Bob Guccione Launched Penthouse To Become A Major Success
Once Penthouse become a major success, it launched Bob Guccione from rags to riches.
“Good magazines are iconic in nature. They must grow, evolve, and keep pace with the changing social, economic, political, and environmental advances in the world today.” Hard to believe that this was said by Bob Guccione about Penthouse, a magazine that featured naked women on its covers. But Penthouse was much more than that once you turned to the front page. Raised in New Jersey, Bob Guccione found Penthouse and a variety of different magazines throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s. He also worked in film and collected art as well as created his own personal art pieces. Along with Hugh Hefner of Playboy, Larry Flynt of Hustler, and Al Goldstein of Screw, Guccione is considered one of the masters of smut because of his contributions to his magazine. At the top of his game, women wanted to sleep with him while men wanted to be him. Guccione is considered one of the greatest rags to riches stories after Penthouse became a towering success and turned him into one of the richest men in America. By 1982, he was listed in the Forbes 400 wealth list and owned one of the biggest mansions in Manhattan but by the 1990s, he had made some large investments that failed while the growth of free online porn greatly diminished his market. However, the spirit of Guccione lives on in FilthyGorgeous. But who was the man behind Penthouse?
Penthouse began publication in 1965 in England and in North America in 1969, an attempt to compete with Hefner’s Playboy. Guccione offered editorial content that was more sensational and the magazine’s writing was far more investigative than other men’s magazines, with stories about government cover-ups and scandals. The magazine featured “The Vietman Veterans Adviser,” a column that began in 1974 and was the first to pursue the question of American’s treatment of its Vietnam veterans. The column has since been called a vital part of change and social awareness during this time. Another column called “Advise and Dissent” featured well-known writers presenting their points of view on serious topical issues. Some of the writers of this column included Harrison Salisbury, William F. Buckley Jr., Morton Downey Jr., and Karen DeCrow. Meanwhile, writers such as Craig S. Karpel, James Dale Davidson and Ernest Volkman, as well as the critically acclaimed Seymour Hersh, exposed numerous scandals and corruption at the highest levels of the United States Government.
Since the magazine didn’t start with a lot of money, Guccione personally photographed most of the models for the magazine’s early issues. Without professional training, Guccione applied his knowledge of painting to his photography, establishing the diffused, soft focus look that would become one of the trademarks of the magazine’s pictorials. He would sometimes take several days to complete a shoot because he was a perfectionist. The pictorials in Penthouse offered more sexually explicit content than was commonly seen in most openly sold men’s magazines of the era. The magazine won several awards for design and illustrations and it even won the 1985 New York Art Directors’ Club Gold Medal in Photography.
However, Penthouse was not the only magazine he launched. In fact, Guccione also launched Omni, the first fully integrated futurist magazine to combine art, science, humor, fiction, and technology in 1978. Then there was Four Wheeler, Saturday Review, Longevity, Omni Medical: Special Physicians Edition, Forum, Variations, Hot Talk, Penthouse Letters, and The Girls of Penthouse. These magazines covered everything from film, television, and fine arts to real estate and hi-tech cattle breeding. However, Guccione always had an interest in film and invested in movies such as Chinatown, The Longest Yard, Day of the Locust, and City of Women. In fact, he loved film so much that he directed and produced a pornographic film called Caligula which was presented under the Penthouse Film International banner. The film is about the rise and fall of the Roman Emperor Caligula and stars Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, Teresa Ann Savoy, and Peter O’Toole. Mirren herself called the film “an irresistible mix of art and genitals,” and the film has a legacy that will continue to live on.
Guccione also won a variety of awards such as in 1975 when he was honored by Brandeis University for focusing “his editorial attention on such critical issues of our day as the welfare of the Vietnam veteran and problems of criminality in modern society.” The university also went on to call him “a new force in the world of publishing.” He was also asked to speak at Harvard, Yale and New York Universities as well as the Wharton School of Business over the years. In April 1978, Guccione was named Publisher of the Year by the Atlantic Coast Independent Distributors Association in gratitude for his “leadership, his fair treatment and his continuing friendship with our members.” He received the Published of the Year Award from the Periodical Book Association of American twice as well as the Public Service Award for Excellence in Reporting and Programming Concerns of Children in 1986 from the Odyssey Institute Corporation. In 1987, he then won the Special President’s ANDY Award from the Advertising Club of New York.
Later in life, Guccione and his wife Kathy Keeton focused on art. They grew their collection to include pieces by Van Gogh, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Degas, Modigliani, Gauguin, Chagall, and many more. At one point, the two had been featured in Arts and Antiques among some of the top art collectors in the world. Their pastel of Degas’ “Seated Bather Drying Herself” was selevted to tour as part of an exhibit joinly organized by the Reunion de Musees Nationaux in Paris, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. After Guccione died in 2004, FilthyGorgeous CEO Jeremy Frommer bought his collection of personal artwork and photography in 2012. This included over 60 original Guccione oils as well as original illustrations and photographs by artists such as Arthur Cummings, Bill Lee, Suze Randall, Earl Miller, Berth Milton Sr. and more. The highlight of the collection is the quarter of a million photographs that were taken by Bob Guccione, himself, throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. Although Penthouse no longer exists, its spirit lives on in FilthyGorgeous. As Guccione said, “A magazine must first and foremost maintain its responsibility not only to entertain but to also enlighten both its male and female readership and to reflect the world in which we live.”
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