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Jack LaLanne Dead At 96

January 23rd, 2011 No comments

Screencap from JackLaLanne.com

Fitness guru Jack LaLanne died of respiratory failure at the age of 96 today at his home in Morrow Bay, California (on the coast near Pismo Beach, north of Santa Barbara).

Born in San Francisco to French immigrants, LaLanne was addicted to sugar as a kid. He changed his ways at age 15 after hearing a talk by nutrition pioneer Paul Bragg. He got a Chiropractic degree and opened his first gym in Oakland at the age of 22.

Over the years he set a number of records and performed a number of public feats. He swam the Golden Gate in 1954 at age 40 underwater, with air tanks and 140 pounds of equipment, setting a world record. This is a famously difficult passage to swim due to swift ocean currents. But did that stop him? Heck, no. Nor did it stop him from swimming from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf handcuffed the following year, or paddling on a surboard from the Farralon Islands to San Francisco, or swimming the Golden Gate again — this time towing a 2,500-pound cabin cruiser.

He blamed processed foods for most of man’s ills, but believed organic food was “a bunch of bull.” In later years, he marketed a number of products packed with quacky goodness and cultural wackery, including freaky vitamin supplements, home gyms, and more. Take the Juice Tiger — one of LaLanne’s signature phrases was “That’s the power of the juice!” Juice Tigers were recalled in 1996 after “14 incidents resulting in at least eight lacerations to the hands, face, arms, and chest, and one permanent eye injury.”

Some LaLanne supporter has added on the Wikipedia page: “However, this is about 9 percent of the Juice Tiger models. Another 600,000 units were not recalled.” Is this guy awesome or what? His admirers still defend him in the little matter of a 1996 juicer recall involving facial lacerations! Next thing you know they’ll be sicking the minions of Xenu on Techyum!

Was the Juice Tiger recall the inspiration for the TV show Arrested Development‘s recurring gag the Cornballer, and was LaLanne himself the inspiration for that show’s Uncle Jack? Who knows?

Alls I know is that when I was a kid and I’d wake up at zero-dark-thirty, Jack LaLanne would be all there was to watch on TV. He’d lead me through a few calisthenics — or try to — and when one of my older relatives woke up, sometimes they’d amble, yawning, into the living room, point at the TV and say, “Jack LaLanne!” and sometimes, “He’s from Oakland!” I have the vague sense one of my distant ancestors knew someone who knew him.

And sometimes that’s enough.

Rest in peace, Jack LaLanne. May there be lots of juice in Fitness Heaven.

Info from Wikipedia.

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The 8 Most Sexually Awkward Moments in Comics (NSFW)

January 23rd, 2011 No comments

To tell you the truth, I sort of lost track of superhero comics around about the time I discovered The Savage Sword of Conan, where every female character was possessed of two attributes: a) double-barreled bodaciousness and b) hair that defied the law of physics in its dogged nipple-seeking qualities. It was like reading 100 episodes of Burlesque Comics waiting for the dancers’ pasties to fall off; I was not a  bright adolescent.

The resultant fixation I developed for hacking sorcerers’ heads off as foreplay really haunts me to this day. But little did I know that had I continued reading Action Comics and Detective Comics, and maybe even graduated to this X-Man thing that I remember all the youngsters talking about at some point, I would have encountered still more awkwardness, at least according to this truly mind-bending Cracked.com article on “The 8 Most Sexually Awkward Moments in Comic book History.” I would personally be more inclined to call them “sexually WTF!!!!???!!!???” than “awkward,” but there certainly are a few awkward experiences described here, like Batman’s visit to the Fortress of Solitude, which gets pretty messed up when tentacle aliens drop by for a non-consensual live sex show:

Our heroes just kind of stand around, watching the copious amounts of tentacle sex happen and avoiding eye contact with each other for a few minutes, because “watching emotion-snorting tentacles fuck each other” is right at the top of the list of Things That Ruin Sleepovers. And then things get weird.

