Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rant #358: Bob's Gone To the Penthouse

I heard that Bob Guccione, best known as publisher of Penthouse magazine but also of more mainstream fare, has passed away. He was 79.

Penthouse magazine was in its glory days in the 1970s. Like Playboy, it featured nude models, but he showed a bit more skin than Hugh Hefner's magazine dared to show. Later the magazine showed what Hefner's magazine would never show.

Penthouse was started in Europe by Guccione to supplement his art career. He was the magazine's first photographer, and when the magazine finally came to U.S. shores in the late 1960s, it made a bit of a sensation, paving the way for other such more explicit magazines like Hustler.

But the flamboyant Guccione, like Hefner, saw that such a magazine could also have a social tone to it too. It carried plenty to read in between its pictures of naked women, and its "Letters to Penthouse" became a popular feature, which was eventually spun off into its own magazine.

Guccione expanded his empire in the 1970s and 1980s, putting out Omni, a science magazine, and Viva, a sex magazine for women. He also produced films, including one of the all-time porn/art flops, Calligula.

He suffered numerous financial setbacks in the late 1980s and 1990s, and eventually sold off his interest in Penthouse, which is published today by another entity.

One thing that Guccione did was stand up for military servicemembers and their rights. Penthouse had a monthly column devoted to servicemen and women, and when Penthouse was banned from being sold in military stores, Guccione went on the attack.

I interviewed him in the late 1990s, when Penthouse was banned from these stores, and he was pretty forthright in the interview, basically telling me that it was the servicemember's individual right to purchase these magazines at on-base stores if he or she so wanted them.

In fact, Penthouse was huge on military installations, selling upwards of 19 million issues each month. But something called the Military Honor and Decency Act served to ban magazines, videos and anything else deemed inappropriate to sell on military installations.

Guccione lost the battle, but his magazine long outlived this controversy.

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