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Friday, 22 October 2010

Bob Guccione Has Died

As a Catholic feminist it might raise some eyebrows to say the following, but, like St Augustine, I was not always thus; there were days of stolen pears, so to speak, in my youth.  So, let me briefly say, that, apart from my father, and my Uncle Jack, and perhaps Oscar Wilde, Pierre Trudeau and Alistair MacLean, I can think of no man more influential to me before the age of 14 than Bob Guccione (not even Hugh Hefner).  It was - no longer I imagine - a boyhood rite of passage in Canada, in the 1970s and 1980s, to steal and swap copies of one's Dad's Penthouse magazines, and, frankly, to enjoy them.

Guccione's aesthetic had a great impact on my teen imaginary - he had wanted to be an artist, and had a strange overlush taste, and photographed his nudes both provocatively, but, in the early days, with a respect that placed the solitary women in picturesque settings - the Penthouse sublime involving pearls, and nylons, and peacock feathers, and wrought iron beds, and big pillows.  It was, of course, pornography - which has its faults that needn't be discussed here (that's a longer conversation and one worth having).  For, despite and because of what it was (I knew it when I saw it) I was drawn to Guccione's vision of a decadent world of voluptuous available women.  Guccione's magazine became increasingly shocking, trying to compete with Hustler's outright misogyny, and some of its experiments with iconography and iconoclastic imagery (Nazi lesbians, for instance) were taboos too far.  Guccione's own life was tragi-comic.

He had many kids and wives, and lived, at one point, in the biggest house in Manhattan, a multimillionaire and (in America at least) a household, notorious, name.  Penthouse was synonymous with middle-class evil - it penetrated our lives excitingly but we knew it was wrong.  The Internet killed that, as did some other business dealings, and Guccione died a failed artist, basically penniless, of a dreadful cancer - but, it should be added, at almost 80 years of age.  He was, if not an artist, a key public bohemian of his age - an aesthete of questionable taste, but an aesthete nonetheless.  I briefly worked for his company, GMI, some thirteen years ago, and though in his offices once in New York, didn't meet him.  Apparently he kept to himself.  The limousines, the swings, the antebellum outfits, the bad puns - "any pet in a storm" - the infamous Letters - Penthouse was the Stones to Playboy's Beatles.
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