First-Person Friday: Underdressed With Larry Flynt
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you don’t fuck with Larry Flynt.
Allan MacDonell is the author of Prisoner of X: 20 Years in the Hole at Hustler Magazine. His memoir Punk Elegies will be published by Rare Bird Books in March.
One of the rare public criticisms Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt ever leveled against me was my failure to own a tuxedo. It was the very early 2000s, and he had invited me to a black-tie charity gala in Beverly Hills.
By this time, the 1996 biopic The People vs. Larry Flynt had firmly positioned my then-boss as America’s most unsavory First Amendment mascot: He was the kind of free speech advocate who had languished in federal prison rather than identify the source of leaked FBI surveillance tapes. He had preferred to spend $1 million taking his “right to parody” to the Supreme Court rather than pay a $100,000 “emotional distress” settlement to televangelist Jerry Falwell.
Beyond that, my employer had exercised the First Amendment in a way that some free speech advocates feel goes a bit too far — pioneering the placement of cum-shots in newsstand publications.
“Allan, I know how much money you’ve made off me all these years. The least you could do is show some respect and buy a real tuxedo.”
In the decade that I’d been editing Flynt’s magazines, my wife and I had joined him at a dozen tony fundraisers. Always before, the dress code had been “business flashy.” This formal wear requirement exceeded the limits of my wardrobe. I showed up wearing a black Armani Black Label suit tricked out with a boiled-front shirt, a cummerbund and a set of studs.
Larry leaned toward me across the table. He drawled: “Allan, I know how much money you’ve made off me all these years. The least you could do is show some respect and buy a real tuxedo.”
In total, I worked for Larry Flynt for almost 20 years. Aside from that isolated Beverly Hills occurrence, my job duties never once required a tuxedo. Hustler’s identity was intertwined with the Joe Sixpack and Harry Hardhat personas. The Hustler mission, interspersed with the skin and genitalia, was to call bullshit to power in the most disrespectful terms conceivable.
At times, it seemed our goal was to provoke retribution. In December 1998, with me as lead dog, we’d hounded House Speaker-elect Bob Livingston out of Congress for his sexual exploits — on the very day the House impeached President Bill Clinton. A Hustler editor would need a bulletproof vest before he’d need a tuxedo.
In August 2002, I performed in front of a crowd of hundreds at a roast of Mr. Flynt. My shtick seemed to go well, until I sailed into the bit that characterized Larry as the most pussy-whipped man I had ever met. A few weeks later, supposedly unrelated, Larry had an underling fire me.
Flynt and I have never spoken to each other since, or been in the same room at the same time. Half of that changed on a recent Tuesday night.
Prompted by a social media alert that caught me in a nostalgia wormhole, I shelled out 15 bucks to attend a “Larry Flynt Show and Tell” at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre on LA’s Fairfax Avenue. The theater was packed with the mopes you’d expect to see, plus a hipster-lite contingent and at least a dozen fellows who were clutching girlfriends. About 30 minutes after the show’s scheduled start time, two Cinefamily hosts ambled to the foot of the stage and joined The People vs. Larry Flynt screenwriter Larry Karaszewski.
The hosts made fun of the Greatest Lovers’ misspellings, their workmanlike jobs, their mullets, their nakedly yearning penises.
While the three men stood adjusting microphones, Mr. Hustler — his big, round face glowing like a sybaritic moon — was rolled into position. The publisher has traveled by wheelchair since 1978, when a white supremacist offended by Hustler shot and paralyzed him below the waist.
“The most important living-legend defender of our right to free speech today, Larry Flynt!” welcomed one host. The packed house erupted in sustained applause.
“If you’re not going to offend anybody,” growled Larry, basking in this minor but wholly flattering spotlight, “you don’t need the First Amendment.”
The hosts launched into a slideshow tour of the Hustler world, projecting startling Hustler visuals onto the big screen — none more startling than a young Pat Boone flashing his private part through a hole cut in a cardboard box — then cracking wise and pitching cues toward the smut baron.
“The judge said, ‘Ninety days,’ ” recalled Larry, describing a 1984 contempt hearing. “So I said, ‘Fuck you, asshole. Is that the best you can do?’ I ended up with 15 months.”
A sly, self-deprecating raconteur, Larry modestly asserted that his Supreme Court win over Falwell made the media landscape safe for the taunts of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
No one has to dig very deep to uncover evidence of Larry’s crude ventures.
Even when he’s not the one making it, the argument for Hustler’s founder as a First Amendment hero is a strong one. Nonpornographic media do occasionally acknowledge Flynt as a press rights crusader, but they tend to interject the caveat that he is also a bottom feeder.
No one has to dig very deep to uncover evidence of Larry’s crude ventures. The Cinefamily hosts simply rummaged through Flynt’s archives and found a box of what one said was “the realist thing I’ve ever come across”: a carton overflowing with applications from men vying to enter Hustler’s World’s Greatest Lover Contest.
These inked-in questionnaires and candid nude photos, forgotten since the 1970s, abandoned along with the contest, were projected onto the theater’s big screen. Complete with names, addresses, occupations and phone numbers of the hopeful lovers and their female “sponsors.” From what I could tell, this boxful of aspirants didn’t own a single tuxedo among the lot.
The Cinefamily hosts made fun of the Greatest Lovers’ misspellings, their workmanlike jobs, their mullets, their nakedly yearning penises. With every fresh gibe at the expense of these deluded rubes, the crowd roared. Larry squirmed in his wheelchair.
They missed a crucial point: Don’t take smug potshots at the hopes and dreams of Joe Sixpack and Harry Hardhat. Hustler was created to serve Joe S. and Harry H. Dudes with mullets who couldn’t spell were the very foundation of Larry’s empire. The heart and soul of the Hustler brand was being held up for ridicule as the grand finale.
Still, the evening climaxed with a standing ovation — during which, Larry was whisked off into his black Bentley. Maybe if his would-be Greatest Lovers had been shown proper respect, their champion might have hung back to press some flesh.