage to Palm Beach Newspaper Heir

Times Staff Writer

The dirt on major celebrities was being dished but good by writers and publicists at the small dinner party. In the midst of it all, squealing with delight at the stories of who was sleeping with whom, and who had the biggest cocaine problem, was the guest of honor: Roxanne Pulitzer.

The irony was inescapable.

The woman who was embroiled in one of the most scandalous divorce trials of the decade--a trial that involved charges of cocaine abuse and adultery but was memorable most for its bizarre testimony and subsequent headlines about the trumpet in their bedroom--was, for a change, on the other side of the gossip fence.

Pulitzer, 37, is risking the spotlight again, touting her autobiography, “The Prize Pulitzer: The Scandal That Rocked Palm Beach--The Real Story,” her side of her marriage to newspaper heir Herbert (Peter) Pulitzer. It tells all, from her childhood in Cassadaga, N.Y., to her first marriage to a wealthy heir, to the courtship and marriage to and divorce from Pulitzer, who gained custody of their twin sons after a bitter court battle.


Was an Outsider

The backdrop for the Pulitzer marriage was Palm Beach society, known for its old, old money and dislike of outsiders. Pulitzer’s bride, 21 years his junior, was never accepted, she said, and although she claims she partied, hunted and slept with some of them, she was always an outsider.

The 1982 headlines painted her as the “Strumpet With the Trumpet,” but those who choose to believe this R-rated book will see a portrait of a woman who loved her husband so deeply she would do anything to please him and whose dependence upon him eventually led to her downfall.

“Looking back on it,” she said, “we gave the public everything. It was the real, live soap behind the Palm Beach door that the people wanted. And it happened to snowball into this thing.”

When Herbert Pulitzer sued Roxanne for divorce in 1982, the old log that was Palm Beach society was lifted up so the world could peek at what was underneath. Some ran, others didn’t escape. Jacquie Kimberly, Roxanne’s then-best friend and wife of the Kleenex heir, allegedly participated in a menage a trois with the Pulitzers although Kimberly later denied it under oath during the trial.

In its first week on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list, the book is ranked 10th. Although some may cry “Who cares?” the book’s popularity is hardly surprising, considering the public’s healthy appetite for the kinky escapades of the rich and infamous.

Pulitzer maintains she didn’t write the autobiography to satisfy the public’s need for sleaze (the book is actually low on the kink scale). “I frankly didn’t want Mac and Zac (her 10-year-old boys) just reading those 1982 headlines when they got older,” she said of her reasons for writing the book. “I thought it seemed as though the children were not even a part of our lives. It was as if this was a battle of egos of two spoiled brats.

“It’s much better now having taken a very negative thing in my life and making it into a positive,” she said, using a favorite phrase. “The press invaded me in 1982 and all of a sudden my private life was public. I didn’t want it, I didn’t want the divorce. (During the trial) I felt like I was in the gynecologist’s chair. . . . It’s much better now having a freedom of choice to go public with the book. It’s a wonderful feeling to be that in control of your life.”

Pulitzer was in town for a brief two days in the middle of a 28-city book tour, holed up at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, living out of worn Louis Vuittonsuitcases, tiring of airplane and hotel food. She answered the door dressed in what has become her trademark look: jeans tucked into white socks and white-white high-top Reeboks, a tuxedo shirt underneath a white cable-knit sweater, dangly turquoise and silver earrings.

Frank and bold during a lively interview, Pulitzer acts like your best girlfriend and looks like an Ivory Girl.

Or maybe an aerobics instructor, which has been her occupation for the past 5 1/2 years while living in an apartment in West Palm Beach, the lower-rent flip side to Palm Beach. She took the job when a friend, who owns an exercise studio, asked her to fill in at the last minute for an absent instructor. “I’m still filling in five years later,” she said with a laugh.

She loves the work, despite the fact that among her students are ex-husband Pulitzer, his new wife, his grown daughter (with whom she never got along) and other members of the old gang.

“I know,” she said nodding, realizing how the situation looks to an outsider. “But it’s something where I sat back and thought, this is going to be good for you mentally. Just tune out who they are. You’re there as a teacher, you’re not there as Roxanne Pulitzer who had just had someone testify against you in the back row. I was able to go in there with a smile on my face, look at everybody equally, and teach.

