Penthouse (magazine)

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Penthouse Magazine
Penthouse text logo.svg
The December 2009 issue of Penthouse
CategoriesMen's, lifestyle
Total circulation
FoundedMarch 1965; 57 years ago (1965-03)
CompanyWGCZ, Ltd.[2]
LanguageEnglish Edit this at Wikidata

Penthouse is a men's magazine founded by Bob Guccione. It combines urban lifestyle articles and softcore pornographic pictures of women that, in the 1990s, evolved into hardcore pornographic pictures of women.

Although Guccione was American, the magazine was founded in 1965 in the United Kingdom. Beginning in September 1969, it was sold in the United States as well.[3] Penthouse has been owned by Penthouse Global Media Inc. since 2016. The assets of Penthouse Global Media were bought out by WGCZ Ltd. (the owners of XVideos)[4] in June 2018 after winning a bankruptcy auction bid.

The magazine's centerfold models are known as Penthouse Pets, and customarily wear a distinctive necklace in the form of a stylized key which incorporates both the Mars and Venus symbols in its design.

Bob Guccione[edit]

At the height of its success, Guccione, who died in 2010, was considered one of the richest men in the United States. In 1982 he was listed in the Forbes 400 ranking of wealthiest people.[5] 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.[6]

Publication history[edit]

The first U.S. issue of Penthouse, September 1969

Penthouse magazine began publication in 1965, in the UK[7] 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 Seymour Hersh, Craig S. Karpel, James Dale Davidson, and Ernest Volkman exposed numerous scandals and corruption at the highest levels of the United States Government. Contributors to the magazine included such writers as Isaac Asimov, James Baldwin, Howard Blum, Victor Bockris, T. C. Boyle, Alexander Cockburn, Harry Crews, Cameron Crowe, Don DeLillo, Alan Dershowitz, Edward Jay Epstein, Joe Flaherty, Chet Flippo, Albert Goldman, Anthony Haden-Guest, John Hawkes, Nat Hentoff, Warren Hinckle, Abbie Hoffman, Nicholas von Hoffman, Michael Korda, Paul Krassner, Michael Ledeen, Anthony Lewis, Peter Manso, Joyce Carol Oates, James Purdy, Philip Roth, Harrison E. Salisbury, Gail Sheehy, Robert Sherrill, Mickey Spillane, Ben Stein, Harry Stein, Tad Szulc, Jerry Tallmer, Studs Terkel, Nick Tosches, Gore Vidal, Irving Wallace, and Ruth Westheimer (Dr. Ruth).

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.[8] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[8][failed verification] Penthouse has also, over the years, featured a number of authorized and unauthorized photos of celebrities such as Madonna and Vanessa 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, as poor business decisions were made[which?] and publishing control was gradually slipping away from Guccione, in a desperate attempt to boost sales,the magazine began to show more "fetish" content such as urination, bondage and "facials".[8][failed verification] Thus began the downward spiral of the magazine. Gone was the artistic and unique, soft focus lens erotic photography and the investigative journalism that brought the magazine to success and respect. Prominent companies no longer wanted their products featured in Penthouse and quickly had their advertising removed.

On January 15, 2016, a press release emanating from then-owner FriendFinder Networks announced that Penthouse would shutter its print operations and move to all digital. However, managing director Kelly Holland quickly disavowed the decision and pledged to keep the print version of the magazine alive.[10]

Financial history[edit]

In 1982, Guccione was listed in the Forbes 400 ranking of wealthiest people, with a reported $400 million net worth.[11] 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.[12]

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[13] that the science and health magazines Omni and Longevity cost Penthouse almost $100 million, contributing to its eventual financial troubles.[14]


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.[15][16] 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 magazine's owner FriendFinder's current common stock was wiped out and was no longer traded on the open market. In August 2013, FriendFinder's stock was delisted from Nasdaq because it consistently failed to trade for more than $1.[17]

As of 2015, General Media Communications, Inc. publishes entertainment magazines and operates as a subsidiary of FriendFinder Networks Inc.[18]

Ownership change[edit]

In February 2016, Penthouse Global Media – a new company headed by Penthouse Entertainment managing director Kelly Holland – acquired the Penthouse brand from FriendFinder Networks.[19]

