Guccione in 1993
|Born||Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini Guccione
December 17, 1930
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||October 20, 2010
Plano, Texas, U.S.
Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini Guccione, born in Brooklyn, New York, was of Sicilian descent, and raised as a Roman Catholic in Bergenfield, New Jersey. His father Anthony was an accountant and his mother, Nina, was a housewife. He considered but rejected, entering the priesthood. He attended high school at Blair Academy, a prep school in Blairstown, New Jersey.
Guccione married the first of his four wives, Lilyann Becker, before the age of 20, and they had a daughter, Tonina. The marriage soon failed, and he left his wife and child to go to Europe to be a painter. He eventually met an English woman, Muriel, moved to London with her, and married her. They had four children: Robert Jr., Nina, Tony and Nicky. To support his family, Guccione managed a chain of laundromats until he got work as a cartoonist on an American weekly newspaper, The London American, while Muriel started a business selling pinup posters. He occasionally created cartoons for Bill Box's humorous greeting card company, Box Cards.
Penthouse began publication in 1965 in England and in North America in 1969, an attempt to compete with Hugh Hefner's Playboy. Guccione offered editorial content that was more sensational than that of Playboy, and the magazine's writing was far more investigative than Hefner's upscale emphasis, with stories about government cover-ups and scandals. 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.
The magazine was founded on humble beginnings. Due to his lack of resources, 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. Guccione would sometimes take several days to complete a shoot.
As the magazine grew more successful, Guccione openly embraced a life of luxury; his former mansion is said to be the largest private residence in Manhattan at 22,000 square feet (2,000 m2). However, in contrast to Hugh Hefner, who threw wild parties at his Playboy Mansions, life at Guccione's mansion was remarkably sedate, even during the hedonistic 1970s. He reportedly once had his bodyguards eject a local radio personality who had been hired as a DJ and jumped into the swimming pool naked.
The magazine's pictorials offered more sexually explicit content than was commonly seen in most openly sold men's magazines of the era; it was the first to show female pubic hair, followed by full-frontal nudity and then the exposed vulva and anus. Penthouse has also, over the years, featured a number of authorized and unauthorized photos of celebrities such as Madonna and Vanessa Lynn Williams. In both cases, the photos were taken earlier in their careers and sold to Penthouse only after Madonna and Williams became famous. In Williams' case, this led to her forced resignation as Miss America in 1984. The September 1984 issue in which Williams was first featured also included a layout with porn actress Traci Lords, who was only 15 when the photo shoot was done and was later revealed to be underage throughout most of her porn career. In the late 1990s, the magazine began to show more "fetish" content such as urination, bondage and "facials."
In 1976, Guccione used about US $17.5 million of his personal fortune to finance the controversial historical epic pornographic film, Caligula, with Malcolm McDowell in the title role and a supporting cast including Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, Teresa Ann Savoy and Peter O'Toole. The film, which was eventually released in late 1979, was produced in Italy (made at the legendary Dear Studios in Rome) and was directed by Tinto Brass. Guccione also created the magazines Omni, Viva, and Longevity. Later Guccione started Penthouse Forum which was more textual in content. In the early 2000s, Penthouse published a short-lived comic book spin-off entitled Penthouse Comix featuring sexually explicit stories.
In 1982 Guccione was listed in the Forbes 400 ranking of wealthiest people, with a reported $400 million net worth. An April 2002 New York Times article quoted Guccione as saying that Penthouse grossed $3.5 billion to $4 billion over the 30-year life of the company, with a net income of almost $500 million.
Awards & recognition
Unlike his competitors, Guccione's editorial content was praised and recognized by those in the academic field. In 1975, for example, 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."
Guccione was also praised by certain professional groups and associations for his dealings with them. In April 1978 he 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."
In 2013, director Barry Avrich made a film about Guccione's life entitled Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story. The film is set to have its world premiere at The Toronto Film Festival on September 9, 2013.
Decline and resignation
Several wildly unsuccessful investments by Guccione—including the Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino (which lost $160 million) and a (never-built) nuclear fusion power plant—added to his publishing empire's financial woes. Guccione's efforts to regain sales and notoriety, which included attempts to get Monica Lewinsky to pose for the magazine (which was parodied in a sketch on Saturday Night Live in 1998) and offering the Unabomber a free forum for his views, failed to increase readership. With the rise of online access to (often free) pornography in the late 1990s, Penthouse's circulation numbers began to suffer even more. In 2003, General Media, Penthouse's publisher, declared bankruptcy. Guccione resigned as chairman of the board and CEO of Penthouse International, Inc. Penthouse publisher FriendFinder filed for bankruptcy protection on September 17, 2013.
In 2006 Guccione sued Penthouse Media Group for fraud, breach of contract, and conspiracy, among other charges. Some of the people named in the case included Marc Bell, Jason Galanis, Dr. Fernando Molina, Charles Samel, and Daniel C. Stanton.
