When Iain Calder was editor for The National Enquirer, 4.4 billion copies of the magazines were sold.
Nine years after stepping out of the paper's top job, Calder, 65, has written a memoir: "The Untold Story: My 20 Years Running the National Enquirer." The core story is straight from The Enquirer's rags-to-riches file: Boy from small-town Scotland makes it big in America.
"What I did was instead of worrying about what I thought, I tried to put myself in the skin of the person I thought was going to buy the paper and that was a woman, maybe a housewife with a couple of kids, age 40," Calder tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler. "I think I was very successful in trying to figure out what she wanted and my job was just to get it for her."
Some of those stories include Judy Garland's fake burial, how they put Elvis in his coffin, and Gary Hart and Donna Rice love affair.
About Garland's story he says, "I got a call, and they said Judy Garland still isn't buried, and I really didn't believe her, but I thought, 'We've got to check it out.'
"So I went to this place in New Jersey, very nice cemetery. And I took my wife and child there because we went undercover as a family coming to look and see where our loved ones could be buried," he continues, "and I went down the hall, and I saw this big mausoleum, and it was a little square in the wall, and there were people behind these squares. And you were supposed to be there for just a few days before you were really buried. So as I walked down, I suddenly see a little plastic sign saying 'Judy Garland.' I touched it and it wobbled. I thought, 'My goodness, this legend still hasn't been buried here.'"
To get Elvis' picture, one of the photographers of the Enquirer followed a family member and offered him a large sum of money in exchange for the photo.
He went back in the next day. After the viewing was finished, all of the guys who were guarding him went out for drinking sessions at night. So in the middle of the night, about 3 in the morning, he left the drinking sessions, went back to see all this and took four pictures of Elvis. Calder explains, "Elvis, at the time, was lying in state and people were walking past, but the Graceland mafia didn't want you to take a picture."
Asked if it bothers him that mainstream media tend to look down their nose at The National Enquirer because it pays for interviews, Calder says, "I don't worry about it at all. I think it's a good thing for us."
Calder started at the Enquirer in 1964 as the London bureau chief. In late 1967, he came over to the United States and by 1973, he was the executive editor in charge of news and photo gathering. The following year, he became the editorial director. Calder was the company president from 1976 to 1995, but kept doing some work for the company that owned the magazine until 2000.
Excerpt from "The Untold Story: My 20 Years Running the National Enquirer"
It was 1964, and life was good.
I was twenty-four years old, with almost nine years of journalism
under my belt. I'd covered every kind of story from airline crashes and
coal-mine disasters to murders and national elections, and now I was
a member of the Glasgow Daily Record's Heavy Mob, the reporters
sent out on the front lines of the cutthroat Scottish tabloid wars. I was
well paid, with work that was exciting and fulfilling. I was engaged to
a special woman, Jane Bell, a hair stylist, who seemed ready to put up
with me and the demands of my career.
Yet I was growing too old to be a young kamikaze. My bosses
were only in their thirties, so there were no openings for promotion.
I was beginning to feel caged.
The next logical step was London. Everything exciting — from
Mary Quant's eyeshadow and miniskirts to the Rolling Stones' growls
and gyrations —c ame from London, the center of the world.
With my fiancée's blessing, I asked to be transferred to our parent
newspaper, the Daily Mirror, the world's largest English-language
daily, with a massive circulation of more than 5 million each day. Nobody
in Glasgow had ever asked for a transfer before, but my boss
agreed. He even said he'd send me down to London for a couple of
weeks that summer, to run the Record's London bureau, right in the
But by my twenty-fifth birthday, my transfer still hadn't been formalized
and I was feeling frustrated.
Then destiny stepped in.
* * *
During my temporary assignment to the Record's London office, I
visited Al Coombes, a short, pocket-Hercules type who tackled life
and sports with bulldog-like ferocity. Al and I had met when we both
worked at the Record several years earlier, and we became good
friends. Shortly after I met Jane, I had a blind date with a young
woman named Beth. Lovely as she was, I preferred Jane, which was
fortunate, since Al was very interested in Beth. Soon, the four of us
were socializing together.
While at the Record, Al had started freelancing for an unknown
American weekly called the National Enquirer. Although the
Record paid very well, Al could make two weeks' salary by doing
just one story for this strange publication none of us had heard of.
In 1963, shortly after Al married my former blind date, he announced
that he was leaving the Record to open the first London bureau
for the Enquirer. By the summer of 1964, Al was well settled in,
and on a visit to London, I went over to visit him at his office. Actually,
calling it an office is a gross exaggeration. It wasn't much bigger
than an average closet. With Al seated at his desk and myself in one
guest chair, and Al's secretary (and only employee) sitting in the
other, there might have been room for two more people — thin people
— to crush in and stand somewhere.
But Al was happy in his tiny domain. He was responsible for
building a stringer network across the whole of Europe, able to pay
American rates for stories and photos — a huge premium over British
magazine payments. At twenty-five, he was lord of his domain.
