LOS ANGELES — Seventy-one and weathered from a lifetime of sex, drugs, political persecution and who knows what else, cantankerous king-of-the perverts Larry Flynt rolled into the L.A.’s Cinefamily theatre last night to curate his fraught and freaky lifetime with TV clips, documentary excerpts, magazine clippings, hate mail and much, much more.
Flanked by two body guards, Flynt presided over an evening that included a slide show of images gleaned from Hustler’s 40-year publishing history — that, unlike so much contemporary media of the era, hasn’t lost an iota of shock value — for his installment of Cinefamily’s “Show & Tell” series that invites cultural icons “to divulge their deepest, darkest media obsessions — via opening their closets, digging in their attic and plundering their garages.”
“I can’t begin to communicate to you how insane it is to get to go through the closets of a certain Larry Flynt,” Cinefamily’s Executive Director Hadrian Belove told to audience. “This is a guy who likes to hang onto things. We feel like we’re only scratching the surface — the archive is deep and wide.”
Given access to Flynt’s collection, Belove and his colleagues found treasures of varying significance and often forgotten origin — like a Bible gun and a gold vagina necklace — stowed in drawers, unassuming cardboard boxes and a mountain of about 300 VHS tapes that contained just about every news appearance featuring Flynt.
“Every time he was ever arrested, he keeps the tape — for memory’s sake,” quipped Larry Karaszewski, co-writer of “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” who helped organize the event.
Beyond the amusing ephemera, Flynt’s archives have preserved historic flashpoints (images, actions, footage) that stirred fervent backlash to his magazine and, in best case scenarios, ultimately awoke social change. Most famously, Hustler's Campari ad spoof, in which Reverend Jerry Falwell fictitiously admits to losing his virginity to his mother in an outhouse, prompted a landmark 1988 Supreme Court decision in Flynt’s favor, that essentially assured the protection of parody under the First Amendment. “Falwell was a charlatan,” Flynt maintains, despite the fact that the two eventually became friendly. “[Religion] was just making money to him.”
“Hustler from the beginning was not just a sex publication or an entertainment magazine, we wanted to be iconoclastic and major,” Larry Flynt told the crowd. “I’ve always felt as far as free speech goes, that if you’re not going to offend somebody, you don’t need protection of the First Amendment. So we went full steam ahead, pushing the envelope just as far as we could and never backing down."
Hustler was practically born from an iconoclastic womb, only gaining national traction after publishing a buck naked (and very bushy) snapshot of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in its August 1975 issue. Flynt said the origin of the name “Hustler,” a story he insists he has never publicly shared, came about when he was trying to decide what to call a new bar he was opening in Dayton, Ohio. A 60-year-old drunk woman sitting at the bar slapped her own backside and suggested “Why don’t you name it after my old money maker?” After rejecting the first word that came to his mind — hooker — he came up with Hustler.
By 1984 — Karaszewski called it “the year for Hustler” — the mag was at its pinnacle of crass power, with its January issue advertising not only a full-frontal nude shot of Pat Boone (his dick was in a box), but also Flynt’s bid for the U.S. presidency and a celebrity photo session directed by Dennis Hopper.
But there were so many other bizarre images and editorial content that didn’t make national news or redefine constitutional rights — an aborted baby playing piano with umbilical cord intact, an article about a woman slicing off a man’s penis, Stephen Sayadian’s porno parodies of the Morton Salt girl and other beloved advertorial figures, the "Asshole of the Month" column — that make it clear that Hustler was not just about the pussy. Not even the good pink stuff.
Belove grasped for a description, “This is true Baudelairean wildness, weirdness, craziness, no boundaries.” On the patio, he found the right words: “It’s really insane,” he told me.
Flynt presented and promoted such Bacchantic madness that he ended up paving the way for future generations not nearly bold enough to follow in his footsteps. He named Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as direct benefactors of the Falwell case, but their antics pale in comparison to Hustler's signature art haus filth, which could and would incorporate blood, feces, sex and Santa Claus.
Flynt knew it first of all, famously asserting “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, then it will protect all of you. Because I'm the worst." Woody Harrelson would later reprise Flynt’s exact statement in the 1996 film adaptation of his life, “The People vs. Larry Flynt.” Although Flynt eventually signed off on the film and allowed it to use the Hustler brand and logo, Karaszewski notes that that the Falwell case would have protected his project regardless pf Flynt's approval..
“We weren’t really working with him. We were writing what we wanted to say using Larry Flynt’s life,” Karaszewski told XBIZ. “Because of the third act of our movie, because of the Flynt/Falwell decision, you can make that movie without Larry Flynt, because we have the right to say whatever we wanted because Larry Flynt’s a public character.”
“The People vs. Larry Flynt” screened following the “Show & Tell” event.
Photo courtesy of Tony Nittoli.