Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini Guccione (b. 17 December 1930 in Brooklyn, New York) was founder and, until his resignation in November 2003, publisher of the adult magazine Penthouse.
In his youth he travelled widely and attempted, unsuccessfully, to earn his living as an artist.
Penthouse was started in 1965 in England and began to be published in America in 1969. Penthouse was an attempt to compete with Hugh Hefner's Playboy on several levels. One approach Guccione took was offering editorial content that was more sensationalistic than Playboy. The magazine's writing was aimed more at the middlebrow reader than Hefner's upscale emphasis, with stories about government coverups, and scandals.
A lack of money and other resources meant that Guccione himself photographed most of the models for the magazine's early issues. Lacking professional training, Guccione applied his knowledge of painting to his photography, establishing the diffused, soft focus look that would become one of the trademarks of the magazine's pictorials. Guccione would sometimes take several days to complete a shoot and, as this was during the days of the sexual revolution, he had sex with many of his models.
As the magazine's success grew, Guccione openly embraced a life of luxury; his mansion is said to be the largest private residence in Manhattan. However, in contrast to Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion, whose phenomenal parties are the stuff of legend, life at Guccione's mansion was remarkably sedate even during the hedonistic 1970s. Reportedly Guccione once had a party guest thrown out simply for jumping into the swimming pool fully clothed.
The magazine's pictorials offered more sexually explicit content than was commonly seen in most openly-sold men's magazines of the era, being the first to show female pubic hair and then full-frontal nudity. Penthouse has also, over the years, featured a number of authorized and unauthorized photos of celebrities such as Madonna and Vanessa Lynn Williams. In both cases the photos were taken earlier in their careers and sold to Penthouse only after Madonna and Williams became famous. In Williams' case, this led to her resignation as Miss America in 1984.
The famous “Penthouse Forum” column, consisting of letters from readers writing about their (alleged) sexual experiences, was and remains one of the most popular features of Penthouse, with several books of the letters in publication.
Penthouse enjoyed great success in the 1970s and 1980s, and Guccione used some of this fortune to make a major movie (Caligula (1979) with Malcolm McDowell) and to create Omni magazine, a magazine of science fiction and science fact, and Spin Magazine, a music magazine intended to compete with Rolling Stone by being more “edgy”.
Guccione's English-reared son, Bob Guccione Jr. (b. 1956), was given editorship of Spin, but father and son soon fell out over editorial decisions, and Bob Jr. eventually found independent investors to continue the magazine. Father and son remain estranged, despite the father's recent health problems.
Penthouse was eventually superseded in notoriety by Larry Flynt's Hustler, which went further with both pictorial and editorial content than Guccione was willing to go. Penthouse thus was placed in a niche between Playboy's upper-class pretensions and Larry Flynt's blue collar no-holds-barred approach, and began to lose the significance it once had.
Numerous unsuccessful investments on Guccione's part, including a never-built nuclear power plant and casino (which all-told lost in excess of $100 million USD), added to his publishing empire's financial strain. Guccione's efforts to regain sales and notoriety, which included attempts to get Monica Lewinsky to pose for the magazine (which was parodied in a sketch on Saturday Night Live in 1998,but didn't have someone impersonating Guccione) and offering the Unabomber a free forum for his views, were not successful in reviving the magazine.
With the rise in online access to erotica and pornography in the 1990s, Penthouse's circulation numbers began to suffer even more. In 2003, General Media (the publishing company for Penthouse) declared bankruptcy, and Guccione himself resigned as chairman and CEO of Penthouse International, Inc. The magazine as of June 2006 was still in publication and had an online presence; its circulation was estimated at 500,000, roughly a tenth of what it was in at its peak.
Guccione's long-time publisher, companion and wife, Kathy Keeton, died in 1997 of breast cancer. Guccione has in recent years been treated for throat cancer, and is now fed through a tube directly into his stomach.
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