Soft Skull Press has kindly given Boing Boing an exclusive excerpt of Mike Edison's history of Playboy, Penthouse, Screw, and Hustler magazines, called Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!: Of Playboys, Pigs, and Penthouse Paupers -- An American Tale of Sex and Wonder.
A wild and uncompromising history of four infamous magazines and the outlaws behind them, Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! is the first book to rip the sheet off of the sleazy myth-making machine of Hugh Hefner and Playboy, and reveal the doomed history of Hefner's arch rival, Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, whose messiah complex and heedless spending -- on a legendary flop of a movie paid for with bags of cash, a porn magazine for women, and a pie-in-the sky scheme for a portable nuclear reactor -- fueled the greatest riches to rags story ever told.
The adventure begins in the early 1950s and rips through the tumultuous '60s and '70s -- when Hustler's Larry Flynt and Screw's Al Goldstein were arrested dozens of times, recklessly pushing the boundaries of free speech, attacking politicians, and putting unapologetic filth front and center -- through the 1990s when a sexed-up culture high on the Internet finally killed the era when men looked for satisfaction in the centerfold. As America goes, so goes its porn.
Along the way we meet many unexpected heroes -- John Lennon, Lenny Bruce, Helen Gurley Brown, and the staff of Mad magazine among them -- and villains -- from Richard Nixon and the Moral Majority to Hugh Hefner himself, whose legacy, we learn, is built on a self-perpetuated lie.
Mike Edison is the former publisher of High Times magazine, a Hustler and Penthouse correspondent, and the former editor-in-chief of Screw magazine. He is the author of 28 pornographic novels and the legendary memoir I Have Fun Everywhere I Go -- Savage Tales of Pot, Porn, Punk Rock, Pro Wrestling, Talking Apes, Evil Bosses, Dirty Blues, American Heroes, and the Most Notorious Magazines in the World. Edison lives and works in New York City.
Before you continue, read the following:
WARNING: ADULT TYPE MATERIAL
IF YOU ARE LIABLE TO BE OFFENDED BY SUCH MATERIAL KINDLY LAY OFF AND CLICK THE BACK BUTTON ON YOUR BROWSER.
The contents of this publication are neither obscene nor pornographic according to the guidelines set by the United States Supreme Court.
Excerpt from Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!: Of Playboys, Pigs, and Penthouse Paupers -- An American Tale of Sex and Wonder, by Mike Edison. Published by Soft Skull Press. Copyright 2011 by Mike Edison. Reprinted with Permission.
Every day I wake up and thank the Lord that cocksucking is not strictly a homosexual phenomenon.
My first exposure to the joys of fellatio, were, typically, in print form -- via a late-sixties totem called The Sensuous Woman, by a woman so mysterious that she only went by the first initial "J."
It would have had to have been about 1976 when I first encountered this mind-blowing Baedeker. My pal Eric had somehow secured a copy of this licentious wonder, though I am pretty sure he boosted it from his folks. They were hippies and probably did it all the time.
We were about thirteen, and I was, at least, as previously mentioned, at the vanguard of my personal L'age D'or Autoerotique, Eric and I also shared our first homosexual experience -- in the form of a "Captain Fantastic" -- era Elton John poster that he had picked up at Spencer Gifts. We loved E.J. but there was something about him, wrapped up in rhinestone and furs, that we just couldn't put our fingers on.
The Sensual Woman, however, was someone we understood right away . I learned so much from "J." For instance, you should "bring your own grapes to an orgy." Who knew?
Her descriptions of blow job techniques were particularly piquant. Thirty-five years later I can still vividly recall her Coleridge-like descriptions of "The Butterfly Flick," the "Silken Swirl," and "The Hoover ". Like all fourteen-year-olds, I had heard rumors of this sort of behavior, but The Sensual Woman cemented it. Sex was going to be great.
One of the nice things about this book is that it has no pictures, which is intellectually very liberating, and immediately differentiates it from its near-contemporary, the Joy of Sex, which, as anyone who has seen one of the early editions can tell you, featured a couple of filthy hippies getting it on in a marathon of awkwardly contrived illustrations, being to the Kama Sutra kind of what the roller derby is to the Bolshoi Ballet. My parents had a copy of that workbook, and when I finally got around to stealing it, it did nothing if not deflate my imagination. I am certain that it did nothing for theirs.
But, back to the cocksucking. Aside from its obvious delights -- be you homo, hetero, male, or female -- to coin a phrase, it is a mouthful. You can ask Lenny Bruce.
