Pornollaneous 10.21.10: Penthouse, Playboy, Hustler

Too big for a Twitter post, too little for a novel, here are the week’s pornollaneous events that, taken as a whole, answer the most basic questions about our existence.

This Week: Bob Guccione Goes into the Great Forum, Bunnies Shoot, Don’t They?, Larry Fights to Keep Classy Name of Hustler Club

The three iconic gentlemen’s magazines are in the news this week, but the news isn’t all swinging bachelor-friendly.

I Hope Vaseline Eased Guccione’s Passage

Penthouse founder, photographer, and director Bob Guccione died October 20 at a hospital in Plano, TX, far from the Manhattan empire of his heyday. He was 79.

Founded in England in 1965 (it moved to America four years later), Penthouse was a raunchier, less sophisticated version of Playboy. In fact, there was hardly any mention of Penthouse without a comparison with Playboy. Regardless, the magazine once boasted a circulation of 5 million and Guccione made the Fortune 400 in 1982.

Even while Penthouse was more graphic than Playboy (though less clinical than Hustler), Guccione, alone among his rivals, was a photographer who pioneered a look. In the early days of the magazine, Guccione was its sole photographer, and his soft-focus, “Vaseline on the lens” style made his models seem more exotic and mysterious, even as readers could look directly into their colons.

At one time Guccione owned the largest private residence in Manhattan, a 30-room palace valued at $59 million. He launched and lost the magazines Spin and Omni, and in 2003 was forced out of the publisher’s chair at Penthouse, after selling both his New York homes and his prized art collection for fractions of their peak worth.

One of the most fascinating stories of Guccione’s career was his foray into filmmaking.

While he was a financier of Hollywood movies like “Chinatown” and “Day of the Locust,” in 1979 Guccione financed and directed portions of the movie “Caligula,” a tale of Roman excess that, though universally panned by critics, was recut and re-released several times.

Production snafus and time and budget overruns provided their own tension, but screenwriter Gore Vidal’s feud with director Tinto Brass caused huge problems, and Guccione ultimately sided with Brass, who now had the job of filming the script. Because producers underestimated the time required to shoot it, the script was rewritten, dialogue was improvised, and actors performed against silk screens where there should have been sets.

Vidal distanced himself from the project. Maria Schneider (best known as the butter recipient in “Last Tango in Paris”) quit when she learned that Guccione was adding hardcore footage to spice things up (in some versions of the film viewers are treated to rape, urination, castration, infanticide and, because it’s a classy film, only the suggestion of bestiality.

“Caligula” may be the most unwatchable film ever made by a cast so distinguished, including Malcolm “A Clockwork Orange” McDowell as Caligula, Peter O’Toole as Tiberius, Sir John Gielgud, and Helen Mirren, who called the movie “an irresistible mix of art and genitals” (although Newsweek was more on the money, in my opinion, when it called it “a two-and-one-half-hour cavalcade of depravity that seems to have been photographed through a tub of Vaseline”)

Buy “Caligula [Blu-ray]”

Among Guccione’s greatest coups as a publisher were securing nude and Sapphic pictorials of Vanessa Williams, taken before Williams became Miss America. Williams was forced to give up her crown in 1984 as a result of the Penthouse spreads. Penthouse was also instrumental in bringing down adulterous televangelist Jimmy Swaggart in 1988.

My first encounter with pornography was finding waterlogged copies of Hustler and Penthouse behind my junior high school. Thinking I was unique in this formative experience, I have since talked with many people across the country who got their first gander at public hair via a magazine stashed by someone else behind a school.

Like the way the Gideons distribute Bibles to hotel rooms, I imagine there is a service that places waterlogged, sticky, and dog-eared gentlemen’s magazines in the woods behind schools.

And Guccione will remain the stock image of the 70s pornographer for me: a creepily flamboyant dude in an outfit too young for him (he should be played by Gene Simmons in the movie).

Guccione, who in his lifetime gave a lot of people work, died after a long battle with throat cancer, surrounded by his family.

Maybe the Castevets Did It

Victoria Rathgeb, who as Angela Dorian was Playboy’s 1968 Playmate of the Year, is in jail for attempted murder. The 66-year-old is charged with shooting her husband, Bruce Rathgeb, during a domestic disturbance in their Hollywood apartment. He is in critical condition.

Born Victoria Vetri, Mrs. Rathgeb awaits trial in the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood. Originally Mrs. Rathgeb told police a drug dealer had shot her husband.

1968 was a huge year for Angela Dorian. She had been an actress throughout the 1960s, with bit parts in series like “Hogan’s Heroes” and “McHale’s Navy,” but along with the Playboy honor she also had a big scene with Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby.”

(Dorian’s scene starts around 2:35)

Playing the doomed Terry Gionoffrio, Dorian is mistaken for “the actress Victoria Vetri” by Mia Farrow’s Rosemary. Dorian changed her stage name back to Vetri for the remainder of her acting career, which dried up in the mid-1970s.

That Dorian/Vetri had a respectable acting career both before and after Playboy makes her one of porn’s first crossover stars. The moral? Don’t give Stormy Daniels a gun.

Stay Classy, San Diego

Larry Flynt and Hustler have won a Temporary Restraining Order against a San Diego nightclub that Flynt says is using his name illegally.

In a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Flynt alleges that Midway Venture, LLC has infringed his copyright by operating an establishment called Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club.

If it seems like a no-brainer to not open a club without the permission of the person it’s named after, Midway Venture purchased the club after its previous owner, Pacers, Inc., went bankrupt. Larry Flynt Productions did have an agreement with Pacers that it said was not transferable to a new owner. Especially if the new owner has not paid Larry, which it hasn’t.

Expect this problem to go away once Larry gets his money.

In related news, I am seeking injunctive relief against several unlicensed franchisees of my restaurant chain, Gram Ponante’s Nutfeast, in the Bogue Chitto area.

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  1. While I don’t *think* my first experience with the porn were waterlogged copies of whatever (my father had a pretty-impressive collection of magazines, which I discovered – or was introduced to by an older brother – at around 7 or 8), I definitely partook in more than one viewing of the aforementioned waterlogged/dog-eared magazines. I didn’t encounter these things behind my school, but from various locations around my fair neighborhood – abandoned homes/trailers, dirt alleyways, etc. I remember always being terribly disappointed when I happened upon these treasures, and they were ruined beyond all recognition.

    It’s funny – when I was that young, I think I always enjoyed Playboy more than Penthouse (and others), but when I got older (read: puberty), Penthouse became far more entertaining… especially after I start actually reading the mag. I never thought I’d be writing in, but….

    I *still* have that Penthouse with Vanessa Williams’ pics… as well as that Penthouse with Vanessa Williams’ pics *ahem*.

  2. My first porn was also Waterlogged. It was in a giant pile of trash where I found many tapes, and tape boxes. I don’t remember the video name, or the production company but I do remember the phrase “pud pumper.” That phrase, and the pictures on the back cover have certainly stuck with me. I’ll try to use the word pud in a sentence tomorrow.

  3. Thank you! Never heard of these guys before. Great song. But now I want to write a song called “Waterlogged Hustler.” IT WORKS ON SO MANY LEVELS (as does “Penthouse in the Woods”).

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