One strange thing: Al strenuously resisted showing me a copy of
the Enquirer. I realized later he was too ashamed of his publication,
and when I finally got my hands on a copy, I could see why.
The Enquirer was in its gory heyday—full of the most graphic
black-and-white photos of gruesome murder victims, mangled bodies
at crash scenes, charred corpses at house fires. Though I've tried
to forget it, I still remember one photo of a horse that had been de-
capitated in some kind of road accident — its body on one side of the
road, its head on the other.
While we sat in his office and talked, Al started to open his mail.
Reading one letter, his jaw dropped, his face went white, and he
gasped, "I don't believe it." This letter would change my life dramatically.
Al's boss, the Enquirer's executive editor, had written congratulating
him on the excellent job he'd done in the last six months. In
fact, his work had been so outstanding that the Enquirer wanted to
bring Al to the United States and promote him to assistant executive
The only delay, the letter said, would be Al's finding a replacement.
As soon as he hired someone who could handle the bureau
with the same efficiency, Al would have a ticket to the United States.
Al showed me the letter and said: "Do you want my job?"
I said, "How much?"
"Forty pounds"—about $100 a week.
I said, "It's a deal."
When people claim they alone are responsible for their success,
I just don't believe them. What if I hadn't happened to be in Al's of-
fice when he got that letter? London swarmed with hundreds of fine
journalists, and Al might have offered any one of them the job. I happened
to be in the right place at the right time. Luck . . . destiny . . .
whatever the word, it was not something I controlled.
At that point, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The
world of the National Enquirer was different from anything I had
ever experienced, or even imagined.
* * *
When you tell people in the United States you left school at sixteen,
they figure you're some kind of dropout who missed out on a good
education. In my case, I feel the opposite is true. I was born in Slamannan,
a small village in a coal-mining region in Scotland — on almost
the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska — but I went to Falkirk
High School, in the nearest large town.
At Falkirk, we took Latin, French, chemistry, geometry, algebra, geography, history, and other basics—all in my first year, at age eleven. By age fourteen we were reading Chaucer in the original (nearly incomprehensible) Middle English, while at sixteen we were starting calculus. I've never felt I
lacked an education.
Falkirk was a good school, but I wasn't an outstanding student,
so in June 1955, at age sixteen, I graduated with my Higher Leaving
Certificate and left school forever. Now I was in the real world, looking
for a job. Although many of my grade-school pals had found
high-paying jobs in the coal mines, that clearly wasn't for me. I
hoped for a career with a future, and anyway, how could a 6829
teenager, weighing a Twiggy-like 133 pounds, work in a 5-foot-high
Within a few weeks, I had two job offers: bank clerk at a major
Scottish bank, or junior reporter for a weekly newspaper with a tiny
circulation. The bank paid 3 pounds, 7 shillings ($10) per week, and
the paper offered 2 pounds, 15 shillings ($8).
Most journalists will tell you they chose their profession because
of a noble calling to root out evil, protect the weak, and embark
on other equally idealistic crusades. My reason was a little
My sixteen-year-old male glands were demanding attention. I
was going to dances regularly to meet girls, and sometimes I'd even
ask them for dates. I figured that if I told a girl I was a bank clerk, my
chances of impressing her were low. But if I told her I was a newspaper
reporter, well, then . . .
That was it. I accepted the reporter job. The fantasy of becoming
a major babe magnet remained just that — a fantasy. But within a
week I knew I'd chosen correctly. I loved the job.
The Falkirk Sentinel had a circulation of 1,500 copies per week in
an area of about 60,000 people; that made us the lowly, distant number three
paper. Our staff consisted of an editor, a chief reporter, and me.
They wouldn't exactly make the title official, but I knew on day one
that I was the Sentinel's deputy chief reporter.
My first morning on the job, George Hawley, the editor, threw me
some plot synopses of films to be shown at Falkirk's movie houses
in two weeks' time. We had to review upcoming movies so our readers
would know which cinema to choose, but since we couldn't see
the films in advance, we had to write our reviews based on descriptions
sent to us by the studios themselves.
I wrote them up, pecking out the words laboriously on an old
typewriter, and handed them to my editor. He penciled in a few
changes and threw the pages into a wire basket on his desk. I timidly
asked: "When will my first story actually be published?" His brusque
answer: "That was your first story, son. We don't have time to baby
I was exultant. Wow—I'm a movie reviewer, and they're actually
paying me for this!
Day two was even better. I was given my first interview assignment.
A local girl, an eighteen-year-old beauty named Nina Moscardini,
had won a dancing competition, and since I was now a fully
fledged reporter with twenty-four hours experience behind me, I
was sent out to get the story. Nina had been a year ahead of me at
school, and every boy —a nd perhaps every male teacher — had
lusted after her. At school I would have been happy to stand 10 feet
away and worship her; I knew she'd ignore me, an invisible, lowly
But when I interviewed her as a reporter, she talked to me as
though I was a real person. She actually answered my questions
and perhaps even worried about what I would write. This was the
In the next few months, I traveled around our circulation area by
foot and by bus, covering courts, council meetings, flower shows,
and soccer matches. You name it, I covered it.