“When I would go to the supermarket I’d run into people who would say, ‘You ruined Peter Pulitzer’s life and his name and you never belonged here anyway you hussy, leave town.’ But when they did that to me, it caused the emotion of anger. I thought no one is going to drive me from my children. To run would have meant that I was guilty. For me that would have been wrong.”

She has been called every name in the book and emerged, she said, a survivor. Her trials in and out of the courtroom have caused her to adopt a to-hell-with-what-the-world-thinks attitude. In 1985, she received $70,000 for posing nude for Playboy in a layout that poked fun at the juiciest elements of the trial and included--you bet--a trumpet. She did it “to laugh at all this,” she writes in the book, “and, frankly, for the money.”

“You know,” she said of the book tour interviews, “I get the trumpet question a lot . They always say, ‘What did you do with the trumpet?’ They are still convinced I slept with it. I know it! I think there is a cult of people who sleep with trumpets and maybe they think I did something they’ve never heard of and I’m keeping it a secret.” She laughed loudly at the thought.

For the record, Pulitzer explains in the book, the trumpet was given to Herbert following a seance they attended together, and was then stored in the bedroom closet. She claims the trumpet was introduced in the trial as evidence of some weird religious beliefs and rituals, which she denies. End of story.

The second most-asked question is why, as she told in the book, she would continue to see and sleep with her ex-husband after the trial, and after he won custody of the children--the latter an excruciating experience?

‘I Was So in Love’

“I was so in love with this person,” she explained. “Keep in mind that he represented my family, my home that we built together. I looked at it as a child who had had a bad, bad temper tantrum--obviously it was a war to him. But I knew in my heart it was never about love. Frankly, I didn’t fall out of love with this man until around 1985.”

Today, she said, she harbors no bitterness, and now takes half the blame for the breakup. “It takes two to make it, two to break it,” she said emphatically.

She added, “We will always be linked because of Mac and Zac.”

The two exchange polite “hellos” when she picks up the kids on the weekend, but he has said nothing to her about the book. “I would think he should be proud of the way it was handled,” she commented, staring off. “I think it’s a very fair portrayal. . . . I would hope that he would look at it and say ‘Yeah, she’s a survivor, she’s going to go on, good for her.’ ”

After the divorce and custody battle, Roxanne was left with a Porsche, jewelry, limited alimony, visitation rights and very few friends. She can still count her close friends on one hand--three to be exact. Author Pat Booth (“Palm Beach,” “The Sisters”), a Palm Beach resident transplanted from England, is one.

“Reaction to the book here is split exclusively down the middle,” Booth said in a phone interview. “The old guard feels it should be dead and buried. Others, like the working girls on Worth Avenue, root for her.”

Told about the scene at dinner the night before, when Pulitzer was laughing at the gossip around the table, and Booth said, “It’s a very funny thing, infamy, isn’t it? It’s a double-edged sword. You have to embrace it in a way; that is your past, that’s you, you can’t escape it. You can’t look down upon people, and I think if she did she would be a hypocrite, and that is one thing she is not. She totally understands in a way that infamy has brought her fame, and she does embrace that, in a fun-loving way.”

The First Draft

Pulitzer has just finished reading the first draft of “The Prize Pulitzer,” a TV movie version of the book. “I think it needs a little work,” she said. The script seems to her a bit high on the glitz and glamour (“I was in hunting fatigues more than I was in black tie”) but she understands Hollywood’s need for that. Cheryl Ladd and Candice Bergen have been mentioned as possibilities to play her; she’d rather see someone more like Sean Young or Debra Winger.

When the book tour is over, Pulitzer plans to go back to teaching aerobics and lecturing on child custody matters.

She’s thought about having another child. “I go back and forth on that one. Ultimately I would like to have a baby without getting married if I can get financially settled. But I don’t know if marriage is in the picture for me.

“I’ve learned a lot and I’ve healed myself in a lot of ways. . . . Frankly, I wouldn’t want to have my children taken away again through a power situation. But I think children should have both parents around.”

Addressing the issue of losing her kids, Pulitzer added, “I don’t know, I mean, it’s like having somebody tear off your leg, I’m telling you. And the leg is still growing back.

“At least society would accept (having a child out of wedlock) now. But, well, look at me. I’ve never really listened to society anyway,” she said, laughing. “And it’s too late to start now.”