Penthouse Global Media filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on January 11, 2018 to address debt-related issues.[20]

All assets of Penthouse Global Media, Inc. were bought out by WGCZ Ltd., operators of Xvideos,[4] on June 4, 2018 after winning a bankruptcy auction for US$11.2 million; other companies, such as MindGeek, also participated in the auction.[21]

Awards and recognition[edit]

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".[22]

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.[23]

Publishing milestones[edit]

Traci Lords and Vanessa Williams[edit]

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.[24]

The same issue also caused controversy with nude pictures of Vanessa Williams that caused her to be stripped of her Miss America crown.[25]

Move from softcore to hardcore pictorials and back[edit]

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, however). 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.[26]

Some of Penthouse's secondary publications, such as Girls of Penthouse, continue to feature occasional images of explicit sex, either classic sets from the 1990s issues or stills of adult video shoots staged by the company's Digital Media division.

Other ventures[edit]


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. In 2001, Penthouse Presents began running on Hot Choice.

Other publications[edit]

Guccione also created the magazines Omni, Viva, and Longevity.[8] Later Guccione started Penthouse Forum, which predominantly featured erotic writing and stories. In 1993, Penthouse published an adult comic book spin-off entitled Penthouse Comix, featuring sexually explicit stories. After an initial success, Penthouse Comix expanded into a line of four illustrated magazines with the addition of Penthouse Max, Penthouse Men's Adventure Comix and Omni Comix.

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.[27] 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.

Home video[edit]

In 1991, Penthouse Video had signed a deal with A*Vision Entertainment to release videos designed for an adult audience.[28]


In 1970, the Penthouse Club in London, England operated a casino. However, the next year the casino license was revoked by the gaming authorities.[29] In 1972, Penthouse opened the Penthouse Adriatic Club casino on the island of Krk in Yugoslavia (now Croatia) at a cost of $45 million. However, the casino filed for bankruptcy the following year and was closed.[30] In 1978, Penthouse began construction of the Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. However, Penthouse was unable to raise additional funding and construction stopped in 1980. The project sat idle until Donald Trump acquired the site in 1993.

Auto racing[edit]

A Hesketh 308E in 1977's Penthouse Rizla Racing livery

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[edit]

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.[31]

Wine and spirits[edit]

In January 2015, Penthouse announced its entry into the wine and spirits industry. The line of products were to debut at the 2015 Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas.[32] Called Libido Libations, the spirits line is distributed by Prestige Imports LLC and produced by The Melchers Group BV.[33] The wine offerings are the result of a partnership with California vintner John Crossland and Randal Tomich of the Australian winery Tomich Wines.[34]

Legal disputes[edit]

Editorial lawsuit[edit]

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.[35][36]

Guccione v. Penthouse Media Group[edit]

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.[37]

National rampage protests[edit]

In December 1984, a group of radical feminists began a civil disobedience campaign against Penthouse which they called a National Rampage. Led by Melissa Farley and Nikki Craft, they went into stores selling copies of the magazine and ripped them up, and they also burned an effigy of Bob Guccione in front of a bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin. In late 1985 the group began to focus on the printer of Penthouse, Meredith Corporation. They bought shares in the company and attended their annual stockholder's meeting. The women were not allowed to speak, but they removed their coats, revealing images from a Penthouse shoot about Japanese rope bondage—among which two poses were construed by Farley to evoke dead bodies—ironed onto [their] shirts.[38]

International versions[edit]

As of 2015:

  • Australia edition
  • Bulgarian edition (discontinued)
  • Dutch edition
  • German edition
  • Greek edition
  • Hong Kong edition (discontinued)
  • Hungarian edition
  • New Zealand edition
  • Portuguese edition[39]
  • Russian Edition
  • Spanish edition
  • Thai edition
  • United Kingdom edition
  • United States edition

