Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bob Guccione 1930-2010

Bob Guccione tried the seminary and spent years trying to make it as an artist before he found the niche that Hugh Hefner left for him in the late 1960s. Where Hefner's Playboy magazine strove to surround its pinups with an upscale image, Guccione aimed for something a little more direct with Penthouse.

More explicit nudes. Sensational stories. Even more sensational letters that began, "Dear Penthouse, I never thought I'd be writing you..."

It worked for decades for Guccione, who died Wednesday in Texas at the age of 79. He estimated that Penthouse earned $4 billion during his reign as publisher. He was listed in the Forbes 400 ranking of wealthiest people with a net worth of about $400 million in 1982.

Guccione's magazine broke ground by exposing female genitalia (previously the undiscovered territorial boundary in print was pubic hair, in Playboy). This was decades before the word "Brazilian" entered the language as a noun not in reference to a person from Brazil.

His other revolution was publishing the graphic tales of other people's encounters. That's the "Dear Penthouse Forum, I never thought I would be writing this to you, but..." part mentioned in the excerpt.

Yes, Playboy typically had more beautiful women -- some of them courtesy of the darkroom's airbrush -- but Penthouse had the ones who looked slightly more like the kind of girl you might actually meet at your local bar. This was before even discos were popular, you Twittering little Facebookers.

Not too sure about the articles *ahem* but allegedly they were subversive for the time.

In 1984 it was the magazine that took down Miss America, publishing nude pictures of Vanessa Williams, the first black woman to hold the title. Williams, who went on to fame as a singer and actress, was forced to relinquish her crown after the release of the issue, which sold nearly 6 million copies and reportedly made $14 million.

But Guccione's empire fell apart thanks to several bad investments and changes in the pornography industry, which became flooded with competition as it migrated from print to video and the Internet. His company, his world-class art collection, his huge Manhattan mansion — all of it, sold off.

Guccione's family said in a statement that he died at Plano Specialty Hospital in Plano. His wife, April Dawn Warren Guccione, had said he had battled lung cancer for several years.

Only the good die young, as they say.

(In 1986) U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese's Commission on Pornography issued a report attacking the adult entertainment industry. Guccione called the report "disgraceful" and doubted it would have any impact, but newsstands and convenience stores responded by pulling Penthouse from their magazine racks.

Sales dropped after the Meese commission report and years later took another hit with the proliferation of X-rated videos and Web sites. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Penthouse's circulation dipped below 1 million in the late 1990s and fell to about 463,000 in 2003, the year General Media Inc. filed for bankruptcy. Over the first six months of 2010, Penthouse reported circulation of barely 178,000.

"The future has definitely migrated to electronic media," Guccione acknowledged in a 2002 New York Times interview.

Larry Flynt took everything Bob G did a few steps further and raunchier with Hustler about the same time Guccione was declaring war on Hefner and Playboy. As noted above, by the time the '90's rolled around the only ground left to break after Hustler was moving pictures and an easy distribution system. In the present day, videos (video stores and mail order) have already given way to the Internet's porn-on-demand, as well as the proliferation of niche/fetish options. "You want Asian midget ladyboys dressed as cheerleaders and nurses? We got that ..." minus the interaction with the scruffy-looking dude at the counter, of course. More anonymity than a brown wrapper.

The passing of Bob Guccione is just another sad ending to one of my youthful era's iconic figures.

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