Or you could have, in 1961, when he was arrested for dropping the ten-letter C-bomb during a gig at the Jazz Cafe in San Francisco.
It was a good night, by all accounts. He twirled lots of his best bits, including "Jewish & Goyish" ("Dig -- I'm Jewish. Count Basie's Jewish. Ray Charles is Jewish. Eddie Cantor's goyish.... If you live in New York or any other big city, you are Jewish. It doesn't matter even if you're Catholic, if you live in New York, you're Jewish.... Negroes are all Jews... Underwear is definitely goyish. Balls are goyish. Titties are Jewish....") and "To is a Preposition, Come is a Verb" -- the direct antecedent to George Carlin's "you can prick your finger, but you can't finger your prick" routine. In fact, Carlin owes most of his fancy wordplay to Lenny. Seven dirty words? Hmmf! Lenny spit out nine, and in alphabetical order! Ass, balls, cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, piss, shit, tits -- years before Carlin made his bones with seventy-seven percent of the same shtick.
A big part of Lenny's game was to perpetrate the language until it collapsed on itself, until words became just... words.
"By the way, are there any niggers here tonight?" he began one routine. All he got for that gambit was crickets. You could hear the air.
So he says it again, and then after another uncomfortable, career-killing silence, asks the crowd, almost apologetically if they think he is "that desperate for shock value?" And then Lenny lights'em up. "I see one nigger couple back there, and between those two niggers sit three kikes..." BIG laugh. Apparently there are some kikes in the audience. Now he's got'em on his side. "Thank god for the kikes! Two spics, one mick, two dykes, and one spunky funky honkey... six guineas, seven wops," he's rattling on like a hop-head auctioneer, and no one seems to mind that making a distinction between "guineas" and "wops" makes little or no sense at all. Lenny is in a groove. "Anymore boogies? See more sheenies?" He's doing the final accounting -- "Six greaseballs, six dykes, eight kikes, and four niggers..." And one big motherfucking round of applause.
"It's no joke, he totally changed the face of comedy," says [Paul] Krassner. "When other people were doing Chinese waiter jokes, Lenny was talking about teacher's salaries. When other people were making jokes about their mother-in-laws, he was talking about abortion rights."
In San Francisco, a cop, a fucking beat cop, was assigned by his self-righteous sergeant to arbitrate First Amendment rights in a town famous for pirates and pansies. He told Lenny "That word you said... you can't say that in a public place. It's against the law to say it, and do it." It was, the cop told Lenny, disgustedly, "a favorite homosexual practice." Lenny, always the humanist, was equally disgusted -- disgusted that the cop's wife didn't suck the cop's dick. Never mind going to jail for telling a dirty joke, that was criminal.
The obscenity trial that followed, like all cases of the kind, was farcical:
Mr. Wollenberg (Lenny's Lawyer): Can you give us the exact words or what your recollection of those words was?
Arresting Officer: During the chant he used the words "I'm coming, I'm coming, I'm coming"...
Mr Wollenberg: And then was anything else said by the defendant?
Arresting Officer: Then later he said "Don't come in me, don't come in me"....
Mr. Wollenberg: You are quite familiar with the term "cocksucker" are you not?
Arresting Officer: I have heard it used, yes.
Mr. Wollenberg: As a matter of fact, it was used in the police station on the night Lenny Bruce was booked there, was it not?
Agatha Christie, Colonel Mustard, and Inspector Clouseau, with the bungling help of the Keystone Cops and the cast of Police Academy III, could not have provided a sillier scenario.
One thing about obscenity trials that makes them different than other criminal trials is that in an obscenity trial, the premise is to determine whether a crime has actually been committed, as opposed to say, a murder trial, where you presumably have a body that has been done grievous harm, and now the job is to figure out whodunit.
But with an obscenity case, you have the alleged culprit -- and the gig is to figure out if what he did is actually a crime -- which is not necessarily the kind of power you want to put in the hands of twelve more-or-less randomly selected citizens of varying degrees of piety, literacy, and humor. If the Supreme Court of the United States of America has had zero luck defining obscenity (viz. Justice Stewart "I know it when I see it" Potter), is it really such a hot idea putting the power to swing the ax limiting free expression into the hands of punters pretty much picked off the line of the DMV?
The First Amendment is a tricky beast. Not all speech is protected. For instance, libel and slander are not protected. But there are legal definitions for both. Also, as is well known, for obvious reasons, you can't shout "fire" in a crowded theater, but you can shout "bitch, faggot, and nigger," and there are many popular entertainers who make their living that way. Hopefully they know the debt they owe Lenny.
