Last month my former boss and one-time idol, Larry Flynt, passed away at age 78. Flynt was famously the publisher of Hustler Magazine and a well-known First Amendment crusader who expanded the freedom of the press in America.
Flynt was the definition of “disrupter” long before that term was trendy (and now rather tired and meaningless—dare I say just like Flynt in his final decades?).
Larry was also my mentor for nearly five years at the beginning of the 2000s when I worked at Larry Flynt Publications (known by insiders simply as LFP), during which time I saw and did some crazy ass shit. Like lead a protest against George W. Bush’s illegal war in Iraq in front of FOX News studios, dressed in a priest costume that Larry rented for me.
Showbiz. Larry was a master at that—he taught me a lot.
Flynt and I had an Ohio upbringing in common, you see. Larry famously clawed his way up from backwater Cincinnati strip club owner to triumphant Supreme Court victor, expanding and strengthening freedom of speech rights in America forever. Of course he paid for his success with his mobility, being forever confined to a wheelchair after an assassination attempt by an irate white supremacist (who hated Flynt for publishing photo spreads with a multiracial cast in Hustler).
In part because of the publicity from the attempted assassination and the Supreme Court win, Hustler became America’s top men’s adult magazine—even out-selling the once-venerable Playboy for many years. Which is incredible because unlike Hugh Hefner’s creation, Hustler was and is a frightening mix of graphically outrageous smut and disturbing anarchist journalism. Talk about a boner kill…
Did Flynt exploit women? Larry once commissioned me to write a retrospective feature about how women had been depicted as food in early Hustler issues. You know, covered in ketchup and mustard or processed into hamburger in a giant meat grinder. (I hope that answers the exploitation question.)
I was also Larry’s legal liason during this time and bore full brunt of the pushback from his Y2K-era lawyers. They nixed the buffet. In the 21st century you simply could not publish the same crazed, surreal content as you could in the olden times of the 1970s, and that’s probably not such a bad thing.
If you’re truly interested in the early chapters of the Flynt story, there’s a great and entertaining Milos Forman movie with Courtney Love, Woody Harrelson and Edward Norton that was up for tons of Oscars in 1996. The People vs Larry Flynt was so inspiring to young me—underground Ohio magazine publisher, hardcore musician, aspiring movie maker—that I went to see it in the theaters three times. Once I even took my mom. You may have seen it. It’s solid entertainment.
I don’t think anyone was shocked when I moved to L.A. a few years after that and went to work for Larry Claxton Flynt, aka the man himself, at his LFP world headquarters at 8484 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.
When we first met, Larry asked me “Where are you from?” “Ohio,” I said—knowing that he could relate. Flynt chuckled, “that’s a great place to be from.”
I started at Hustler and soon I was leading some high-profile pop culture efforts: intercepting nude photos of Cameron Diaz (they weren’t that dirty but she did have terrible acne which leads me to believe that’s why she blocked them) and Iraq war “hero”/whistleblower Jessica Lynch (Flynt bought them but didn’t publish).
We also got offers to release a Paris Hilton sex tape (fact: my office was the first place her groundbreaking, um, release was shopped but Larry couldn’t or wouldn’t afford it) plus one from R. Kelly (Flynt passed; no minors thank god but still so YUCK—if we knew then what we know now we never would have entertained the pitch).
I even ghost wrote a couple L.A. Times op ed pieces, like this one about condoms in porn (TL;DR Flynt was against them).
Team Larry was a trip!
It was the earliest collision of all my talents and abilities into one unified cause. I produced so much stuff inside and outside of LFP during those years—Sean Carnage Monday Nights sprang out of that period, as did The Queer Edge with Jack E. Jett, 40 BANDS / 80 MINUTES!, Joanna Angel, as well as the greatest young video director of that era, Eon Mckai, who I provided a lot of support for… the list goes on and on.
Larry was good at bringing creativity out of people. It’s also true that LFP and Hustler were notorious L.A. job factories where wayward creative types got pumped up and then dumped—and I was no exception but I’ll get to that. There’s a hilarious book called Prisoner of X written by the magazine’s editorial director from the era just previous to my tenure, Allan MacDonell (also an original Masque/Slash Magazine person, i.e. one of us), if you want to get inside what it was like.
I spent the most time with Larry in 2003 when I helped lead his gubernatorial effort during the recall of Governor Gray Davis.
Now it can be told for the first time that Arnold Schwarzenegger, our eventual governator, helped us extensively behind the scenes—going silent on days when Larry was to make an announcement so Flynt could get all the press. (Arnold was an oddball just like Larry—they were birds of a feather in many respects. Arnold also got a thrill from doing shit in secret which made it not so surprising to me when it was revealed a decade later that Schwarzenegger had a secret family… that lived under the same roof with his official family!)
I know all this because I coordinated with Schwarzenegger’s people on the phone. I even passed the receiver to Flynt on several occasions after hearing Ah-nold’s distinctive Austrian brogue on the other end. Heady times.
