Roxy's Portrait of a Palm Beach Marriage Won't Win Her a Pulitzer in Her Adopted Hometown
02/01/1988 at 01:00 AM EST
In lipgloss-slick Palm Beach, where the palm fronds whisper and money talks, the locals are steaming again over the high-humidity antics of Roxanne Pulitzer, better known simply as Roxy. Her 1982 divorce from publishing heir Herbert "Peter" Pulitzer Jr. produced a surfeit of headlines about sex, drugs and Roxy's rolls in the hay with everyone from a French baker to her best girlfriend—and that's not to mention the trumpet. Ah yes, who could forget the trumpet? During the 19-day divorce trial, Peter claimed Roxy took it to bed with her at night, complicating their sex life. "I used the trumpet only once, as a religious symbol," demurs Roxy, "an instrument to talk to the dead."
Soon, in the interest of keeping in touch with the living, the "strumpet with a trumpet," as the press inevitably labeled her, will be tooting her own horn on a 20-city publicity tour to promote—what else?—her autobiography, The Prize Pulitzer. Back in Palm Beach, the book is already a best-seller and source of plentiful outrage. "Garbage, just plain garbage," comes the word from Kleenex tycoon James Kimberly, whose former wife, Jacquie, once joined the Pulitzers in a cuddly ménage à trois, according to Roxy. Adds a local society watcher: "Roxanne is a bimbo just like Jessica Hahn, a parasite sucking up to a rich guy."
Bouncing into a fashionable Palm Beach cafe, Roxanne is dressed (in a hot pink, two-piece minisweatsuit) like the part-time aerobics instructor she now is. "I wrote the book because I had to change people's attitudes about me," says Roxy, 36. "I felt the trial left a negative aftertaste." Certainly, Roxy could taste her own disappointment when Judge Carl Harper ruled she was a home wrecker guilty of "gross moral misconduct." Harper awarded custody of the Pulitzers' twin sons, Mac and Zac, now 10, to their father, granted Roxy none of Peter's estimated $12 million and ordered her out of their waterfront home. "I couldn't stop throwing up," Roxy says of the days following the ruling. "And I slept with a gun by the bed because I wanted to kill myself. It took two years of exercise, seeing my children, reading tarot cards, visiting astrologers and cleaning out the drugs to recover."
Her balance reclaimed, Roxy spent nearly three years working on her book with writer Kathleen Maxa. In a chatty style, The Prize Pulitzer relates how a former cheerleader was led astray by what she describes as the high living and low morals of the Palm Beach disco set.
Growing up in small-town Cassadaga, N.Y., Roxanne Renkens was adopted by her mother's second husband, Tyrone Ulrich, a county cop, after her alcoholic father had skipped when Roxy was in kindergarten. Shortly after graduating from high school in 1969, Roxy went to work as a secretary and married wealthy college student Peter Dixon, whose brother was her boss. The newlyweds moved from Jamestown, N.Y., to North Palm Beach, where Roxy attended Palm Beach Junior College for 1½ years. The marriage ended when, Roxy says, she discovered her husband was seeing her best friend.
In 1974 Roxy was dating Listerine heir Randy Hopkins, who introduced her to local playboy Peter Pulitzer, 22 years her senior. The first time she had sex with Peter, he asked her what she was thinking about. "I was fantasizing about O.J. Simpson," she says in the book. "I'm a Buffalo Bills fan. I've never been with a black man, and he's very good-looking." Peter loved her honesty, says Roxy, and nine months later they were married. Then came a sybaritic life of fishing, hunting and traveling to Europe. Their twins were born in 1977, and though Roxy claims she was a devoted mother to the boys, a parade of nannies mentioned during the trial would seem to indicate that the obligation was never too strenuous.
In the early years of their marriage, Pulitzer played Henry Higgins to Roxy's Eliza, coaching her in abstruse social skills such as tipping and flattery. Her education, she says, also covered the right way to tipple champagne and toot cocaine. Roxy reports that cocaine helped ease her tension the night that she, Peter and Jacquie Kimberly first frolicked together sexually. "To see the look of delight on my husband's face after that first experience made it worthwhile," says Roxy, who claims the threesome was all Peter's idea. "I've never seen him exhibit such pleasure over anything—not even after shooting a deer."
By 1980, however, the marriage was beginning to sour. When Peter wanted to go home after an evening on the town, Roxy invariably didn't and often stayed out all night. Marital counseling was to no avail, and the court battle followed. Afterward, Roxy was left with $2,000 a month in alimony for only two years, her 1978 black Porsche, about $60,000 in jewelry and a share in a yacht. She moved into a one-bedroom apartment, spent most of her money on unsuccessful legal appeals and posed nude for Playboy in 1985 to earn $70,000. She proudly showed the article to her sons, then 7. "They weren't bothered by the pictures," Roxy says. "They even remarked how blue my eyes looked in the spread."
The publicity from the Playboy piece prompted three publishers to woo her, and Pulitzer landed a low six-figure book contract. Rights for a TV movie reportedly went for $35,000, and if NBC goes ahead with the project, Pulitzer will earn considerably more. Now that she can afford it, Roxy has moved to a larger West Palm Beach apartment. She has a new beau (she won't divulge his name) and spends her time teaching aerobics and occasionally lecturing to women's groups about child custody and the legal system. Every other weekend, Pulitzer picks up Mac and Zac on the shores of Lake Okeechobee, where Peter now lives with his fourth wife, his former masseuse.
The boys, Pulitzer says, are "thrilled" by her new book. But are they mature enough to deal with a work in which their mother freely discusses group sex, drug use and alcoholism? The question doesn't make Roxy flinch. "I believe they are," she says. "But if it breaks us later—and I don't believe it will—I did what I had to do for me."
—Written by Andrea Chambers, reported by Linda Marx