"Before he rose to notoriety as the founder of Penthouse magazine, Guccione allegedly wrote letters soliciting customers to buy his dirty photos at the bargain rate of 10 photos for $2 under the pseudonym of "Robert Guccione..."
The story is continued here at TPM, with great relish... about Bob's connections to the Mob, his exacting devotion to nude photography, and so forth!
It's interesting to learn personal history of my first mainstream publisher. I had only written for underground newspapers in the 70s and early 80s. Guccione was the first to send me a paycheck for my work.
I wrote the first feminist erotic film column (that's an understatment) at Penthouse Forum from '86-'89, when their magazine empire was flourishing. It was called "The Erotic Screen." Later I added a Q&A called "The X-Rated Advisor."
Many, many of the editors you know at every other NYC magazine office once worked for Guccione, at any of his many publications. "Omni," for example, was huge at the time I worked for Forum, and many sci-fi authors contributed erotic fiction to both sides. I remember first writing to Robert Silverberg back then, about some of his clever sexy short stories that I later published in Best American Erotica.
A couple insights:
The classic photo layout for cheesecake that you see in every modern periodical, with a photo bleeding 2/3 on the left, a column of white, and then two photos, also full bleeds on the right, that's the "Penthouse Layout." —Lots of white space, very clean, little or no type, bleed the photos out on the edges. It influenced ALL the erotic and fashion mags, every men's magazine, even if they were showing off stereos or cars. it was different from Playboy's old layout, which had more traditional, Esquire-type design, the kind of thing you see on "Mad Men."
As for "organized crime" and its relationship to Guccione, that makes me laugh. Not because it isn't true, but because the entire magazine distribution business, like the record business, is all about trucking and "organized crime"— it's hardly limited to sexy periodicals. (What gets stocked and delivered, etc.)
I published a independent women's sex mag (On Our Backs) in the late 80s, and we had a hell of time breaking INTO this magazine distribution world, because it's so corrupt. The bigwigs don't give a hoot about your content as long as you pay them off.
The FBI, meanwhile, is perpetually annoyed with porn businessmen AND Teamsters beeause of the unreported income involved, (all those quarters in peepshow machines!) They use "sex crimes" as the excuse to investigate when they can. The morality of everyone involved is irrelevant. Most of these guys who run the business are old-school male chauvinists who would never want their daughter to be involved in either trucking or porn. They kept telling us to be a "nice girls, go home." Lesbian-made sex zines? It blew their circuits.
Forum was a huge break for me at the time, to get the editing job at PH— it was the beginning of my career as a f/t writer. It also subsidized all my "free time" to edit On Our Backs. I had total creative freedom at Forum, which was amazing to look back at. I got expertly copyedited and that was that. Good times.
The only time I was "censored" was when the MacKinnon Dworkin laws passed into Canadian customs controls... which brought about a whole list of things we couldn't "say" anymore at PH, such as "anal sex," any arguing between men and women (could be seen as "degrading to women"), and of course, even the silliest of S/M argot. You also had to make sure every character, even in fantasy, was at least a "junior" in college. Oh, those were the days! —EXTREMELY irritating.
Ultimately,the Canadian customs rules were only enforced against publications with a sexual stigma— the New York Times could print the word "bondage" all day if they wanted to.
The Customs laws took a far greater toll on small lesbian and gay presses than it did on Penthouse. I remember smuggling On Our Backs in the back of a car to Vancouver's "Little Sisters" queer bookshop.
Regarding my scrapbook photo above: This is one of the photos from Vanessa William's appearance in Penthouse, circa 1984. She had just won the Miss America contest, and a photographer from her past, who had done this very pretty little "girl-girl" shoot, sold his photos to PH, which in turn caused Miss America to take back their crown.
I was SO HAPPY that Vanessa triumphed and became massively famous, in spite of them. Anyway, i remember framing one of the best photos from this spread, where Vanessa is wearing a very "old gay" leather dildo harness, looking dead glamourous.
What's so funny is that on the opposite side of the thin magazine paper is ANOTHER centerfold, of then practically-unknown Traci Lords! It's a terrible pic of her. At the time, it annoyed me; I thought they included this boring white chick because they were so afraid to "merely" offer a black woman as a centerforld... what idiots. Later, this edition was pulled because it turned out Traci was underage.
Susie's Penthouse Column Story Continues HERE
To read the rest of Susie's history with Penthouse, check out: