Citing Drugs and Kinky Sex, Palm Beach Personage Peter Pulitzer Says His Wife Is No Prizewinner
10/18/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT
Not since Russell Firestone's comparatively tame 1967 divorce trial has the netherbelly of idyllic Palm Beach been so seamily exposed. Publicity-shy people with such gilded names as Guest, Sanford and Phipps were aghast as no less a figure than Herbert ("Peter") Pulitzer Jr. slogged through a sensational divorce trial redolent of kinky sex and carefree coke.
Grandson of the newspaper tycoon and former husband of resortwear designer Lilly Pulitzer, Peter, 52, has accused his third wife, Roxanne, 31, of tooting cocaine regularly and of sating an alleged omnivorous sexual appetite with a Grand Prix driver, a local French baker, a real estate salesman, a suspected drug dealer—and for a little variety, the wife of a prominent Palm Beach socialite. To top off the charges, it was said Roxanne had even slept with a three-foot-long trumpet, though it is doubtful that she can read music. In any case, she has denied the affairs but has admitted using cocaine.
"Pulitzer," proclaims Roxanne's super-lawyer, Joseph Farish Jr., "is trying to destroy this young girl. There is no evidence of adultery." The accusations are "ludicrous," adds Jacquie Kimberly, 32, Roxanne's alleged lover and wife of Kleenex heir James Kimberly, 76. But at a pretrial proceeding Peter himself declared that on one occasion he joined Roxanne and Jacquie in bed. Piling sludge upon sludge, Roxanne accused Peter of committing incest with his daughter, Liza Pulitzer Leidy, 26. Peter issued a resounding denial, while Liza countercharged that it was Roxanne who had made a pass at her. Then, there was the claim that Peter used his 73-foot trawler for large-scale marijuana smuggling, an accusation that he flatly denied in court. As for the trumpet, well, Roxanne has already explained that she had taken the instrument to bed in the hope that "the dead would speak to me through it." Nobody, so far, has testified that the answering service received any calls.
When all is said and done, it is not the sexual free-for-all so much as the wide-open drug scene that has driven the Palm Beach old guard into a dither. It used to be, in the heyday of the '20s and '30s, that fun meant illegal gambling in Bradley's Casino and cake-walks through the many hotel ballrooms. Today the mellow tones of the Meyer Davis Orchestra have been routed by New Wave rock and, for some, charity balls followed by orgies. The party line, as espoused by Police Chief Joseph Terlizzese, is that "drug use in Palm Beach isn't that extensive." But the truth, according to one ex-cop, is that more and more the Palm Beach smart set loves to give a toot—and not on any three-foot trumpet either. Pulitzer himself concedes that he has had a snort or two, and it is a matter of dispute as to whether it was he or Roxanne who gave Jacquie Kimberly coke for Christmas. "Cocaine is the status symbol here," says the ex-cop. "People stand at the bar in nightclubs and restaurants and snort lines in front of everyone. Doctors, lawyers, judges, Realtors, you name it, anyone under 45 is high constantly."
In fact, there is talk that at least one well-heeled dealer keeps his stash in a safe-deposit box in the local bank, and that butlers have been known to serve the drug of choice at parties on sterling silver trays garnished with marijuana. Says Janis Nelson, Roxanne's onetime psychic, "Palm Beach is a kind of tropical Camelot—you can walk the streets at night barefoot and smell the flowers and be absolutely safe. In terms of drugs, however...well, let's just say that I moved here from Woodstock and compared to here, Woodstock is mild."
"The Pulitzer thing," observes an Establishment matron, "is making people takes sides," and mostly they are siding with Peter. Considered a most eligible bachelor until his liaison with Roxanne, Pulitzer was reared by nannies in Palm Beach. He is a graduate of the exclusive Saint Mark's School in Massachusetts, a college dropout who parlayed a $500,000 family stake into a liquor store that grew into a bowling alley, then orange groves, and, finally, international holdings—in short, into a multimillion-dollar fortune.
Roxanne, by contrast, is an outsider. A tawny, blue-eyed former secretary from Cassadaga, N.Y., she had nothing, according to Peter, but a battered Chrysler and a half interest in a house trailer when the two met at a Palm Beach party in 1975. Quickly swept up in the neo-Baroque Palm Beach lifestyle, Roxanne, according to Peter, soon began getting her kinks from cocaine, snorting a few grams a week as she guzzled champagne. Her habit got so out of hand that early in 1981, she says, Peter threatened to shoot her unless she agreed to undergo rehabilitation. Roxanne consented, he reports, but later reverted. Then, late last year, Peter separated from his wife, lodged the divorce suit, and is asking for custody of their 5-year-old twins, Zachary and Maclean.
Understandably, Palm Beachniks can only hope that the mess will give way once again to real class. After all, Peter Pulitzer belongs. "He will go on after this is over," says a supporter. "He will buy more hotels and get a new girlfriend. People will always like him." A local bartender, however, may have had the last, wry word on this skirmish between les nouveaux riches and les anciens: "Members of the Establishment," he says wisely, "will have to be very careful before marrying outside again." O tempora! O mores!