Speaking of folks who died last week, Bob Guccione (probably my favourite pornographer of all time, whose effect on my own budding tastes would be well nigh impossible to overstate) finally succumbed to cancer last Wednesday after years of ill health and poor fortune.
I regret I can't really do the man any kind of justice here in a blog tribute: there's simply too much to say about Guccione, too much ground to cover - his roots as a painter, inauspicious beginnings running a chain of laundromats (cleaning other people's dirty sheets, ha ha), his global adventures and increasing sophistication... Penthouse magazine's initial delivery scandal and subsequent sales phenomenon, its introduction of pubic hair to magazine viewers, the combination of "sex, politics, and protest" - as their byline put it - frequently running expose stories on government corruption and the like.
"We followed the philosophy of voyeurism," Guccione told The Independent newspaper in London in 2004. He added that he attained a stylized eroticism in his photography by posing his models looking away from the camera. "To see her as if she doesn't know she's being seen," he said. "That was the sexy part. That was the part that none of our competition understood."
Penthouse had the best photography of naked women available, and that was probably its chief virtue, plain and simple. Guccione himself was often behind the camera, devoting painterly aesthetics (and what appeared to be large amounts of gauze) toward creating boudoir fantasies that were their own little soft-focus world, sometimes taking days to complete a shoot. Arty photography was a mainstay of the magazine's pictorials and, later on in the 1990s, I for one thrilled to Tony Ward's B&Ws.
But I digress. Penthouse had the best comics in the back, Penthouse Forum (worthy of a post in and of itself), Xaviera Hollander writing an advice column, genuinely interesting articles and insightful interviews with big name personalities and thinkers, a sense that sexuality was something worthy of exploring and considering, a willingness to feature kinks and unusual behaviour, even some good fiction occasionally.
Of course, in addition to publishing Penthouse, Guccione gave the world Omni, Viva, Newlook, Longevity, and, in conjunction with his son Bob Jr., Spin. Also, the singular cinematic sex gross-out saga of all time, Caligula. Celebrity photo shoots we all know and love. The Penthouse Pets. Then too a failed casino and nuclear power plant. By the end of his life, Guccione had sadly fallen out with much of his family, and (like another NYC pornographer we've looked at here) done the whole rags to riches thing in reverse.
Of all the porn that was around when I was growing up, Penthouse was by far my fave, better even than the odd expensive hardcore mag one might chance across. Like a lot of people at that time, I found Playboy boring and fake, Hustler gross and ugly. By contrast, Penthouse Pets, the Forum, Call Me Madam, Wicked Wanda -- this was a world of exotic, self-assured and often dominant women, women who would gladly lead you into kinky sex adventures if only the opportunity presented itself (or so it appeared).
For all that, I say thank you, Mr. Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini Guccione.