Ew. Things definitely get weird, as they do in the further descriptions of truly effin’ weird-ass scenes from Iron Man, X-Men, Green Lantern and more. It hurts my brain to read it. Ow. Ow ow. Ow ow ow.

South Korean Commandos Liberate Chemical Ship from Pirates

January 23rd, 2011 No comments

Public Domain US Navy image of the Republic of Korea ship King Sejong The Great.

Back on the 15th of January, the South Korean chemical carrier MV Samho Jewelry was hijacked by Somali pirates on the high seas while en route from the United Arab Emirates to Sri Lanka.

Yesterday, it was reported by the English-language edition of Donga.com, and subsequently by the Associated Press and other sources, that on Friday South Korean commandos liberated the ship and freed all 21 crew members. Eight pirates were killed, and five captured. The captain of the vessel suffered a wound to his abdomen, but it was said to not be life-threatening.

The really interesting thing about this raid is not so much where it fits into the puzzle of Somali piracy, but how strongly the South Korean government has been to portray it as a demonstration. The Christian Science Monitor called this operation “a warning to North Korea in the headline of Donald Kirk’s article:

An exultant President Lee Myung-bak appeared across national television networks Friday praising the Navy commandos who rescued all 21 crew members of the South Korean-owned freighter while killing eight pirates and detaining three.

“Our military carried out the operation perfectly under difficult circumstances,” Mr. Lee said, adding: “We will not tolerate any behavior that threatens the lives and safety of our people in the future.”

[Link.]

As in many wars in previous centuries, the protection of shipping is a way for countries to flex their muscle and take postures of war, enforcing their will on the high sees as a way of saying “Don’t mess with me.”

Interestingly, of the 21 crew of the Samho Jewelry, only eight were from South Korea. Another 11 were from Myanmar (aka Burma), and 2 were from Indonesia.

Here’s more from the AP Article:

As dawn broke, South Korean commandos steered their boats to a hijacked freighter in the Arabian Sea. Under covering fire from a destroyer and a Lynx helicopter, they scrambled up ladders onto the ship, where Somali pirates were armed with assault rifles and anti-tank missiles.

The helicopter broadcast warnings in Korean that a rescue operation had begun and told the crew members to lay down on the floor.

Then the commandos started shooting as the pirates fired at them.

Five hours after Friday’s risky rescue began, it was over.

All 21 hostages were freed from the gunfire-scarred freighter. Eight pirates were killed and five were captured in what President Lee Myung-bak called a “perfect operation.”

[Link.]

The article also draws connection between South Korea’s military operation in the Indian Ocean and its threats at home from North Korea, just like the Christian Science Monitor — though not at such length.

The successful raid also was a triumph for South Korea’s president and military. Both came under harsh criticism at home for being too slow and weak in the response to a North Korean attack in November on a South Korean island near disputed waters that killed two marines and two civilians.

…”This operation demonstrated our government’s strong will to never negotiate with pirates,” Gen. Lee said.

The Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet said the U.S. Navy was aware of the rescue, but referred all other questions to South Korea.

[Link.]

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Canine CPR Dummies

January 22nd, 2011 No comments

Did you know you can give CPR to a dog? Well you can; in fact, sometimes it’s a sound business decision. An article on AOL News about the practice of canine CPR points out that a good police dog costs $35,000, which means the $200 to $900 price tag of this training aid is a bargain if your pricey cop dog — or, for that matter, your best friend — ever experiences cardiac arrest.

Says the article:

“They’re an odd tool, but they’re a necessary tool,” said Harrison Forbes, dog trainer and host of “Pet Talk,” a nationally syndicated radio show. “You can’t ask your dog to lay there so you can mimic practice.”

Forbes, who practiced CPR on a canine manikin at a dinner party a few years ago, described those first few moments watching someone perform mouth-to-snout as awkward. After initial titters, however, the dinner guests realized that the simulator could one day be their dog.

For Forbes, the oddest moment came at the beginning of the demonstration, when the instructor arrived with her manikin.

“She had the dog in a duffel bag,” he recalled, “and when she whipped him out of the bag and flopped him down on the table, heads turned.”

[Link.]

