Larry Flynt has seen so many vaginas, he can tell what yours looks like by looking at your mouth. In fact, Flynt, founder of Hustler magazine and America’s most infamous smut peddler, believes the vagina to be the most beautiful part of any woman – “more beautiful than her face,” he says in his Brando-esque mumble.
The Kentucky-born Flynt published the first issue of Hustler in July 1974 at the age of 31. He started out soft-core, but after four months decided to turn up the heat a notch, making his the first American publication to “show pink” (i.e. spread the lips). He later brought us close-ups of dicks in vaginas. Shaved pussies. Cum shots. Shemales. Hermaphrodites. And the infamous cartoons, featuring gang rape, incest (“Chester the Molester”) and Santa Claus talking to Mrs. Claus with a huge hard-on. It was unadulterated filth—and the readers loved it. Hustler, with its trashy, bad-taste erotica, made Playboy and other competing porn rags appear prissy in comparison. “The pages of Hustler were pretty tame—and circulation pretty flat—until I stopped listening to the people who were saying, ‘Larry, you can’t do that,’” Flynt wrote in the pages of his magazine. “Once I began following my own instincts, sales took off and I became a millionaire. And that, I think, is a key secret to every person’s success, be they male or female, banker or pornographer: Trust in your gut.”
Now in his mid 60s, Flynt presides over his publishing, video, sex shop, nightclub, and casino empire from the LFP (Larry Flynt Publications) headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. The offices are decadent, with antiques, classical paintings, Tiffany lamps, and fake flowers in abundance. Flynt is escorted into his office (the size of a small museum) by black-clad security guards who push his gold-plated wheelchair. He has been confined to it since being shot outside a Georgia courthouse in 1978 by white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin, who objected to images of interracial sex published in Hustler. Flynt lost motor ability but not sensation as a result of his paralysis, and subsequently had a penile implant fitted so he could maintain an erection.
In the boardroom hangs a massive portrait of Flynt’s fourth wife, Althea Leasure (rhymes with “pleasure”), famously portrayed by Courtney Love in The People vs. Larry Flynt. In the film, we learned how Flynt (played by Woody Harrelson) met a 17-year-old Althea in 1971 when she got a job as a stripper in his club, Hillbilly Haven, in Dayton, Ohio. Five years later she became his wife, and as a wedding gift Flynt treated the bisexual Althea to a woman at a New York brothel. We learned how Althea took over the reins at Hustler after Ruth Carter Stapleton (Jimmy Carter’s sister) temporarily persuaded Flynt to become a born-again Christian, and how she became addicted to the morphine-based painkillers prescribed to Larry after he was shot. She was diagnosed with AIDS in 1983, and eventually drowned in the bathtub of their Bel Air mansion in 1987 weighing just 80 pounds.
There’s no doubt many men, like Flynt, are obsessed with women as objects of sexual desire. But not all of them are as leftist, politicized, or obnoxiously fearless as Flynt, who once told the U.S. Supreme Court that they were “nothing but eight assholes and a token cunt.” He once appeared at a Supreme Court hearing wearing the American flag as a diaper, and threw fruit at the justices. He refused to stop talking when asked, and was gagged by bailiffs. He was sent to a psychiatric hospital for six months, and jailed for 15 months. But throughout, he always stuck to his argument: how can something that is carried out by millions of people around the world every day be obscene? Why is it immoral to publish and distribute images of those acts, albeit in their fullest and most explicit glory?
In 1983, Flynt was famously sued by fundamentalist Baptist minister Jerry Falwell for $45 million after Hustler ran a fake advertisement in which Falwell was “interviewed” about his “first time,” using uncharacteristically foul language to describe fucking his own mother in an outhouse. Five years later, Flynt won a landmark Supreme Court decision in the case. The decision was unanimous, with Chief Justice Rehnquist opining that it was patently obvious that the “interview” was meant as satire, and that the creators of parodies such as Hustler’s were protected against litigation by the First Amendment.
Not surprisingly, Flynt has had an ongoing beef with militant feminists, who he calls “anti-sex, anti-porn, and anti-male.” “I’ve always felt that feminism was just an excuse for ugly women to march,” he once said. He’s also ardently opposed to the Bush regime and has made Hustler one of the few porn rags with a strong political bias, with the right to free speech at the core of its ideology. Hustler contributors have included award-winning BBC reporter Greg Palast, activist Jesse Jackson, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Helen Caldicott. “Here at Hustler, we maintain the same philosophy we had back then,” he wrote in his magazine. “At its core, it’s a philosophy that demands we defend the truth, whether it be by displaying a woman’s body as it was created or by calling an asshole an asshole, even if he is the President of the United States.”
A hero to some and a miscreant to others, Flynt is a man who has changed our times—and our laws. And, as the tagline to The People vs. Larry Flynt points out, “You may not like what he does, but are you prepared to give up his right to do it?”