The first U.S. issue of Penthouse, September 1969
Penthouse, a men's magazine founded by Bob Guccione, combines urban lifestyle articles and softcore pornographic pictorials that, in the 1990s, evolved into hardcore. Penthouse is owned by FriendFinder Network, formerly known as General Media, Inc. whose parent company was Penthouse International Inc. prior to chapter 11 restructuring. Although Guccione was American, the magazine was founded in 1965 in the United Kingdom, but beginning in September 1969 was sold in the United States as well. At the height of his success, Guccione, who died in 2010, was considered to be one of the richest men in the United States. He was once listed in the Forbes 400 ranking of wealthiest people (982). An April 2002 New York Times article reported Guccione as saying that Penthouse grossed $3.5 billion to $4 billion over the 30-year life of the company, with net income of almost half a billion dollars.
- 1 Publication history
- 2 Financial history
- 3 Awards & recognition
- 4 Publishing milestones
- 5 Other ventures
- 6 Legal disputes
- 7 International versions
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Penthouse magazine 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 Guccione's lack of resources, he 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 the late 1990s, the magazine began to show more "fetish" content such as urination, bondage and "facials."
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.
In an effort to raise cash and to reduce debt, Penthouse sold its portfolio of several automotive magazine titles in 1999 for $33 million cash to Peterson Automotive, the national automotive-publishing group. While these titles were successful, it is widely reported that the science and health magazines Omni and Longevity cost Penthouse almost $100 million, contributing to its eventual financial troubles.
On August 12, 2003, General Media, the parent company of the magazine, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Immediately upon filing, Cerberus Capital Management entered into a $5 million debtor-in-possession credit line with General Media to provide General Media working capital. In October 2003, it was announced that Penthouse magazine was being put up for sale as part of a deal with its creditors. On November 13, 2004, Guccione resigned as Chairman and CEO of Penthouse International, the parent of General Media.
Penthouse filed for bankruptcy protection on September 17, 2013. The magazines owner FriendFinder’s current common stock will be wiped out and it will no longer be traded on the open market. In August 2013, FriendFinder’s stock was delisted from Nasdaq because it failed to trade for more than $1.
General Media Communications, Inc. currently (as of 2014) publishes entertainment magazines and operates as a subsidiary of FriendFinder Networks Inc.
Awards & recognition
The magazine's editorial content was praised and recognized by those in the academic field. In 1975, for example, Guccione 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. It was produced by Jeremy Frommer and Rick Schwartz, who have since created a premier website inspired by Bob Guccione as an extension of the film called Filthy Gorgeous Media. The film had its world premiere at The Toronto Film Festival on September 9, 2013.
Traci Lords and Vanessa Williams
The September 1984 issue of Penthouse magazine would eventually become controversial because of its centerfold, Traci Lords. Lords posed nude for this issue at the beginning of her career as an adult film star. It was later revealed that Lords was underage throughout most of her career in pornography and was only 15 when she posed for Penthouse.
Move from softcore to hardcore pictorials and back
In 1998 Penthouse decided to change its format and began featuring sexually explicit pictures (i.e., actual oral, vaginal, and anal penetration), beginning with photos from the famed Stolen Honeymoon sex tape featuring Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. It also began to regularly feature pictorials of female models urinating, which, until then, had been considered a defining limit of illegal obscenity as distinguished from legal pornography.
A different approach to restoring sales was attempted by the UK version of the magazine in 1997. Under the editorship of Tom Hilditch, the magazine was rebranded as PH.UK and relaunched as middle-shelf "adult magazine for grown-ups". Fashion photographers (such as Corinne Day of The Face magazine) were hired to produce images that merged sex and fashion. The magazine's editorial content included celebrity interviews and tackled issues of sexual politics. The experiment attracted a great deal of press interest but failed to generate a significant increase in sales. PH.UK closed in late 1998.
The new owners significantly softened the content of the magazine starting with the January 2005 issue. Penthouse no longer showed male genitalia, real or simulated male-female sex, or any form of explicit hardcore content. (It does still feature female-female simulated sex on occasion.) While this change allowed the return of a limited number of mainstream advertisers to the magazine, it has not significantly raised the number of subscribers; total circulation is still below 350,000.
Some of Penthouse's secondary publications, such as Girls of Penthouse, continue to feature occasional images of explicit sex, most of them reused images from the 1990s issues.
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 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 predominantly featured erotic writing and stories. In the early 2000s, Penthouse published a short-lived adult comic book spin-off entitled Penthouse Comix featuring sexually explicit stories.
Penthouse Variations is a monthly magazine containing ostensibly reader generated erotic stories (primarily) and some pictures and reviews. It is a spin-off magazine from Penthouse Letters. It was initially published in 1978. Variations focuses on "kinkier" topics of sexuality such as bondage, fetish clothing, exhibitionism, voyeurism, foot fetishism, water sports, female dominance, bisexual exploration, transsexualism and sadomasochism among others.
