Larry FlyntLarry Flynt doesn't really consider himself a pornographer; actually, he prefers the title "Publisher." He points out that his company produces dozens of monthly periodicals, most of which being completely devoid of prurient matter. Even so, Flynt concedes that the American public knows him principally as the guy who brought labia minora to the magazine rack.
"They think I'm a seedy old man in the basement of a building, grinding out pornography."
HUSTLER was founded in 1974. From the beginning, it never resembled the other men's magazines. Flynt's mission was to produce pornography for the common man. In that way, he strove to be the Henry Ford of stroke mags.
HUSTLER's chief competitor, Playboy, dominated the men's magazine scene. It had become an icon, an institution. It reeked of legitimacy, which was Hugh Hefner's explicit goal from the start. Playboy had always been marketed to urbane sophisticates who enjoyed jacking off occasionally. As such, every issue was packed with a wide array of intellectual offerings.
Flynt assumed that Playboy's actual demographic skew was predominantly working-class. And therefore, the majority of their readership probably ignored the think pieces; they just checked out the centerfold. To most guys, the provocative interviews with writers, artists, and world leaders were strictly filler.
HUSTLER labored under no such pretensions. That was one magazine tailor-made for the blue collar customer. There were no interviews with Gore Vidal or the President of the United States. And it wasn't clogged full of advertising better suited to GQ or a Sharper Image catalog.
The humor was decidedly crude, and the pictorials relentlessly pushed the boundaries of obscenity law. It was the first magazine to show shaved pussies, shemales, hermaphrodites, cumshots, preggies, etc. But HUSTLER achieved its most noteworthy milestone in December 1974, when it was the first national magazine to "show pink" (i.e. spread cuntlips).
Naturally, this approach landed HUSTLER and its publisher in court many times, defending against violations of local obscenity laws. Every time, fighting the case cost them years and a small fortune, but Flynt was determined to fight them. The typical sequence of events usually went down something like this:
None of this exactly endeared Flynt to prominent politicians, feminists, clergymen, and moral crusaders of every stripe. They denounced him with fervor. It shouldn't surprise anybody if it ever comes out that the Christian censors had been praying for Flynt's death all along.
In March 1978, one antagonist opted to take matters into his own hands. Using a high-powered rifle, Joseph Paul Franklin shot Flynt and his lawyer outside a Georgia courthouse. Apparently, the sniper was incensed over HUSTLER's depictions of interracial couples. Franklin, an avowed white supremacist and former Klansman, was finally apprehended in 1980.
Both Flynt and his attorney survived, but Flynt was paralyzed by the gunman's bullet. He lost all motor control below the waist. After a long and painful recuperation period, Flynt resumed his life from a gold-plated wheelchair. Additionally, he required a penile implant to restore the ability to gain an erection.
Following the incident, Flynt took stock of his life and rethought his priorities:
"When I was gunned down in the streets of Georgia and paralyzed, I saw that pretty much as my life being over. And I made a calculated decision to spend the rest of my life devoted to expanding the parameters of free speech."
From that point on, Flynt would be spending a lot more time in courtrooms.
In August 1981, fourteen-year-old Troy Dunaway was found dead in his bedroom closet. He was hanging by his neck with a belt looped around the doorknob. The current issue of HUSTLER magazine was laying next to him. The magazine was open to a page containing the article "Orgasm of Death" by Richard Milner, under the "Sexplay" column. After a dire warning from the editor, the article goes on to explain how one would go about performing autoerotic asphyxiation. It also contained a second warning at the end of the article:
[A]uto-asphyxiation is one form of sex play you try only if you're anxious to wind up in cold storage, with a coroner's tag on your big toe.
When it went to trial, HUSTLER was found guilty of incitement by a Texas jury. But the conviction was reversed on appeal. The appellate court summed it up thusly:
The constitutional protection accorded to the freedom of speech and of the press is not based on the naive belief that speech can do no harm but on the confidence that the benefits society reaps from the free flow and exchange of ideas outweigh the costs society endures by receiving reprehensible or dangerous ideas.
In 1984, automaker John DeLorean was on trial for conspiracy to commit drug trafficking. Somehow Flynt purchased a copy of the FBI's surveillance tape. The video showed DeLorean with the undercover agents and a suitcase full of cocaine. When the court ordered Flynt to disclose the source of the leak, he refused. For a while, he was fined $10,000 per day for his refusal.
