Penthouse magazine founder and pornographer Bob Guccione has died, but The Washington Post seems to think "pornography" is too ugly a word to apply to a man who aimed to be explicitly sordid. From the beginning, as T. Rees Shapiro wrote, he aspired to offend:
Penthouse's first issue was numbered, not dated, because Mr. Guccione, an American expatriate, was not sure how the British public would receive his magazine. But to ensure success, he sent graphic promotional materials to the clergy and every member of parliament.
The ensuing uproar landed Mr. Guccione on the front page of every English newspaper, and Penthouse's first printing sold out in two days.
From those controversial roots, Mr. Guccione, who died of lung cancer Oct. 20 at age 79 at a hospital in Plano, Tex., built a worldwide erotic empire.
"Erotic empire?" What about the word pornographer, or pornography? While they noted his attempt to be more "low-brow" than Hugh Hefner's Playboy, Shapiro and the Post waited until the 24th paragraph to arrive at that apparently distasteful word, and then didn't apply it directly to Guccione:
Penthouse began to suffer in the 1980s after U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese released a report on pornography that attacked the adult entertainment industry.
As a result, many stores pulled Penthouse off the shelves. Circulation started to dip in the 1990s with the rise of pornographic sites on the Internet.
The irony of an obituary like this is it actually downplays the sleaziness of the pornographer. Here's the Post version of Guccione's sexually "advancing" ways in the "mainstream" of media:
Penthouse was the first mainstream magazine to publish photographs of full frontal nudity, groups of people in sexual positions, and women in lesbian scenes.
"I think we made a very serious contribution to the liberalization of laws and attitudes," Mr. Guccione once said. "Much that has happened now in the Western world with respect to sexual advances is directly due to steps we took."
The Wikipedia entry is less polite:
The magazine's pictorials offered more sexually explicit content than was commonly seen in most openly sold men's magazinesof the era, being the first to show female pubic hair, then full-frontal nudity, and then the exposed vulva and anus. Penthouse has also, over the years, featured a number of authorized and unauthorized photos of celebrities such as Madonna and Vanessa Lynn Williams. In both cases, the photos were taken earlier in their careers and sold to Penthouse only after Madonna and Williams became famous. In Williams' case, this led to her forced resignation as Miss America in 1984; the issue in which Williams was first featured also included a layout featuring porn actress Traci Lords, who was later revealed to be underage during most of her porn career (including her Penthouse session). By the early 1990s, the magazine was showing sexual penetration in many of its photo layouts,  something the American porn magazine industry did not adopt until later in the decade. In the late 1990s, the magazine began to show "fetish" content such as urination, bondage, and "facials".
Shapiro had to begin cute with Guccione as a "seminary dropout and part-time palm reader" who became rich. But Robert McFadden in The New York Times offered a blunter assessment, with this lead:
Bob Guccione, who founded Penthouse magazine in the 1960s and built a pornographic media empire that broke taboos, outraged the guardians of taste and made billions before drowning in a slough of bad investments and Internet competition, died Wednesday in Plano, Tex. He was 79.