Penthouse sponsors the "1X" car of driver Randy Hannagan in the World of Outlaws sprint car series. The magazine previously sponsored cars in the Formula One circuit from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. Teams included Hesketh Racing and RAM Racing.
3D HD Porn Channel
January 2011, Penthouse announced the first 3D HD Porn Channel which will be available in second quarter 2011. They shoot using dual lenses, and it will consist of available Penthouse HD Channel lineup covering over 30 platforms in more than 15 countries.
In March 1975, Penthouse published an article headlined "La Costa: The Hundred-Million-Dollar Resort with Criminal Clientele," written by Jeff Gerth and Lowell Bergman. The article indicated that the La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California was developed by Mervyn Adelson and Irwin Molasky using loans from the Teamsters Pension Fund and that the resort was a playground for organized crime figures. The owners, along with two officials of the resort, Morris B. Moe Dalitz and Allard Roen, filed a libel lawsuit for $522 million against the magazine and the writers. In 1982, a jury absolved the magazine of any liability against the lawsuit from the owners. The plaintiffs appealed, but in December 1985, before a new trial could begin, the two sides settled. Penthouse issued a statement that they did not mean to imply that Adelson and Molaskey are or were members of organized crime. In turn the plaintiffs issued a statement lauding Penthouse publisher Guccione and his magazine for their "personal and professional awards." Total litigation costs were estimated to exceed $20 million.
Guccione v. Penthouse Media Group
In 2006 Guccione sued Penthouse Media Group for, inter alia, fraud, conspiracy, and breach of contract for not keeping him on as a $500,000-a-year consultant after bringing the company out of bankruptcy in 2004, when it was General Media International Inc. People named in the case included Marc Bell, Jason Galanis, Dr. Fernando Molina, Charles Samel, and Daniel C. Stanton. New York State Supreme Court Judge Charles Ramos denied Penthouse's motion to throw out the case, writing: "The pleadings sufficiently describe the manner in which Bell and Staton schemed to convince and even coerce Guccione to support" GMI's plan to emerge from bankruptcy, while rejecting two of Guccione's claims.
As of October 2010
- Australian edition
- Bulgarian edition (discontinued)
- Dutch edition
- German edition
- Greek edition
- Hungarian edition
- New Zealand edition
- Portuguese edition
- Russian Edition
- Spanish edition
- Thai edition
- United Kingdom edition
- Bachman, Justin. "When Sex Doesn't Sell: FriendFinder Networks Files for Bankruptcy". Business Week. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
- Munk, Nina. "Don't Blink. You'll Miss the 258th-Richest American". The New York Times, September 25, 2005.
- Carr, David. "Cybersmut and Debt Undermine Penthouse". The New York Times, April 8, 2002.
- Anthony Haden-Guest "Boom and Bust", The Observer, February 1, 2004
- "The Twilight of Bob Guccione" from Rolling Stone
- Munk, Nina (September 25, 2005)."Don't Blink. You'll Miss the 258th-Richest American". The New York Times.
- Carr, David (April 8, 2002). "Cybersmut and Debt Undermine Penthouse". The New York Times.
- SEC Filing
- Media Life, August 13, 2003, Guccione files for bankruptcy, Creditors shove pornster up against the wall
- "Penthouse magazine owner files for bankruptcy". LA Times. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
- Staff. "Media: Company Overview of General Media Communications, Inc.". Bloomberg Business Week. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
- "Bob Guccione Obituary". Penthouse Forum. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- "Filthy Gorgeous Media". FilthyGorgeousMedia.com. Jeremy Frommer. Retrieved 1 July 2014.
- Lords, Traci Elizabeth. Traci Lords: Underneath It All. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.
- Kane, Gary (2010-10-21). "Bob Guccione, 'Penthouse' magazine founder, dies". USA Today. Associated Press. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
- Latest figures from the Audited Bureau of Circulation
- "Penthouse Variations | Buy Single Issues | Zinio - The World's Largest Newsstand". Zinio. Retrieved 2013-05-03.
- "Penthouse To Create First 3D Porn Channel | TechCrunch". Crunchgear.com. 2011-01-10.
- Court Revives La Costa Spa's Penthouse Suit http://articles.latimes.com/1985-05-23/local/me-8091_1_la-costa
- Penthouse, Resort End Legal Battle in a Draw http://articles.latimes.com/1985-12-21/local/me-3043_1_la-costa-resort-owners
- Bloomberg News coverage of 2006 lawsuit filed by Guccione
- Bloomberg News coverage of 2006 lawsuit filed by Guccione
- 02.10.2010. "Media: Penthouse chega às bancas a 27 de Outubro". Destak.pt.
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