Joseph Pulitzer Jr. Is Dead at 80; Publisher Was Avid Art Collector
Joseph Pulitzer Jr., chairman of the Pulitzer Publishing Company and owner of one of the world's finest collections of modern art, died yesterday at his home in the Central West End of St. Louis. He was 80.
Mr. Pulitzer died of colon cancer, the publishing company said in a news release.
Tall, elegant and reserved, Mr. Pulitzer had, for the last seven years, served primarily as chairman of Pulitzer Publishing, which owns three newspapers, seven television stations and two radio stations. He had led Pulitzer Publishing and its flagship publication, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, for 38 years, serving for 31 of those years as editor and publisher of the newspaper.
Mr. Pulitzer relinquished his positions with the paper in 1986 to devote his attention to the company, which went public that year. From 1955 to 1986, he served as chairman of the board of the Pulitzer Prizes, the highest awards in journalism, which were established by his grandfather.
Avid Collector of Art
Though principally identified with journalism, Mr. Pulitzer was widely recognized for the art collection he began as a student at Harvard University, a collection that ultimately became one of the most important and generously shared in the world.
Art News magazine called Mr. Pulitzer's acquisitions "one of the most brilliant and comprehensive collections of modern art in the country," and John Russell of The New York Times described it as "one of the most discriminating" in the nation, saying it was "as remarkable for range as for quality."
Born on May 13, 1913, Mr. Pulitzer was baptized in the Episcopal Church as Joseph Pulitzer 3d, but he later adopted the junior designation, which his father had dropped after the death of the first Joseph Pulitzer.
Mr. Pulitzer graduated from St. Mark's School in Southborough, Mass., in 1932, and went on to earn his bachelor's degree in fine art from Harvard in 1936. His newspaper career began with a stint as a cub reporter for The San Francisco News in 1935, the summer before his senior year at Harvard. After graduating, he joined The Post-Dispatch news staff and helped cover the Roosevelt-Landon campaign of 1936.
'Illuminate Dark Places'
Over the next 20 years, he worked in every department of the paper, including periods as editor of the daily magazine and editor of the Sunday rotogravure, or pictorial. In 1948, he became associate editor, a position he held until he became editor and publisher on the father's death in 1955.
In an editorial he wrote on the day he took over the paper, a week after his father's death, Mr. Pulitzer pledged that The Post-Dispatch would maintain its tradition as one of the nation's great crusading papers. "We will not only report the day's news but illuminate dark places, and, with a deep sense of responsibility, interpret these troublous times," he wrote.
At the time, besides the newspaper, Pulitzer holdings included only a radio and television station in St. Louis. But under Joseph Jr.'s guidance, the company bought The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson and The Southtown Economist in Chicago, six other television stations and another radio station.
In 1986, the Pulitzer company faced its greatest financial challenge. It had accrued a large debt, and a group of dissident relatives who owned stock in the privately owned company found a buyer, A. Alfred Taubman, a Michigan real estate developer, who offered $625 million for the company. The company successfully resisted the takeover bid, going public with the stock in order to offset its debt.
In 1989, the company faced another challenge when Ralph Ingersoll 2d began publishing The St. Louis Sun. Although that newspaper failed after only seven months, its presence spurred the staid Post-Dispatch to improve its coverage.
A Litany of Firsts[>
During Mr. Pulitzer's tenure as editor, The Post-Dispatch won five Pulitzers, including prizes for commentary and editorial cartooning. In 1987, Mr. Pulitzer received a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize board, citing his "extraordinary services to American journalism and letters."
The Post-Dispatch was one of the first newspapers in the country to oppose the war in Vietnam, and it was also one of the first to publish excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the war.
It was also the first paper in the country to replace the old letter-press printing process with offset cold-type printing, which allowed high-quality color printing. "Color was of special interest to an art connoisseur like Mr. Pulitzer," the company's statement yesterday said, "and at his insistence The Post-Dispatch moved early into color publication."
Hobby Became a Passion
Mr. Pulitzer's art collecting began simply enough in 1936 when as an undergraduate he bought Modigliani's "Elvira Resting at a Table." Three years later, at an auction in Lucerne, Switzerland, he bought "Bathers With a Turtle," by Matisse for $2,400, a piece that is now easily worth 10,000 times that amount.
Mr. Pulitzer's father had no enthusiasm for modern art and sometimes took his friends into his son's room to ridicule the purchases. "He was convinced that I had been fleeced by shrewd and unscrupulous New York dealers," Mr. Pulitzer said in a speech earlier this year.
Later, when his father realized the value of his collection and asked where he learned so much about art, Mr. Pulitzer told him that the knowledge had been acquired at Harvard and that the elder Pulitzer had footed the bill.
The Pulitzer Collection came to include 86 pieces, all of which were shown at the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Mass., in 1988. The collection could have included Picasso's seminal work "Demoiselles d'Avignon," but Mr. Pulitzer had bought it before World War II and then donated it to the Museum of Modern Art.
Mr. Pulitzer always insisted on anonymity when lending his works to museums.
His collection included Vuillard's "Self Portrait," and "Head of a Man" by Degas, one of Monet's "Water Lilies," as well as works by Braque, Picasso and Miro.
Mr. Pulitzer's first wife, Louise Vauclain, died in 1968. He married again in 1973, to the former Emily S. Rauh, who at the time was curator of the St. Louis Art Museum.
He is survived by his son, Joseph Pulitzer 4th; his half brother, Michael of St. Louis, two sisters, Kate Davis Quesada of Hobe Sound, Fla., and Elinor Hempelmann of Rochester, and four grandchildren.