"Hate speech" is generally protected, but "fighting words" may not be. You can advocate the destruction of slopes, spades, rag-heads, rednecks, hymies, and half-breeds, and march down Main Street with a bed sheet over your head preaching 600-thread-count Egyptian-cotton purity, but if we were in a bar and you were to call me a cheap kike bastard to my face, and I took a poke at your nose with my fist, you don't get to claim "freedom of speech," even though technically you may have been correct.
Political speech is generally regarded as "the highest form" of protected speech, and the best example is probably flag burning, which the Supreme Court has very specifically ruled on as being covered by the aegis of the First Amendment. And yet every few election cycles there is always some ill-educated rube who wants to run for office on the platform of adding a constitutional amendment banning it, and a fair amount of yahoos line up behind it in the name of "Freedom."
Obscenity is not protected speech, but pornography is. I have heard it said that pornography is the legal version of obscenity, which is cute, but not entirely accurate. Certainly most of the art and literature that has been deemed obscene over the years is of a sexual nature, but certainly no one would conflate what Lenny was spouting with pornography as such.
The working definition of obscenity, set in 1957 by the Supreme court's decision in Roth v. United States was "whether to the average person applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest," which was the Court's way of saying, "Hey, you guys figure it out for yourselves, and quite bugging us every time someone gets their knickers in a twist."
But the race was fixed. Never mind that San Francisco was the Cocksucking Capital of the Western World, or that down the street and around the corner from where Lenny was performing there was a run of strip clubs as degenerate as any in the contiguous forty-eight, run by the descendants of the pirates who ran the Barbary Coast. In a world that was willfully ignorant or blissfully dishonest about their own vices, "community standards" meant very little.
WARNING: ADULT TYPE MATERIAL
IF YOU ARE LIABLE TO BE OFFENDED BY SUCH MATERIAL KINDLY LAY OFF AND PLACE BACK ON PILE NEATLY.
The contents of this publication are neither obscene nor pornographic according to the guidelines set by the United States Supreme Court.
So advised Screw magazine on the cover of its first issue -- under a photo of a woman in a bikini luridly fondling a giant, kosher salami -- none of which seemed to impress the local law enforcement, who busted Screw founder Al Goldstein and his then business partner Jim Buckley for obscenity sixteen times in their first three years of publication. An early trial saw the Socratic method applied to a typical Screw cut-and-paste job of Jesus on the cross. Was his cock erect? It was hard to tell. More frequently the same debate was focused on New York Mayor John Lindsay, but the question was the same.
"Lindsay was a typical liberal scumbag," Goldstein says, "a fucking phoney and a hypocrite." And when Lindsay wasn't featured in Screw jerking off, or with his dick buried in another man's ass, his head was popping out of a toilet bowl to illustrate his esteemed position atop Goldstein's Shit List.
The real obscenity was that Lindsay and his goon squad insisted on busting not just the publishers, but the newsstand operators who sold Screw -- which debuted on the mean streets of New York on November 4, 1968, the same day Richard Nixon was elected -- including many of whom were blind. "How could they even know what they were selling?" asked Al after finding himself in a jail cell with Buckley and half a dozen sightless news vendors. Just eight hours earlier, the new issue of Screwhad hit the stands featuring a typically crude composite of the Mayor with his cock hanging out. Goldstein told Buckley to keep quiet because he was afraid that if anyone found out who they were they'd be the first men in history to be beaten to death by a gang of blind men wielding canes in a jail cell.
One blind news dealer was tapping around the cell, trying to find the urinal. They were in "The Tombs," New York City's notorious downtown jail, called that because it was like a mausoleum for the living. The whole place smelled like piss, it was hard for a blind man to know where to go. The poor bastard tripped over a junkie and nearly slipped in a puddle of puke. Al helped him, but when the fellow asked him his name, he lied. "I was overcome with Jewish guilt. That's when I knew I was in a fight with that cocksucker Lindsay."
Lindsay became a frequent target, as would be every other sitting mayor over Screw's thirty-five year run, but there was hardly anyone who wasn't targeted and put on trial for the high crime of hypocrisy. An early ad boasted that in less than half a year Screwhad managed to insult, degrade, or otherwise put down such establishments as "the artificial vagina, all governments of the world ... our lawyers and staff ... motherhood.... And everyone living and dead in this and all other worlds." Early on, Hefner was a popular whipping boy:
Playboy, a magazine for fags?