Everyone in my family was impressed with my job except my
grandfather, who was partially deaf.When I told him what I was now doing, a broad grin creased hisface. "That's great, son. You'll be able to carry bags for all these nice people," he said.I was baffled. Then I realized he thought I was a "porter" for the railroad.
When I explained that I was a re-porter, a journalist, his smile
faded. Clearly the job was suspect, not a good, reliable job like carrying
bags at a railroad station. I, however, was ecstatic. I just couldn't believe anyone wouldpay me to do this fun stuff.
My best story came about three months into the job. It proved to me,
and my boss, that I had a real flair for the business.
Looking back from the twenty-first century, it is easy to forget the
hardship and unrest behind the Cold War Iron Curtain. In the mid-
fifties, groups of miners in Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, and other communist
countries began striking and picketing against their Soviet
masters, even forming underground resistance movements. After a
full-scale rebellion in 1956 in Hungary, the protests ended when Russian
tanks killed a number of protesters. Many of the men were jailed,
brutalized, and even murdered.
Some of these miners escaped to Britain—and several dozen
ended up in a hostel camp in Falkirk. They worked in local mines by
day, then returned to their camp and spent the rest of their time with
their comrades and a few interpreters. Now the camp was being
closed, and the refugees were being split up to live in individual lodgings
with local families. All three local papers sent reporters to interview
the miners, and I was the baby of the group.
We separately interviewed dozens of men, through interpreters.
These miners hadn't learned much English, but despite the language
barrier, I began to sense their unease, even fear. I asked the interpreter
why they were afraid. He said, "They fear splitting up from
their friends. They don't read or speak English. Without interpreters,
how will they find how to get a bus to work? How will they be able
to buy food? How will they survive?"
It suddenly hit me. Here were these heroes who had battled
bullets, bayonets, and tanks to fight communism. Men who had
never feared anything were now afraid of leaving their safe little
That's how I wrote my story. The other two rival papers just said
the hostel was closing and the miners would move to individual
My editor loved my story. Looking back, I could have written it
with more pizzazz, but it ran in the Sentinel without a change. Mr.
Hawley also rewrote the story and sent it to the national newspaper,
the Daily Record, which published it and sent Hawley a check. He
split it with me, and I had my first freelance payment—about $1.50.
I was now sixteen, a nationally published reporter, and unofficial
King of the World.
My reign came to an end six months after it began, on February
17, 1956. My paper folded, went bust, vanished, and generally
stopped publishing. I was still sixteen, still a nationally published reporter, but now also unemployed and "on the dole," receiving unemployment
payments from the government.
Fortunately, I soon got an offer from the Stirling Journal, a paper
headquartered about 15 miles away. I left home at 8:15 each
morning and, with late meetings to cover, usually arrived home on
the last bus to Slamannan at 11 P.M. On Saturdays I covered soccer
games, which meant a six- or seven-hour day. It was about then I realized
that to be a good newsman, work had to come before everything
else. For the next forty years, I would work fifty, sixty, or
seventy hours, six or seven days a week. And I never regretted it.
Six months later my reputation and my work in Stirling earned
an offer to return to Falkirk on the Falkirk Mail. So at age eighteen,
I was earning the huge sum of 4 pounds, 10 shillings ($13) per week.
In addition, the Mail editor had a freelance contract with many national
newspapers in Scotland and England. He would get his reporters
to cover news and sports and pay them 50 percent of the
freelance fees. He got 50 percent for doing nothing. Even so, it
sounded like a great deal to me. The freelance earnings would double
my salary—I was rich!
I was having the time of my life. I was theater critic, movie critic,
court reporter, sports reporter, city council watcher, and the main
go-to reporter on all the big stories. I saw movies, theater, and sports
events for free — always bypassing any lines, something that really
impressed the girls. (I must have been prescient at sixteen; being a
journalist did have a certain cachet for young women.) I was also attracting
attention from the national editors as a promising young
My boss, the owner of the Falkirk Mail, was the oldest publisher
in Scotland. He claimed to be eighty-three, but he looked at least a
hundred years old. He had two bits of advice for me, both of which
helped me greatly throughout my career.
The first was: "To be a success in journalism your health must
come first, then your job, then your family, then everything else." It
was harsh advice and not necessarily conducive to happiness. But it
turned out to be absolutely accurate.
The second was simpler: "Listen. Listen attentively to what people
are saying. Others are thinking about what they will say next. If
you learn how to listen, you will have an advantage." That may be the best advice I ever got.
Copyright © 2004 Iain Calder, All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the Publisher. Printed in the United States of America. For information: Hyperion, 77 West 66th Street, New York, NY 10023-6298.size>