Unbelievably we finished in seventh place—let that sink in how close California was to having a pornographer as governor. It’s all the more remarkable when you consider that we spent a total of $200 on the deluxe deli tray I ordered for the announcement event. And I guess the Hustler Store printed some buttons—which they sold and made money on. So net-net Flynt spent nothing and probably made money while the other serious candidates went through millions to rank not much higher than he did in the final tally.
I only tell this story because with Governor Gavin Newsom California is once again on the precipice of a recall election. But this time there will be no Larry.
It was in spending so much time with Larry that I realized how damaged he really was. One thing I can finally reveal is that, contrary to the uplifting tale told in People vs. Larry Flynt, Larry never got off drugs. In fact he married his nurse (Liz Flynt) who made sure he always had his meds and lots of them by the look of things. I remember walking into Larry’s office and finding him sobbing—totally confused—crying out “my father boo hoo hoo hoo.” Yes, his father had recently passed away. But one look into Larry’s spiraling pupils told me this wasn’t just grief at work. Flynt was drugged to the gills and then some.
After that I watched him closely when he pressed the secret button under the armrest of his gold-plated wheelchair. His wife or a female assistant would bring him to a back room to “recharge” so he could mellow out. Sometimes Larry was so mellowed that he would fall asleep, drooling in his throne like Jabba the Hutt (always rumored to have been a caricature of Flynt, now confirmed).
But just when you thought Larry was a total vegetable, he would resurface in all his sphynx-like glory and issue cryptic—and I’m convinced purposefully conflicting—orders to his company of perverts, sycophants, family members and artistic fuckups that would launch the organization into another wave of internecine warfare.
We all ended up having the same daddy issues Larry had—throwing each other under the bus to prove to Flynt that we were his number one kid.
Larry once called me a “young lion of porn” and promoted me to Director of Marketing and Publicity for LFP Video and VCA Pictures. I was so naive I was flattered… until I arrived at VCA (Video Corporation of America, video pioneers and a tight knit formerly family-owned company) where the long-time employees hated the incoming Hustler regime and wanted to string us up on a light pole for chopping their wildly artistic adult classic movies like The Devil in Miss Jones and New Wave Hookers into standalone sex scenes for internet consumption.
For example, Larry desecrated VCA’s Café Flesh which had a strong Hustler connection (the writer, Jerry Stahl, wrote for Larry—and for Alf) but even that couldn’t save it from obliteration.
You know what? The VCA folks were 100% justified in their anger.
Side note: when Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 I chuckled to myself. I knew how not-well things were going to turn out for him and our country. That’s because Flynt was exactly the same—politically liberal but otherwise a highly Trump-like narcissistic pot-stirrer who retained the loyalty of his troops and supporters by pitting them against each other—and bull-dozing over everyone else.
Showbiz and chaos are the lube that keep both the Trump and LFP organizations sliding along, as ideologically opposed as they may seem to be on the surface.
Toward the end of my tenure as Marketing Director, when my pet projects—the movies of Eon Mckai and the Alt porn revolution we had started—were cancelled despite the enormous PR and monetary success we were having, Larry dispatched his wife, Liz, to tell me that nothing is ever “successful” at Hustler unless Larry says it is. Which meant: this is Larry’s reality and you just work here.
I don’t have to tell you that it is so rare to have the reputation of artistic integrity—in art in general and especially in XXX—that we had with Alt porn. Add to that the pile of money and accolades we were building and Larry was going to dump it—wtf? Seriously. Go with success. Continue with art. Stick with the winners.
But not at Chez Larry. Being “right” and maintaining the status quo of the sad exploiters on staff was what he wanted. That’s all I needed to hear—time to skidaddle.
I was exhausted with the LFP backstabbing and paranoia. I fled—resigning after a half-decade of increasing mental and soul degradation.
Fifteen years later the damage lingers. When Larry passed away last month I was like, ooh I can finally tell my stories. But it took me until today to get psyched to do it. And I couldn’t find a lot of my photos from that period including kinda cool ones of me and Larry with the Hustler Video directors.
Then I remembered that I destroyed most of them. Believe me when I say I never ever do shit like that, but that’s how upset I was at Larry and his network of withered LFP cronies for treating me and my projects and Eon so terribly.
So—to borrow a catchphrase—fuck you, Larry. I say that in the most loving way possible.
You did great things once and inspired so many people—and me—but you were ultimately a sham, just like The Donald and a zillion other nameless grifters, and I ended up not liking you or what I had become when I was working at Hustler.
As my artistic statement of protest, I’ve gone and stripped the adult material out of the greatest movies you owned or made—exactly the opposite of what you did to the classic VCA movies, which were made with care and artistry, that you bought from Russ Hampshire.
The art that was made for you over the years, dear Larry, was considerable. But you just threw it in the meat grinder.
Well, consider it reclaimed.
Behold the ultimate insult to the Flynt legacy—PORN-FREE porn:
Secretly I bet Larry would love the cheekiness of it. But at this point in time, I don’t really care.