Competing CPR dogs cost almost $800, but you can pick up CasPeR the friendly CPR Dog for $232 at Simulaids.com. Why not pick up an ALS Trauma Head and a few Choking Manikins while you’re at it? Why should your dead “dog” be the only ghoulish friend that gets to ride around in your duffel bag?

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Have Space Suit, Will Urinate

January 20th, 2011 No comments

SPD-143 space suit from the Apollo mission. Screencap from the NYT gallery, photo by Mark Avino, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Science fiction writer Walter Jon Williams, one of the O.C.’s (Original Cyberpunks) has a post on his blog tipping me off to this great article in the New York Times about the 300-item storage room at the Smithsonian that holds almost the museum’s entire collection of space suits.

The accompanying slide show features 18 images of suits throughout the American space program. These are the very suits that made history. Or, as Williams puts it, “Check out the very suit that Alan Shepherd pissed in!”

Williams’s reference, of course, is to the fact that first-American-in-space Alan B. Shepard, before his Freedom 7 launch, got delayed on the launch pad. He found he had to pee — but had no facilities to do so. The result was dramatized with LOLZ in the 1983 film The Right Stuff, based on a book by Tom Wolfe. He whizzed in his suit, which worked out just fine.

But as to the other awesome Shepard moment during Freedom 7 in The Right Stuff, it didn’t happen. At least, not precisely. Wikipedia, citing NASA flight director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris in Apollo 13, don’chaknow) never really said, “Dear Lord, please don’t let me fuck up.” In his book Failure Is Not an Option, Kranz claims Shepard said, “Don’t fuck up, Shepard…” — which Shepard confirmed. The words are known at NASA as “Shepard’s Prayer,” but I’ve been saying the incorrect version for years.

Anyway, the NYT article says photos and X-rays in the Smithsonian collection will be part of a traveling exhibition next spring — by which I assume they mean 2012. The suits are too fragile to travel.

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Nic Cage Back From Hell; Scenery Everywhere Quavers in Terror

January 20th, 2011 1 comment

Crime writer Donald E. Westlake once described his favorite novelist, Peter Rabe, as the author of the “best books with the worst titles ever written.” Whoever wrote a screenplay and called it Drive Angry is in the same boat, except possibly for the “best movie” part, from the looks of this trailer. Not that that’s necessarily a problem.

Or, as HitFix puts it: “What? It looks trashy, you say? Well, yes it does. That’s why we go.” The film comes out in the U.S. on February 25.

But I just can’t get over that title; who the hell signed off on that? Writing and producing trash frees a filmmaker or novelist to come up with the most exquisite titles in history. Like, for instance, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? None But the Lethal Heart. The True Son of the Beast. I Dismember Mama. The Case of The Kidnapped Porn Starlet. Or I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney. Which, no, I didn’t make up. Ben Affleck did.
So who thought “Drive Angry” would get the point across?

But wait. Let’s get back to the “film” itself. The basic premise is that Nicolas Cage escapes from Hell to avenge his daughter’s sacrificial murder at the hands of a Satanic cult, and to prevent that same cult from sacrificing his granddaughter. Are you with me? He’s pursued by a Satanic operative named “The Accountant,” played by William Fichtner.

Here’s more about it from HitFix:

In [this clip], named ‘Hydrogen truck rampage‘ the satanic Fichtner cheerfully brings a truck filed with very explosive Hydrogen to a police roadblock…the tone is irreverent and rockabilly. This clip reinforces the ‘over the top’ message that all other previews and press materials have been sending. No, it’s not Oscar-bait.

If the impossible car stunt left you wanting, check out the RED BAND trailer [at the bottom of this post]. It is not safe for work at all, and is entitled ‘Gunfight Sex’ which pretty much explains it all. You’ve been warned.

[Link.]

And we have been warned, but you don’t really get the sense of how trashy the Gunfight Sex clip is until you enter your birthdate. That’s how extra-feelthy this is. For those who don’t wish to subject themselves to such craptacular gun-fu-slash-sex-fu, I braved it for ya. Having gone there, I can tell you that the more srsly you take this movie, the more insane you would have to be. Srsly.