Every man fucking well can't afford a Mustang, let alone a blonde angel in a see-through blouse. Secondly, there is no such life more vapid that that which Playboy continually stresses -- nothing that could be more sterile than a constantly phony smile on a constantly bored chick... Playboy's philosophy could only emancipate the Pope, for only in celibacy can one feel more frustration than Hugh Hefner offers through his papers... His magazine is written and edited for the homosexual and maintains near perfect fidelity to their concepts about the female of the species...
Can Playboy get it up?
The words spilling out of his glossy dream factory cushion the Playboy reader against his constant fear that his latent homosexuality will spring forth one day as he seeks hungrily to gobble up every cock within swallowing distance... the Playboy world is peopled by hairless women and cockless men... a world of hypocrisy sham and deceit...
But while they were busy queer-bashing Hefner they also ran the gleeful weekly column "The Homosexual Citizen," and featured constant support for, and from, the gay community -- a year before the Stonewall riots, as Al is always proud to point out -- including ads for gay bookshops, reviews of homo films, and boy-on-boy photo spreads. Screw reprinted relevant articles about civil rights from the Law Review next to Screw's own "Gay Directory" of bars, parks, baths, private clubs, etc. And Al was very open about his own sexuality, having no qualms talking about his own occasional flights into the joys of performing fellatio, or being serviced by another man. Despite the general rancor, Screw's message was always "if it is love between two people, who cares what the gender is?"
"I've written about my bisexuality, and this is when it was hard to do, in 1968," Goldstein says with pride. "You can see pictures of me in 1956 with my black girlfriend. This was not done in the '50s. I've always marched to a different tune. I started a gay tabloid after Screw. It was called Gay and edited by Jack and Lige from the The Homosexual Citizen. Unfortunately it didn't sell very well."
Kikes, niggers, wops, dykes, cocksuckers... it was all in good fun. "When I was growing up in Brooklyn," says Goldstein, "We used to mock each other mercilessly. We called each other everything we could think of -- and your mother, too. She was a filthy dick-sucking whore who liked to fuck dogs. It was always test to see if you could give it and take it. It's a real New York thing."
Their most abused target, though, was always Goldstein himself, who would threaten to fire his staff if they did not attack him sufficiently in the pages of Screw. "Nowhere am I more hated than in the pages of my own paper," Goldstein boasted in his memoir, I, Goldsein: My Screwed Life. "I tell my editors to give me everything they've got. They have to make fun of my tiny cock and call me a penny-pinching overweight Jew faggot all the time or I'll fire them. Of course they are the biggest bunch of repressed virgins I could hire, and they loathe me, so it isn't so difficult. " As the ultimate self-hating Jew ("I am the litmus test for anti-Semitism. I am the worst Jews have to offer.") he had become his own mascot -- Alfred E. Neuman meets Godzilla, as characterized by Sigmund Freud and rendered by Ralph Steadman in shmaltz-based paint. Those New Yorkers who weren't reviled by him loved him. Even the uniforms that were busting him wanted to shake his hand. Al kept them laughing, and let them know where they could score a reliable rub-and-tug on a cop's salary.
Hugh Hefner and Bob Guccione may have thought they were pushing the envelope, Guccione especially, but it was Hustler who would boldly go into the Final Frontier of Parted Labia and Rosebud Clitora. Flynt had always thought that the ol' honey pot was as interesting as a woman's face, and he knew that real American men felt the same way. They lived not in fear of the vagina, they lived for it.
Discerning men had always fetishized female genitalia, much the same way women had made penises the stealth topic of discussion at boozy suburban kaffeeklatsches disguised as "book clubs" since the advent of chardonnay and the vodka cocktail. Except that men don't talk about it so much, because, frankly, it takes a bit more poetry to describe the flower that is the vagina than the blunt object that is the cock, and honestly, most of us aren't up to the challenge of waxing poetically on, say, the subtleties of the classic Midwestern, dolphin-nose pudenda, covered in glorious and forgiving dirty-blond fuzz, smelling bright and fresh and clean and happy like the first day of summer -- or, say, something from the Italian school, not uncommon in Boston or New York, and no less intoxicating, with its lithe, knowing labia and friendly caterpillar of tangled, brunette bunting and invigorating bouquet of Old World brine and spicy, cured lunch meats.
Which is not to say that women -- or men, as the case may be -- do not appreciate the subtleties of the penis, or the magic that is a man's testicles. I am just positing that there may be less to work with there, poetically speaking.
Unlike Playboy, which, led by Penthouse, eventually took its flights of marginally risque cheesecake down the primrose path; and Penthoues, which had begun with a more profound call to tumescence, Hustler just blew the barn doors wide open and broke every rule heretofore known to the art and craft of photographing the female form.
