Thursday, October 21, 2010

RIP: Bob Guccione and Penthouse Magazine

While Christine “Don’t Masturbate” O’Donnell is running for the Senate—and shockingly has a chance to win—one of the great Spank Banker providers of the last 40 years has passed. I’m speaking of the inimitable Bob Guccione.

Guccione founded Penthouse in 1965 to compete with the upscale Playboy magazine. Penthouse was crass—he was the first to show pubic hair!—sensational—he published the infamous pics of Vanessa Williams, causing her to relinquish her Miss America crown—and his editorials were inflammatory—offering the Unabomber an opportunity to publish in the magazine. In his life he was listed as one of Fortune Magazine’s 400 Wealthiest People—at a whopping $400 million in the 80’s. By the time he died it was pretty much all gone… divorce will do that to you.

In the late 70’s he produced Caligula… dear Lord, what a fabulous wreck of a movie. He threw craploads of money at it and got stars such as Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole and Sir John Gielgud to participate (hey, actors gotta eat, too…). It was trash. Fantastic trash, but still trash. Moments of that film still haunt me.

With the passing of Guccione a bit of my childhood dies with it. Well… to be honest, Bob killed my childhood. The second I saw that Penthouse magazine in the back of my dad’s bedside drawer, my childhood ended.

I was twelve.

The pictures of the naked women didn’t really do it for me. I did look at them. I was fascinated by them. But they didn’t really “get me going” (if you get my drift—and if you do, don’t tell Christine O’Donnell!) In the pictorials, he often had one layout of a man and woman… I would never risk buying a Playgirl magazine as the guy at the liquor store* would think I was gay or something, but getting a Penthouse? Straight guy coming through…! (er… so to speak—again, no telling Christine O’Donnell!)

In those soon-to-be-sticky pages, I got to stare at naked men! They were always flaccid. Which always made me wonder: how can you be flaccid standing next to (or sitting by or on) a naked girl? If they were having sex or she was orally pleasuring him “IT” was covered up with a hand, so you could never really see what was going on. The kids today have no idea how we suffered back in the day…

And then there was Penthouse Forum.

The Forum was the “letters to Penthouse” section of the magazine where people would tell “true stories” about their sexual experiences. Not just straight experiences, but bi and gay experiences, too!** It was complete bullshit, but I bought it hook, line and “I never thought it would happen to me…”

Most of the letters began with “I always thought the letters in Penthouse were fake, until this…” (or the above mentioned “I never thought…”). Then the writer would proceed to tell the most unbelievable tale how they had the most incredible sex ever. EVER!

I loved every salacious word! I read the letters over and over again. It affected me so much that when I’d fantasize without the magazine I would close my eyes and think, “Dear Penthouse Forum, I never thought this would happen to me…”

My sister was one of the only people who knew that I had the magazines. When she came back from college for the summer, she asked me if I’d ever read this story that took place in a restaurant (they used the blue cheese dressing as a lubricant… ew—no more salad bars for me!) Of course I had, it was one of my favorites! Turns out her friends wrote it… as a group… it was all lies!

It was like Santa wasn’t real all over again and how that started the domino effect on the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy... If that story wasn’t real, how many others lies? What about The Guy With Three Balls? The Football Player and the Very Helpful Tutor? The Locker Room Comparison? Certainly not the myriad of I Have a Problem with My Penis Being Too Big tales? (I can’t tell you how many stories started out with “I know you may not think this is a problem, but my penis is too big! Allow me to explain…” I lost count after 10,304.)

It’s amazing how the mind copes. I managed to keep reading them for the next five years as if nothing had changed. Eventually, Guccione started a magazine called Penthouse Forum—with little icons telling you if it was gay, straight or bi. Strange that a magazine for straight guys would have so many gay tales…

When I was 16 or 17, I stupidly left one of the magazines lying out on my bed—forgetting to put it in the greatest/most secure hiding place any kid ever thought of: between the mattress and bedspring—I came into my room and found my mother looking at it. [GULP!] She made me sit down next to her as she went through the magazine—at an agonizingly slow pace—page by page. She commented on the pictures (“She’s pretty.” “That’s gross.”) and laughed at one of the comics (to this day, I still don’t think I get the joke) and then handed it to me. She told me I didn’t have to throw it out, but it had been tainted, I could never again fully enjoy it (again, don’t tell Christine O’Donnell!)

With the advent of online porn for free—kids today get everything!—Penthouse folded in 2003 and Bob filed for bankruptcy. He died yesterday of lung cancer in Plano, Texas, two months shy of his 80th birthday.

Penthouse and Bob were always pretenders to the throne of Hugh Hefner and Playboy Magazine. True to form, both Hugh and Playboy outlived Bob and Penthouse—one of the rare instances today where class wins over crass. That said, I never bought a Playboy Magazine, but I bought plenty of Penthouse Magazines in my day. For that, I say “Thanks, Bob! and please don’t tell Christine O’Donnell!”

Careful with that hand, Christine!

*I’d never buy at a bookstore or any place I might run into someone I knew or would ever go if I weren’t buying porn. Eventually, I would find myself buying books on homosexuality at a bookstore—about the subject, not the acts. As one friend put it: “The first person we came out to was the guy at B. Dalton Booksellers…”

**Mostly bi… but I would ignore the parts about the girls…

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