Trashy? Yes, yes that is why we go. And with a pedigree like this, how could you not!?!? Drive Angry, which incidentally is BEING RELEASED IN FUCKING 3D, is directed by Patrick Lussier, a sort of Wes Craven protege, and written by Lussier and Todd Farmer, author of Jason X (the tenth Friday the 13th movie — “Kill her, Mommy!!!!”) and the 2009 remake of  the 1981 Canadian slasher flick My Bloody Valentine. Is this gonna be quality cinema, or what? Gee, it’s almost like seeing a movie, except you need a shower afterwards.

Now…don’t get me wrong. Writing franchise work is a time-honored way to get those things called “landlords” off your back, so I respect it. And as a big fan of the action-horror genre, I expect a certain bouquet of trash when I visit the cinema with the express purpose of seeing heads blown open like casaba melons. And Rockabilly From Hell? Mas oui. Bring dat shit on.

But the esteemed Mr. Cage, in my opinion, has not been turning out the quality action-trash lately. He hit a recent terrifyingly brief artistic stride as Fu Manchu in the Grindcore trailer for Werewolf Women of the SS, sure. But National Treasure? National BALLS. Gone in 60 Seconds? Asleep in 60 Seconds. Ghost Rider? Choad Rider. And as for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans? Um…duh-HUH? The very concept of that thing terrifies me so much I can’t even bring myself to look at the box, and I’m not talking about that flavorful fright that apes the sensation of skeletal fingers crawling up your back — I’m talking, how loud can I scream WHAT THE FUCK!?!? ‘Cause I’d like to scream it exactly that loud.

Let’s tell it like it is, though. All this bellyaching about “quality cinema” comes from a man who thinks Brides of Dracula is the goddamn living end. I used to drive twenty minutes just to rent bizarre Italian Giallo movies VHS-taped from Hungarian dubs off of Swedish TV, all on the promise that some unlucky starlet and her oversexed boyfriend would, at 12 minutes 16 seconds or thereabouts, be the subject of a particularly gruesome celluloid demise involving bulletproof glass and a meat cleaver. So who am I to throw stones?

Just to make things extra-sweet, did I mention — I think I musta — that the Operative of Satan tryna track Saint Nic down is played by none other than William Fichtner…? Fichtner hit his career pinnacle, in my opinion, in 1999′s brilliant rave-thriller Go, when he made Scott Wolf smell him by way of selling the poor bastard Amway. (Spoiler alert: It worked. Spoiler alert: I pee my pants every time).

But just having William Fichtner play a Satan Commando isn’t enough to make me totally happy about this flick. That part’s taken care of by the fact that his character is named “The Accountant.”

Oh, Lord have mercy: the snooty American Studies whackjobs are lining up to slice-and-dice this one six ways from Walpurchisnacht.

Let the mayhem begin, bubba.

Feds Pwn the Mob: 110+ Arrests in Seven Families

January 20th, 2011 No comments

FBI Photo from the arrests this morning.

Update 1:09PM Pacific Time, 20 January 2011 –Janice Fedarcyk, the Assistant Director in Charge, issued a further statement a few minutes ago on today’s Mob-related arrests.

Though La Cosa Nostra — the Sicilian-American Mafia — has been waning steadily in influence decade-to-decade since the late ’70s, individual years have seen huge upticks in certain families. What’s more, the very nature of criminal enterprise means that even a beleaguered family can stumble on a hugely lucrative enterprises, which puts ‘em right back on top and, before you know it, on the road to expansion. Crime is the ultimate gambler’s paradise.

Another oft-cited issue in the literature on organized crime is that the FBI’s attention has primarily been focused on New York’s Five Families — Bonnano, Colombo, Gambino, Lucchese, and Genovese. These remain the most visible and documented organized crime groups in the world.

But at least a few journalists have observed that the FBI’s focus on NYC families means that other groups have had a chance to get a foothold where they never would have had a chance. Montreal’s Rizzuto Family, claims one book, have made inroads into the vacuum left by the collapse of the New York Mafia structure, and Selwyn Raab’s 2006 book Five Familes claims that reports of the NYC groups’ deaths were greatly exaggerated.