By then, Larry had developed a perceptibly combative attitude toward the judicial system. He appeared at one hearing wearing the American flag as a diaper. He threw fruit at the judge. At one point, he refused to shut up and was gagged by the bailiffs. He was thrown in a psychiatric hospital for six months, and then jail, where he spent another 15 months.
Also in 1984, Jerry Falwell sued Flynt for $45 million, over a fake ad HUSTLER had printed which featured the preacher. It took the form of an ad for Campari rum, which was the subject of a campaign featuring celebrity interviews discussing their "first time." The Campari ads played off the idea of famous people divulging how they lost their virginity, but they were actually only describing their first taste of the product.
In the fake ad, the prominent clergyman and leader of the Moral Majority used uncharacteristically vulgar language to describe his first sexual encounter, which had taken place in an outhouse. What's more, it had been a drunken, incestuous tryst with his own mother.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever try it again?
It's easy to see why a jury in Virginia would find HUSTLER guilty of emotional distress. Eventually the case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, Flynt won in a unanimous decision. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the opinion.
The State's interest in protecting public figures from emotional distress is not sufficient to deny First Amendment protection to speech that is patently offensive and is intended to inflict emotional injury when that speech could not reasonably have been interpreted as stating actual facts about the public figure involved.
In words befitting a Christian minister, Falwell claimed later that he would rather have settled the matter without resorting to litigation:
"If Larry had been physically able and were not in a wheelchair, there'd have been no lawsuit. I'm a Campbell County, Virginia country boy. I'd just take him outside the barn and whip him, and that'd be the end of it."
After Bill Clinton was elected, things got easier for Flynt. Attorney General Janet Reno considered obscenity cases to be a very low priority for the Department of Justice. Then the Monica Lewinsky scandal struck, and the President was caught committing perjury. Soon the Republican Congress began preparations for evicting the occupant of the beleaguered White House.
Larry decided that he wasn't going to stand by and watch this happen. In October 1998, during the impeachment hearings, Flynt offered a $1 million reward for anyone who could prove that they "had an adulterous sexual encounter with a current member of the United States Congress or a high-ranking government official." He managed to flush out Bob Barr, Republican congressman from Georgia. And Henry Hyde. And, most remarkably, Speaker-elect Robert Livingston.
From the Flynt Report:
Our intent from the very beginning was to shine a light on the double moral standard being wielded by the Republican prosecutors and other high-placed detractors of the Chief Executive. We wanted to illuminate the scorched bottom of the kettle as it shrilly called the pot black. The exposure of hidden shadows in the lives of Georgia's Bob Barr and Speaker Designate Bob Livingston of Louisiana highlighted the truth that the governing body railroading Bill Clinton was made up of frauds who might easily have been his partners in slime."
Later, Flynt expressed a modicum of regret over having cost Livingston his career:
"I personally don't think Livingston should have resigned. I don't think a person's sex life has anything to do with their ability to lead or be a successful legislator. But it's all the hypocrisy. If someone will raise the white flag, then we'll go away. But I think they should be men enough to stand up and end this impeachment crap with some dignity and get back to business they should be working on."
During the final days of the 2000 campaign, Flynt accused Presidential candidate George W Bush of having arranged an illegal abortion in 1971 for his girlfriend. He claimed to possess corroborating evidence in the form of affadavits from friends of the woman. But the allegations were never pursued by the mainstream press.
Governor FlyntIn July 2003, California voters decided to hold a special election to recall their governor, Gray Davis. Any Californian with $3,500 and the signatures of 65 registered voters could get their name on the ballot. Predictably, hundreds of wannabe politicians crawled out of the woodwork, hoping for their chance at the big time, and Larry was among them. For two days, he was the richest, most famous candidate in the running. That is, until Arnold Schwarzenegger's surprise announcement on the Tonight Show.
At Flynt's press conference, unveiled his campaign slogan: "Vote for the smut-peddler with a heart." Reporters asked whether his lifelong career as a porno publisher would be a liability. Larry responded:
"I don't think the business I'm in has anything at all to do with being a good governor. Just because I publish pornography doesn't mean I'm not concerned about the public ills. ... California is the most progressive state in the union. I don't think anyone here will have a problem with a smut peddler as governor."
If elected, Flynt says he will decriminalize drugs and prostitution, expand casino gambling, grant amnesty to illegal aliens, and then close the Mexican border.