In my experience with women, such as it is, not one or them has done anything remotely close to the things that the ladies in Hustler do routinely to show off the depth and hue of their internal organs. But there they were -- legs in the air, or bent over demonstrating a Monk's Delight of positions, peeling back their labia to reveal the bubblegum-pink of their most intimate passages, what would instantly be denounced as the workings of a sick mind that had crossed over perilously from acceptable erotica into a deranged vortex of clinical gynecology. The first issue of Hustler "showing pink" sold 500,000 copies. Within two years they would be selling three-million.
When Hefner made his splash on reality television in 2005 at the age of 79, a farcical view of what life in the Mansion was like for his flock of "girlfriends" (which numbered as high as seven at one time), he outed himself as a cynical and feckless relic who had fallen hopelessly in love with his own kayfabe. He was, in wrestling parlance, a "mark for his own gimmick."
Nonetheless, The Girls Next Door -- he was still sticking to that old chestnut -- was an immediate hit, with more people watching than were reading the magazine, although viewership would ebb and flow dramatically, bobbing from 2.5 million for a season opener to less than a million a few weeks later. But more importantly, it wasn't even men watching this nonsense, it was women sucked in for the soap opera escapades of an over-the-hill millionaire and his pay-for-play roommates. Sure, it was a revenue stream, but it upheld none of the core values of the brand. Rather, it pushed Playboy farther into the depths of juvenilia and middle-American mindlessness.
But that was Hef. He had always told us that sparkling conversation was foreplay, and then he went for the most brainless Barbie dolls money could by. He went the distance to find the most negative-stereotype-reinforcing women that Hollywood had to offer -- no little feat -- and then lorded over them in his pajamas while they swam naked on his TV show. As one of my gal pals charged when the show premiered, "He obviously doesn't like real women, so from where I'm standing, it's pretty clear he doesn't like women."
And then the stories started leaking out. The thin white line of rabbit fur had been crossed by women telling bunny tales out of school. Before this, oddly, such was the power of Playboy that no one had ever kissed and told before.
Jill Ann Spaulding -- a professional poker player who had been photographed for Playboy.com and aspired to be a Playmate and made it all the way to Hef's bedroom before being cut loose from the organization after refusing to have sex with him -- wrote a book and wailed in a much circulated interview with celebrity wag Chaunce Hayden that "He just lies there with his Viagra erection. It's just a fake erection, and each girl gets on top of him for two minutes while the girls in the background try to keep him excited. They'll yell things like, 'Fuck her daddy, fuck her daddy!' There's a lot of cheerleader going on... There's also gay porn on in the background...I think he needs to see that stuff..."
Like everything else in his life, Hef's penis was on a schedule. The girls were ushered in on "sex nights," every Wednesday and Friday. Sometimes he gave the girls Quaaludes, what he called "leg openers."
Beginning with his "primary girlfriend," who gave him oral sex while the other girls pretended to get it on with each other (in reality none of the them even like each other), they each had a go at his "fake erection." The finale is Hef having anal sex with the Girlfriend No. 1, the culmination of which is greeted by a round of applause.
Larry Flynt was the last man standing. The Appalachian Chicken Fucker had beaten the odds laid down by Al Goldstein, Bob Guccione, and Hugh Hefner.
Well, maybe not standing so much as ruling from a gold-plated wheelchair, in an office that looks like a combination bank and brothel, circa 1863. There are lush-looking Remington paintings dotting the walls and Tiffany lamps and Chinese vases everywhere, but when you get close, you can see that it is all window dressing, none of it is real. But, as Flynt was fond of saying, "I don't need taste, I have money." He speaks with a slight slur, the lasting effects of a stroke he suffered as a complication of his massive intake of painkillers before his final operation. More importantly, his name is on the outside of the building, his building, which towers over Beverly Hills. His net worth has been estimated at about $(removed) million.
"What set me apart from the others," Flynt told me, "I'm a business man. Guccione was an artist. Goldstein was an excellent writer, but not a good businessman. Hefner just got lucky, he was in the right place at the right time. Absolutely he made a contribution, he was a pioneer. Hef did a great deal for the sexual revolution. You have to give him accolades. He is a very nice guy, pleasant to be around, but he still thinks its 1953, he's still there, and that's why he is falling apart."
Flynt had famously denounced religion, but he surprised everyone when he eulogized Jerry Falwell in 2007: "My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends... I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling."
"If I were selling peanut butter instead of porn," Flynt told me, "I'd still sell it with a vengeance."