Well, the FBI’s killing blow this morning against at least seven East Coast families proves one thing — that the Five Families and their nearby brethren must be resurgent. There were indictments against 127 people, of whom 110 were taken into custody. Fifteen years ago, it seemed like the feds couldn’t even have found 110 members and associates of those families to charge. Perhaps of equal importance, during the Bush years it didn’t even seem to be a priority.

FBI Graphic.

The 127 people charged included more than 30 “made” members. Members and associates were from the five New York families as well as New Jersey’s DeCavalcante Family (the loose basis for the NJ family in The Sopranos) and “the New England” family.

The FBI press release goes a little something like this:

Early this morning FBI agents and partner law enforcement officers began arresting nearly 130 members of the Mafia in New York City and other East Coast cities charged in the largest nationally coordinated organized crime takedown in the Bureau’s history.

Members of New York’s infamous Five Families—the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Luchese crime organizations — were rounded up along with members of the New Jersery-based DeCavalcante family and New England Mafia to face charges including murder, drug trafficking, arson, loan sharking, illegal gambling, witness tampering, labor racketeering, and extortion. In one case involving the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) at the Ports of New York and New Jersey, the alleged extortion has been going on for years….

…”The notion that today’s mob families are more genteel and less violent than in the past is put to lie by the charges contained in the indictments unsealed today,” said Janice Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge of our New York Field Office. “Even more of a myth is the notion that the mob is a thing of the past; that La Cosa Nostra is a shadow of its former self.”

The Mafia—also known as La Cosa Nostra (LCN)—may have taken on a diminished criminal role in some areas of the country, but in New York, the Five Families are still “extremely strong and viable,” said Dave Shafer, an assistant special agent in charge who supervises FBI organized crime investigations in New York.

Today’s operation began before dawn. Some 500 FBI personnel—along with about 200 local, state, and other federal law enforcement officers — took part, including key agencies such as the New York Police Department and the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General. By 11 a.m., more than 110 of the 127 subjects charged had been taken into custody.

The idea for a nationally coordinated LCN takedown originated at the Department of Justice last summer, said Shafer, a veteran organized crime investigator. “We have done big LCN takedowns before, but never one this big.”

Among those charged:

* Luigi Manocchio, 83, the former boss of the New England LCN;
* Andrew Russo, 76, street boss of the Colombo family;
* Benjamin Castellazzo, 73, acting underboss of the Colombo family;
* Richard Fusco, 74, consigliere of the Colombo family;
* Joseph Corozzo, 69, consigliere of the Gambino family; and
* Bartolomeo Vernace, 61, a member of the Gambino family administration.

The LCN operates in many U.S. cities and routinely engages in threats and violence to extort victims, eliminate rivals, and obstruct justice. In the union case involving the ILA, court documents allege that the Genovese family has engaged in a multi-decade conspiracy to influence and control the unions and businesses on the New York-area piers.

“If there’s money to be made,” said Diego Rodriguez, special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York criminal division, “LCN will do it.” He noted that today’s Mafia has adapted to the times. “They are still involved in gambling and loan sharking, for example, but in the old days the local shoemaker took the betting slips. Now it’s offshore online gambling and money laundering. If you investigate LCN in New York,” Rodriguez added, “it’s a target-rich environment.”

[Link.]

I can only presume the New England family they’re talking about must be the old Patriarca family that exercises control over both Boston, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island — but Raymond Patriarca died in 1984, and his son retired in 1989 upon his incarceration, so apparently the FBI now calls it the “New England” family.

Incidentally, it was the Boston branch of this family that was under fire by corrupt FBI agent John Connolly working with South Boston Irish mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, who provided the FBI with information against La Cosa Nostra in an attempt to consolidate his own power. Bulger has been a federal fugitive since 1999 (and is still on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

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She May Be Dead….But She’s Still Pretty.

January 19th, 2011 No comments

…which is more than Buffy Summers can say for you.

