Guccione’s Smut-by-Mail Past, Alleged Mob Connections

by on January 18th, 2011 0 comments

The official story on Penthouse founder Bob Guccione has always been that he entered the porn business in 1964 with the launch of Penthouse, which would go on to become the slutty rival of “nice girl” Playboy, serving as the #2 nudie mag in the country for a number of years before, in the ’80s, overtaking Playboy.

But according to Talking Points Memo‘s article today based on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for Guccione’s FBI file. It seems our man Bob engaged in the charmingly 1950s occupation of selling nudie pics by mail, based on a personal letter he wrote to potential customers, signing it as “Robert Gucci.” The bargain price? Just $2 for 10 photos.

Back in 1956, when he first came to the FBI’s attention, this was called “sending obscene photographs through the mail,” and the FBI dropped the investigation when Guccione’s company went out of business. But the really fascinating thing is Guccione’s “marketing message” in the “personal” letters.

Talking Points Memo has a scanned copy of the letter, and it’s utterly fascinating. In it, Guccione, who started out as a painter, describes how his appreciation for the female form reached the kind of fascination that just, um…couldn’t be copied by a painter. He said this:

I began to compare the effort that my hands had made with the living image of the girl before me. I saw the pink, fleshy tones, the bronze and the umber with which nature had burnished her skin; I saw the full, ripened breast, the eloquent face, the proud, sculptured turn of the hip; I saw the eyes and the mouth and the vivid expression of youth; I saw the complete and perfect form of life and I knew that here was the original and the real masterpiece and that my own was but the poorest copy.

[Link.]

To anyone who’s ever read copy from the “collector’s market” from those years, this is classic doublespeak for “These girls are naked!” but it carries such a retro charm that it makes me wax nostalgic. Ah, the fifties…a more innocent time, before any mother in America had to face the horrible news that her son was the marketing guy who invented the term “ball snot.”

More important to the FBI in later years, however, were their investigations into Guccione’s reputed Mob connections, which were many and varied. He tried to open a casino in Atlantic City in the eighties, but was foiled by an investigation into his connections to organized crime.

Later FBI investigations involved a Reagan-appointed Congressional investigator (whose name was redacted), and an investigation into whether Guccione knowingly allowed Penthouse to hire underage models.

One thing he certainly did was sell an issue of Penthouse with a 16-year-old Traci Lords as a centerfold — but Penthouse was certainly not alone in being duped by Lords. TPM points out that the Lords incident and Guccione’s refusal to cooperate with the FBI when he published the Unabomber’s famous letter in Penthouse are — curiously — missing from the file.

It’s a long article, and damn good reading. It came to me via Susie Bright, whose post on her memories of Guccione (and observations about the Penthouse empire and its place in publishing in general) also makes damn good reading.

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