Guccione in 1993
|Born||Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini Guccione
December 17, 1930
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||October 20, 2010
|Known for||Founder of Penthouse|
Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini Guccione (pronounced "goo-chee-OH-neh"; December 17, 1930 – October 20, 2010) was the founder of the adult magazine Penthouse in 1965. This was aimed at competing with Hugh Hefner's Playboy, but with more extreme erotic content, a special style of soft-focus photography, and in-depth reporting of government corruption scandals. By 1982 Guccione was listed in the Forbes 400 wealth list, and owned one of the biggest mansions in Manhattan. But he made some extravagant investments that failed, and the growth of free online porn in the 1990s greatly diminished his market. In 2003, Guccione's publishers declared bankruptcy and he resigned as chairman.
In 2013, acclaimed documentary filmmaker Barry Avrich produced and directed a biography on Guccione entitled Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival prior to airing on Epix and HBO. The film was independently produced by Melbar Entertainment Group.
Guccione was born in Brooklyn, New York of Sicilian descent, and raised 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.
In his teens, Guccione married his first wife, Lilyann Becker. The couple had a daughter, Tonina. The marriage 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. Although Playboy had always had a liberal bent and championed the Civil Rights Movement and other social justice causes, 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. 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. On the other hand, Playboy retained a certain conservatism and embraced mainstream American consumerism rather than reject it. During the late 1960s, feminist groups criticized the magazine for supporting women's liberation only in terms of making them free to engage in sexual relationships with men. While Playboy devoted extensive print to covering sports, one of Hugh Hefner's great passions, Guccione had no interest in them and never bothered discussing sporting events or athletes in Penthouse, instead preferring to cover the art world. 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 Sexual Revolution 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. Up to the end of the 1960s, it was not acceptable to display anything more than a female's buttocks or breasts in mainstream publications and anything more risked obscenity charges. Only low-budget underground magazines displayed female genitals or explicit poses. However, the counterculture movement led to an increasingly liberated sexual attitude after which a series of court rulings struck down most legal restrictions on pornography. 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 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 the early 1970s, Guccione invested around US $45 million in construction of Haludovo Palace Hotel, a luxury hotel resort in Rijeka, on the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia. He invested additional $500,000 in advertisement. Despite Yugoslavia being nominally a communist country, it encouraged foreign investments. The entire project was designed by Yugoslav architect Boris Magaš and realized through Brodokomerc, a local company. Prior to that, the project needed to be authorized through a so-called workers' council, a process which Guccione described as "ridiculously easy". The hotel was officially opened in 1972. Staff included around 50 Penthouse Pets, and the guests included the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. However, the hotel went bankrupt the very next year.
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 and Peter O'Toole. The film, 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 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 and recognition
Guccione's editorial content was praised and recognized by some 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 which was produced by Jeremy Frommer and Rick Schwartz. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2013. It was later broadcast in Canada on The Movie Network and Movie Central and in the United States on Epix in November 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. The owner of General Media, FriendFinder Networks Inc. itself filed for bankruptcy protection on September 17, 2013. They emerged from bankruptcy protection in December 2013, which eliminated 300 million in debt. As part of the reorganization, the Company's shares were deregistered and will no longer trade on the open market. Penthouse Magazine continues to be published.
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, and Daniel C. Stanton.
Guccione's British raised 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 was married four times: he first married Lilyanne Becker in his teens. Then he married Muriel Hudson in 1966 and divorced her in 1979. Then he married his long-time companion, South African native Kathy Keeton, in 1988. In 1997, Keeton died of complications from surgery to remedy an obstruction in her digestive tract after a long battle with cancer. 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, he and Warren wed in 2006 and they remained together until his death. It was his fourth marriage.  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 2010, at age 79. 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 multibillion-dollar hedge fund Elliott Associates of New Jersey. In January 2004, a group of investors came to Guccione's aid during his eviction. A London-based investor, Jason Galanis, led the investment group which purchased the property 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 forgo 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 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 was foreclosed and sold for $4 million.
Guccione was a painter, whose art premiered at Nassau County Museum of Art as well as the Butler Institute of American Art. His art continues to hang in the Borghi Fine Art Gallery, is featured in the POBA - Where the Arts Live online collection, and is a part of the Filthy Gorgeous Media art collection. Bob Guccione was 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 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, 9/11 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 acquired by entrepreneur Jeremy Frommer in early 2012. The acquisition included over 60 original Guccione Oils, as well as the 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. The items obtained by Frommer were the inspiration for his company Jerrick Ventures LLC's creation of the website, Filthy Gorgeous Media, which debuted June 2013.
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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