There’s a big screaming spoiler alert on the CNN story about the last ish of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 8, hitting the stands today. Is it a coincidence that CNN is owned by Time-Warner, which also owns Buffy’s original network, The WB, and Warner Brothers, which is remaking the BTVS film without the involvement of Whedon or Sarah Michelle Gellar? Who knows? Who cares?

It’s a celebratory article, but the real celebration is the Buffy-themed body of work on DVD, download, and video game — not to mention in syndication. You can check out the Buffy Marathon this Saturday from 10am to 8pm on Oxygen. And if that doesn’t cut it, maybe you should plan a Buffy party.

Given how some of Buffy’s parties tended to end, I’m not sure that’s a great idea. But that didn’t stop Oxford Comics in Atlanta, the Multnomah County Library in Portland, or Meltdown Comics in El Lay and Isotope Comics in San Francisco; the latter two  featured for your refreshment — that’s right, cupcakes. (Because what evokes the slaughter of vampires like cupcakes?) Those were just a few of the Buffy hoedowns held nationwide to celebrate the release.

Whether any of them ended like the classic Sunnydale parties of old, with the blood, and the screaming, and the running — especially with the running and the screaming — I dunno. I’m sure the Mayor is hushing it up, if they did.

Speaking of which: In the newest and final Season 8 comic, Buffy turns 30 (she was 16 when the show debuted in 1997.) Buffy Season 8 #40 brings to a close the eighth and final story cycle, The Last Gleaming. The summary promises that, for Buffy, “betrayal comes in the shape of the closest, most unexpected individual of all. Reeling from their losses, the Scoobies will never be the same again.”

Wow, it’s almost enough to make me get interested in the comic book, which I’ve mostly avoided doing until now ’cause the few issues I’ve read disappointed me. As much as I loved the series, I felt like the few issues I caught here and there were just more of the same — bringing to the Buffyverse the same sense of repetition and overwrought here-we-go-again that dogs great long-running detective fiction serieses. Plus, I read comics too fast to wait between issues. I’ll probably subject myself to the whole forty issues, now that it’s all tied up with a neat little bow.

Or is it? Didn’t this chick get whacked once or twice before, then rise from the grave to kick sucker booty, sort of undead-to-undead? Will Buffy rise again? Joss Wheden says mas oui; Season 9 is forthcoming, though he says it may be shorter than Season 8′s forty issues.

Not like Joss really has a choice, right? Given that the Buffster’s stitched-together golem is being zapped with high-voltage evil from that hideous mad-scientist Remake Factory that used to make movies (i.e., Hollywood), there’s only so much rest that a Vampire slayer can get.

Personally, I’m bucking for a Buffy/Dr. Horrible crossover. Don’t you think those two were just made for each other?

Scary Video of Philadelphia Gas Main Explosion

January 19th, 2011 No comments

One utility worker was killed and four others injured when they were working on a gas main — and it exploded. A firefighter was also injured in the resulting blaze. This video shows almost all of the explosion itself, including the thing that always creeps me out the most about urban explosions — debris flying through the air.

It all reminded me of the time about fifteen years ago when I was walking up Market Street in downtown San Francisco and was suddenly stopped dead in my tracks by a wall of flame shooting up out of a grating — matched by kind of a giant WHOOMP sound.  I don’t remember any perceptible heat. I wasn’t injured and in fact was at no point contacted by the flames (and there was no debris).

I was maybe ten feet away, and there was one guy between me and the explosion. While I stood there stunned, the guy balled up his fists, stomped his feet and howled “Ugh!” and then walked on.

I was so shocked by the whole thing I just stood there, and about 30 seconds (after the guy was a ways down the street), a PG & E worker came running up a utility ladder looking sheepish. He glanced at me as if to say, “Sorry! My bad!”

No one was injured in the explosion I witnessed, but whenever I read about urban gas explosions, or see video of them, I think about how quick our infrastructure is to kill us. No more so than nature, maybe.

Condolences to the worker’s family and friends.

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

January 18th, 2011 No 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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