Guccione's British-reared son, Bob Guccione, Jr. (born 1955), was given editorship of Spin, but father and son soon fell out over editorial decisions, and Bob Jr. eventually found independent investors to continue financing the magazine. Father and son remained estranged for a long time, but reportedly reconciled before Bob Sr.'s death in 2010. Nicky, Guccione's youngest child, retained some contact with him since Nicky gave Guccione his only grandchild, Benjamin.
Guccione married his long-time companion, South African native Kathy Keeton, in 1988; it was his third marriage. In 1997, Keeton died of complications from surgery to remedy an obstruction in her digestive tract; she was 58. In her last few months, Keeton befriended an ex-model named April Dawn Warren, and gossip maintained that Warren was Keeton's hand-picked successor. After a long engagement, Guccione married Warren in 2006 and they remained together until his death. Guccione continued to list Keeton on the Penthouse masthead posthumously as President but later added Warren to the masthead after she had spent ten years as creative director of the magazine. Warren and Guccione were working on a book of reminiscences, Good to Know, until shortly before his death in late 2010. He died with Warren at his side.
Guccione brought artisans in from France and Italy to build the largest private residence in Manhattan. As a tribute to Guccione the artisans carved both his and his wife's faces into the marble columns near the entrance of the residence. According to New York magazine, "It's one of the biggest private houses in Manhattan, with 30 rooms, and it costs $5 million a year to maintain." In November 2003 the mansion, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, was foreclosed on by Kennedy Funding of New Jersey, the mortgage holder, along with an affiliate of multi billion-dollar hedge fund Elliot Associates of New Jersey. In January 2004, a group of investors came to Guccione’s aid during his Sheriff-enforced eviction. A London-based investor named Jason Galanis led an investment group that purchased the house for $26.5 million in cash. The house was purchased by NY Real Estate LLC, an entity set up to acquire the mansion. Galanis contributed $2.6 million, and two New York hedge funds, Laurus Funds and Alexandre Asset Management, made a mortgage loan of $24 million to NY Real Estate LLC, which was owned by Penthouse International, the parent and debtor-in-possession of General Media.
As a result of the continuing contentious bankruptcy, which lasted over a year, the promissory notes due to Laurus were considered in technical breach of covenants which resulted in severe financial penalties in excess of $8 million. Penthouse International elected to forego refinancing the house due to the combination of the penalties and the unfavorable lifetime lease of $1.00/year that was granted to Guccione, which made the property unmarketable. Laurus sued Guccione to take possession of the house from the tenant. It was reportedly sold for $49 million, well below the asking price of $59 million, to Wall Street financier Philip Falcone.
Guccione also had to sell his country house in Staatsburg, New York. The estate was purchased by actress Uma Thurman and hotelier Andre Balazs. Guccione's 15-room Baroque stucco mansion on a 75-acre property on the Hudson River which was foreclosed and sold for $4 million.
Although Guccione was a talented painter, during his life he went unrecognized as a successful artist. He was also a world-renowned collector of fine art. Highlights of the Guccione collection included a portrait by Amedeo Modigliani and a Pablo Picasso portrait of the artist's son, Paulo. He also owned paintings by Sandro Botticelli, Albrecht Dürer, El Greco, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico, Edgar Degas, Fernand Léger, Gilbert Stone, Henri Matisse, Jules Pascin, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Georges Henri Rouault, Chaïm Soutine, and Vincent van Gogh.
The Guccione art collection was sold at auction by Sotheby's in November 2002 to pay Guccione's personal debts, originally incurred in the Atlantic City venture. The collection had been appraised by Christie's at $59 million two years prior. However, September 11, 2001 had depressed the art market and the Guccione collection failed to sell for its appraised price. The aggregate sale price was $19 million, which was used to pay lender Swiss Re. Swiss Re sued Guccione in New York State Court for a $4 million shortfall on the loan balance. Much of the remaining personal collection of Bob Guccione's art, photographs, and memorabilia was recently acquired by entrepreneur Jeremy Frommer.
Jeremy Frommer and Overnight Productions partner and producer Rick Schwartz are working on book and movie projects about the life of Bob Guccione. They are expected to exhibit over 60 oil paintings, as well as thousands of sketches and photographs at a gallery sometime before the release of Filthy Gorgeous - The Extraordinary World of Bob Guccione by director Barry Avrich.
Illness and death
By 2004 Guccione had undergone surgery for throat cancer and stated: “My cancer was only a tiny tumor about the size of an almond at the base of my tongue. The cure is probably every bit as bad as the disease. It's affected my ability to swallow ... the mobility of my tongue ... it makes it very difficult for me to talk."
Guccione was later diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and died on October 20, 2010, two months before his 80th birthday, at Plano Specialty Hospital in Plano, Texas, with his wife April at his side.
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