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "AAM: Total Circ for Consumer Magazines". Archived from the original on June 4, 2012. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  2. ^ Skin in the Game: Purveyor of Porn Buys Bankrupt Penthouse
  3. ^ "Penthouse Magazine Issue #1 (First American Issue)". Back In Time Rare Books. Archived from the original on April 10, 2017. Retrieved April 9, 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Skin in the Game: Purveyor of Porn Buys Bankrupt Penthouse". Archived from the original on October 15, 2018.
  5. ^ Munk, Nina. "Don't Blink. You'll Miss the 258th-Richest American". The New York Times, September 25, 2005.
  6. ^ Carr, David. "Cybersmut and Debt Undermine Penthouse". The New York Times, April 8, 2002.
  7. ^ Hand, Di; Middleditch, Steve (July 10, 2014). Design for Media: A Handbook for Students and Professionals in Journalism, PR, and Advertising. Routledge. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-317-86402-8. Retrieved August 2, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d e Anthony Haden-Guest "Boom and Bust", The Observer, February 1, 2004
  9. ^ "The Twilight of Bob Guccione" from Rolling Stone
  10. ^ Yu, Roger (January 20, 2016). "Penthouse plans to retain magazine, launch overhauled site". USA Today. Gannett Company. Retrieved March 11, 2016.
  11. ^ Munk, Nina (September 25, 2005)."Don't Blink. You'll Miss the 258th-Richest American". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Carr, David (April 8, 2002). "Cybersmut and Debt Undermine Penthouse". The New York Times.
  13. ^ "Penthouse may be up for sale soon". October 21, 2015. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  14. ^ Haden-Guest, Anthony (2004). "The Porn King in Winter". New York Magazine. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  15. ^ "SEC Filing". Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  16. ^ "Wednesday". January 4, 2013. Archived from the original on January 4, 2013.
  17. ^ Pfeifer, Stuart (September 17, 2013). "Penthouse magazine owner files for bankruptcy". LA Times. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  18. ^ "Media: Company Overview of General Media Communications, Inc". Bloomberg Business Week. Retrieved April 2, 2014.
  19. ^ "Penthouse Wants You To Reclaim Your Vagina". Huffington Post. August 20, 2016. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  20. ^ "Penthouse Magazine Publisher Files Bankruptcy a Third Time". January 12, 2018. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  21. ^ Kernes, Mark (June 5, 2018). "Penthouse Bankruptcy Auction Results in New Ownership". Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  22. ^ "Bob Guccione Obituary". Penthouse Forum. Archived from the original on May 8, 2013. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
  23. ^ "Filthy Gorgeous Media". Jeremy Frommer. Retrieved July 1, 2014.
  24. ^ Lords, Traci Elizabeth. Traci Lords: Underneath It All. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.
  25. ^ Kane, Gary (October 21, 2010). "Bob Guccione, 'Penthouse' magazine founder, dies". USA Today. Associated Press. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  26. ^ Latest figures from the Audited Bureau of Circulation
  27. ^ "Penthouse Variations | Buy Single Issues | Zinio – The World's Largest Newsstand". Zinio. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  28. ^ "A*Vision Unveiling Penthouse Vid Lne" (PDF). Billboard. October 19, 1991. Retrieved October 15, 2021.
  29. ^ Casino Gambling Attracts "Penthouse" Publisher The Evening Independent March 25, 1978 [1]
  30. ^ "Abandoned Penthouse Casino - Haludovo Palace Hotel. Bikini, Optional". August 19, 2013.
  31. ^ "Penthouse To Create First 3D Porn Channel | TechCrunch". January 10, 2011.
  32. ^ "Penthouse to Showcase Pets, Wine & Spirits and Magazine at AEE". Adult Video News. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  33. ^ "Penthouse Libido Libations and Whiskey Tequila Fusion". BNP Media. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  34. ^ "Prestige product lines". Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  35. ^ Oliver, Myrna (May 23, 1985). "Court Revives La Costa Spa's Penthouse Suit". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  36. ^ Acuna, Armando (December 21, 1985). "Penthouse, Resort End Legal Battle in a Draw". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  37. ^ Amon, Elizabeth (August 12, 2008). "EBay, Lagardere, UBS, Penthouse, Countrywide in Court News". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on October 22, 2012. Retrieved August 2, 2015.
  38. ^ Farley, Melissa (1992), "Nikki Craft: Inspiring protest: The rampage against Penthouse", in Russell, Diana E.H.; Radford, Jill (eds.), Femicide: the politics of woman killing, New York Toronto: Twayne Publishers, pp. 339–345, ISBN 9780805790283. Pdf.
  39. ^ "Media: Penthouse chega às bancas a 27 de Outubro". October 2, 2010.

External links[edit]