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

February 19, 1988|JEANNINE STEIN | 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.

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