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Bob Guccione was a publisher of a variety of magazines, most notably the men's magazine Penthouse.
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In 1979, the magazine folded.
That same year, Penthouse magazine reached its peak, selling more than 4.7 million copies. With his growing success, Guccione funneled some of his wealth into developing a serious art collection, buying works by such artists as Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso,
and Henri Matisse. He also spent a tidy sum transforming two New York townhouses into his own palace. This grand home was made to look like a Roman palazzo and even featured images of Augustus and Julius Caesar inside. Guccione also bought an estate in Staatsburg, New York.
Interested in film, he produced the much reviled Roman epic Caligula (1979), which starred Malcolm MacDowell as the disturbed and perverse emperor. After the initial filming was completed, more sexually explicit scenes were added by Guccione. Directed by Tinto Brass and written by Gore Vidal, the final product was so bad that both men wanted their names removed from the film. In addition to its graphic sexual content, the film was also very violent. Critic Roger Ebert called it “sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash.” Still people went to movie theaters in droves to see what all of the fuss was about.
Outside of pornography, Guccione developed a number of other publications with Keeton. Omni, a magazine that covered science and science fiction, began publication in 1978. It was born from some discussions the pair had about the universe, according to an article in Vanity Fair. The magazine profiled leading scientists and examined scientific issues as well as featured stories by many writers, including William Gibson, William Burroughs, and Harlan Ellison. Also visually innovative, Omni helped promote the works of such as H. R. Giger.
Both interested in personal appearance and staving off aging process, Guccione and Keeton came up with Longevity, a title devoted to staying young, in the early 1980s. Other ventures were less successful. For years, Guccione tried to open a Penthouse casino in Atlantic City. He poured millions of dollars into the project, which never came to fruition.
In the mid-1980s, Guccione found himself immersed a series of scandals and lawsuits. He authorized the publication of nude photos of the reigning Miss America, Vanessa Williams, who was also the first African-American woman to win the crown, in 1984. While Playboy reportedly turned the pictures down first, Guccione ran the sexually implicit images in Penthouse’s September issue, which supposedly brought in $14 million in revenue. But the scandal surrounding the images cost Williams her crown as she was forced to resign.
Televangelist Jerry Falwell sued Penthouse in 1985 after an interview with him was printed in the magazine, saying that he had been duped by the reporters and did not know that the interview was going to run in a photographic magazine. Adding to Guccione’s woes was the $45 million he owed the Internal Revenue Service for back taxes.
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