Why you should care
Because we were young and foolish and needed the money.
“Check his briefcase.”
I was at Hustler magazine central, Larry Flynt Publications, on Wilshire in L.A., standing on an upper floor next to the magazine’s executive editor, Allan MacDonell. Being braced by the very heavy cat standing behind editor-in-chief and founder Larry Flynt, seated in his wheelchair.
“No, it’s OK, he’s with me,” said MacDonell, pushing back against very justifiable paranoia. Flynt had ended up in the wheelchair after being shot by a white supremicist outraged over interracial porn in the pages of Hustler.
“Have you checked his briefcase?” heavy cat insisted, unmollified. I’d been going through a phase where I thought it was pretty amusing for anybody under 40 to carry a briefcase, not for a second thinking the dissonant look would cause alarm.
And so there was a standoff. I watched Larry (the name for talking about him — it’s Mr. Flynt when you talk to him). He watched me. His bodyguard, still full-bristle, looked deep into my eyes in an attempt to glean intent. I smiled.
And just like that, I was in. Hurdle one cleared in my interview to be editor-in-chief of Hustler Erotic Video Guide.
But to be clear: I was actually already “in.” Hustler had printed my first national magazine article, a piece on collections thugs. A piece that my mother bought at the newstand and paraded around work, supportively and healthily heedless of all the skin bookending the article.
Hustler was a pox that gloried in being a pox.
“What magazine is that?” one of her co-workers had fretfully asked.
“A national one!” she offered, proud and defiant.
MacDonell was, at the time, undeniably the man. He’d been the one to turn Hustler’s “Assh*le of the Month” column into a trenchant political soapbox from which no one was safe, trumpeting the sexual peccadilloes of Louisiana Rep. Bob Livingston and Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood, to name but a few. Add to that the fact that he, on a recommendation from no-wave queen and art great Lydia Lunch, had the good sense to hire me.
“Face it, Eugene: Truck drivers with 10th-grade educations are our audience,” he once said. “We’re not our audience.” But for 20 years, MacDonell had been running a subversively sly, almost punk rock, ribald take on social mores, politics and erections. Nearly as brash as the Fox-Drudge-Glenn Beck machinery that would later follow from the other end of the political spectrum (minus erections).
We sat in MacDonell’s office behind a big solid-metal door, one of the heavy, bulletproof numbers that Larry had installed for all of his executive staffers, no doubt prompted by his getting shot and subsequent paralysis.
“Larry doesn’t give a shit,” MacDonell said. “About anything. Except the First Amendment.”
While Flynt would be the first to excoriate Hugh Hefner for propagating a largely dishonest take on the body sexual, where parts were hidden and airbrushed, Flynt’s Hustler pushed the envelope, as hard as the envelope could be pushed, in the other direction. He looked to the First Amendment to cover his particularly provocative take on pornography. From agitprop covers of women photoshopped into meat grinders, to the first major foray into participatory pornography with reader submissions to “Beaver Hunt,” Hustler was a pox that gloried in being a pox.
Well, to paraphrase the great hardcore punk band SSD: How much porn can you take?
MacDonell led me to the windowless office of the departing 30-something video guide editor.
We found him sitting between teetering towers of porn. He had seen my resume. Had seen the corporate work, the Stanford pedigree, but he waved over it all, making it abundantly clear that the job was mine for the taking. Total elapsed interview time? Eleven minutes.
“Any questions for me?”
“Yeah. Why are you leaving?”
He narrowed his eyes against my question, grimaced and said, “Look at this place.”
The ability to enjoy pornography may function best on a sort of scarcity theory. When there’s a lot of it, so much of it that one office couldn’t hold it — 1,000, maybe 1,500 videos with hours and hours of non-ironic screwing in each one, all waiting for this man’s review — well, to paraphrase the great hardcore punk band SSD: How much porn can you take?
Working at Hustler was not at all an indication of one’s proclivities toward high and perverse living; it was an upside-down world. Years later, after being canned for making a joke about Larry at a celebrity roast that cut a little too close to home, MacDonell wrote a whimsically titled book, Prisoner of X: 20 Years in the Hole at Hustler Magazine, that said as much.
Because at Hustler, there’s no stone unturned but one. While it made space for obsessions with cars and guns before turning to clinical detail about sexy old women, sexy young women, sexy women with sexy women, sexy women with sexy men, sexy gangbangs, sexy solo scenes, sexy stockings, sexy sexy and all without the one sexy thing that pulls it all together: a certain subtlety.
You see, as the sexual fueling station for our most high-octane fantasies of filth and excess, Hustler was a cash machine and, in the end, just a job. A job with the potential to destroy imagination and any interest one might have had in the smaller, quieter joys of screwing as a non-business proposition.
…the smaller, quieter joys of screwing as a non-business proposition.
And in the end, it was a job offer that came in at the same time I was offered the editor-in-chief role at Intel’s corporate publication.
It took all of 3.7 seconds to decide: “Intel Inside,” baby. No erotic videos, no 60 hours a week trying to come up with clever things to say about screwing.
Years later, I was at Hustler’s 25th anniversary party, pressing the flesh with the late Timothy Leary, Gene Simmons from Kiss, and pornstar Ron Jeremy, when MacDonell took me over to Larry and introduced me as the editor-in-chief of his Code magazine — I’d signed on with one of LFP’s many non-porn titles, an award-winning but now defunct GQ-esque fashion magazine.
Larry shook my hand. The paralysis had rendered his speech slightly slurry at that time, but what was not slurry at all were his eyes. They weren’t piercing, so much as they were coldly clear. And icy.
“Hi. Nice to meet you,” Flynt said.
“Again,” I said, repeating the story of our first meeting.
He smiled, sort of. “Enjoy the party.”
Two months later, he sold Code after our first profitable issue, and then sunk the money from the sale into the Hustler Casino.
I haven’t been back since.
This is the eighth installment in a series of True Takes from the eclectically and electrically lived life of OZY’s own Eugene S. Robinson.
Earlier takes include Advice From Andy Warhol, unexpected Affliations With White Supremacists, Wild Orgy Nights at Stanford, Is It a Riot If It’s Just the Four of Us?, Tattoos, Tough Guys + the Travails of Making a Living, Full-Force Fathering, and Breaking the First Rule of Fight Club